Q&A: Das Racist’s Dapwell On Tibetan Independence And Playing Carnegie Hall


Every day this month, Sound of the City has been publishing pieces about Philip Glass turning 75 years old, in conjunction with the Voice’s cover story on the composer. Naturally, of course, this has led to an interview with Dapwell (Ashok Kondabolu) of Das Racist, who’s performing Monday night at the annual Tibet House benefit at Carnegie Hall. Glass has curated the lineup for the past 22 years, ever since he co-founded the non-profit. Also on the bill for Monday: Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Rahzel, James Blake, and Dechen Shak-Dagsay.

The questions we asked Dapwell sometimes prompted answers as sparse and spare as Glass’s early composition (alas, he had jetlag). Still, we thoroughly enjoyed our chat about Tibetan independence, smoking up in Carnegie Hall, and what he imagines Philip Glass probably thinks of “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”

So, Tibet House. How did you wind up playing this benefit?

I have no idea. I think someone emailed us. I don’t know how it was set up.

Do you have any thoughts on Tibetan independence?

Do I have thoughts about that? I mean, I read about it, but it was awhile ago. From what I know, Tibet was a pretty much a serfdom until the earlier of the last century. And then I read a long thing that the Chinese, the Chinese government came in and did what they often do in far-flung parts of the republic, which is they moved in Han Chinese, which is the ethnic majority. And they made the region more like mainstream China.

I’m not an expert on it. There’s more nuance. But Tibetan independence is probably a good thing.

Philip Glass curated this event. Did you meet him?

No, but I think we’re setting up a Twitter interview with him beforehand. [Note: as far we know, Glass himself doesn’t tweet. Maybe @dasracist will interview @fakephilipglass?]

I wonder what he’d make of “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”

Probably not much.

Do you have any thoughts on his music?

Am I familiar with it? Not really. I’ve heard bits and pieces here and there, and I know he’s lived here in New York for some time. But I’m not overly familiar with his music.

I was supposed to speak to you earlier today, and I’m sorry that I had to reschedule. I was writing about some breaking news with Prop 8, that it was ruled unconstitional.

It was ruled unconstitutional?

By the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, yes, but it will get appealed again, I’m sure. Do you as a band have a stand on Prop 8?

I mean, Prop 8 is bad. That’s awesome. I guess, gay marriage, I read a weird thing that I remember… I remember the first time when it passed, by voters, was that 2008?

It was voted on in 2008, yes, and then in 2010 and 2011 there were federal rulings on it, and another one today.

Right. I remember reading an article about it when it first passed online. The comments were really heated. There were these reports that Mormons and black people in California helped make it pass the first time around, religious black church goers. And there were all these heated comments where gay people were saying all these racists things about blacks, and black people were saying all these homophobic things in response. I remember being really depressed about that.

I’m glad it’s getting overturned. I don’t know what the next process is.

In one form or another, it will end up at the Supreme Court. Also, I think it’s really interesting how Das Racist makes music about race and racism, and about not taking everything too seriously. Over the weekend, there was this incident with Roland Martin of CNN tweeting about wanting to beat guys who’d go out and buy H&M underwear just because David Beckham endorsed it. Do you have any thoughts on groups like GLAAD telling people you have to say certain things only, or your going to be ruined?

You mean in general, or in this case?


Right. And [GLAAD’s] calling for his head, right?


It’s hugely a case by case situation. In this one instance, I’m not sure. It’s tough, though. If it’s about someone I don’t like, then it’s impossible to be impartial about it, about whether they should be removed from their job. If I’m neutral towards them, or it’s someone I like, I like to think about what they may have meant. I give them the benefit of the doubt: this is probably what he meant. I like to think what he might have meant, and give them the benefit of the doubt. With this guy [Martin], he could have meant anybody stupid enough to be persuaded by a celebrity endorsement should be beaten for being so gulliable and fooled by marketing.

But, this dude, he’s just some CNN anchor, right? He doesn’t write anything important.

He’s just a CNN contributor.

I don’t know if he should be fired. But it doesn’t matter. He’d just find some other job anyway.

Have you ever played Carnegie Hall before?

No. You know that old joke? [How do you get to Carnegie Hall?] Practice, practice pracice. Guess it’s not true. Cuz’ we just do whatever we want and ended up in Carnegie Hall anyway.

I heard that people were smoking up there last night at the Jay-Z concert.

In Carnegie Hall?


That’s funny. Yeah, I heard they smoke weed in Madison Square Garden during basketball games 30 years ago.

Hey, you know that cartoon-off your bandmate [Victor Vazquez] got into a couple years ago with the New Yorker? Whoever won that?

It was decided that Victor won, ‘cuz Victor’s were really funny, and the other guy’s were ham-fisted and not so funny. So, unanimously, I think Victor won, ‘cuz his were way funnier.

Our old music editor Rob Harvilla agreed. Well, we’ll see if the New Yorker turns into a magazine about rap and jewels. So, after this concert, what do you guys have coming up?

We’re taking a few months off. We’re working on East Cillin’ Island, our show at East Village Radio. We’re working on our web TV show. We’re all gonna’ work on stuff, and working on our next album. I have an album and video coming up.

What’s the album called?

Winkytaterz. We’re just gonna’ work. We have a short film we’ve written, and we’re going to start shooting in March. This is the longest stretch of time we’re taking off since we started three and a half years ago.

Well good luck on Monday. I’m looking forward to the show. It’s going to be quite a lineup of very different acts on the stage at Carnegie Hall.

Yeah, it will be different. It should be fun.

The Tibet House benefit is Monday at Carnegie Hall.

Previous articles in our series on Philip Glass at 75:
Philip Glass, An East Village Voice (February 1 cover story)
Q&A: Philip Glass On Black Music And African-American History
Q&A: Koyaanisqatsi Director Godfrey Reggio On Dragging Philip Glass Into Film Scoring
Q&A: Glassbreaks Auteur dj BC On Mashing Up Philip Glass With The Beastie Boys, Kanye And The Fugees
Q&A: Kronos Quartet Founder David Harrington On Collaborating With Philip Glass
Live: The Premiere of Glass’s Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Hall
Happy (Happy Happy) 75th Birthday, Philip Glass, From South Park