Sudha Kheterpal – creating electricity with music !

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She once played with artistes like Dido, Kylie Minogue and the Spice Girls has kept aside her drums and is instead busy drumming up awareness for a device she calls Spark that would light up the lives of thousands in remote areas living in the dark.

After performing on stage for 20 years, British NRI professional percussion drummer Sudha Kheterpal, is bringing light into the lives of millions in a musical manner.

She has introduced Spark, which works as a musical instrument by day and much needed-power source by night. The device recently won in the ‘Best product design for personal use’ category at the London Design Awards 2014.

Forty-three-year-old Sudha, who had her own band Faithless (which disbanded four years ago) has played with artistes like Dido, Kylie Minogue, Melanie Williams, Mark Morrison, Jo Roberts, Ian Brown and the Spice Girls. Having performed on world’s biggest stages – the Madison Square Garden in New York and Glastonbury Festival in UK – she took a sudden turn by deciding to connect with people in a different way.

Moved by the situation in places like Kenya, where about 75 per cent of the population lives sans any access to electricity, Sudha started a project Shake Your Power that takes clean energy to places in the world without electricity.

A percussion shaker-shaped instrument, Spark generates enough electricity to charge a cell phone or power an LED light for hours, giving people the opportunity of a better education and access to services.

Sudha says: “Playing music has been my life and benefiting others by way of music is a very satisfying experience.”

She claims that Spark can have maximum impact in places like West Kenya (where it rains a lot) and India. Working in Kenya, she saw the impact it had on children’s lives as they walked home from school in the dark and had light at home to do their schoolwork. Also, in rural areas, where many people have to walk long distances to charge their phones, Spark is creating a difference. Sudha is currently looking for corporate support in India to expedite the project here.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did the idea about Spark come about and when?

I have been on the pop music scene for over twenty years and have been fortunate enough to perform on several prestigious platforms. Such shows require a huge amount of energy to run and to give the maximum to the audience as a performer.

For many years, I had wondered whether this energy created from performing could be harnessed and used for helping people. Alongside this, came the realisation that there was something wider; that music has the power to cross paths of inequality and to bridge gaps of power imbalance on a global level. It made sense to combine the two things and that’s what resulted into Spark.

How does the device function?

Spark works using innovative kinetic energy technology and solar energy. As it is played, a magnet moves through a coil creating a current, which then charges up a battery. The battery then stores the power that is created. After playing, the user can plug in an LED light for reading or charge up a mobile phone.

For how long is Spark to be played to generate enough electricity to power an LED light or a cell phone?

About 12 minutes of playing will give an hour of light and the user does not need to play continuously. If a child plays it a few times for three to four minutes a day, over one hour of electricity can be stored and used whenever required. Recently, we added solar panels, so that an effective smart phone charging is also possible. The battery will be full after five to ten hours in the sun.

Have you already gone into production with Spark?

We are currently in talks with manufacturers and are looking to begin production in the very near future. Our aim is to introduce Spark to India this year and would also like to explore the option of manufacturing it in India, too.

How much will the device cost, considering the fact that it is meant for the poor?

We do not have the exact figures, but there will be two price levels. The first will be a slightly higher retail price so that by selling one piece of Spark device, another can be sent for free to the developing world. The second price level would be targeted keeping the NGOs in mind so that they can buy it directly. We are trying our best to price these around the $10-15 mark so that we can scale up and distribute to as many people as possible.

Have you tried and tested Spark in India?

Not yet. We want to first raise awareness and then test the product in India as soon as possible and we are looking for a partner to help us do this. We will be testing two products — the shaker itself and our educational assembly kits where children learning science, technology, engineering and electronics would put together the component parts of the shaker and build their own power.

Which other countries would you be targeting?

For now, we are focusing only on Africa and India. That itself is keeping us very busy. Since both countries have several areas without electricity and rape is a major problem, providing light in such areas would keep them safe and enable women and children to stay connected with their families.

Does it mean a full stop to your musical career?

My mission is to provide clean energy and education through music to those who need it, which is more than a full-time job. I am living my work and loving it so it is certainly a full stop for now.

One of the plans is to put together a large scale Shake Your Power awareness-raising concert with some of my celebrity friends and I think it would be quite hard for me not to get up and perform at that one!