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A bright spark of energy

DC | ROHINI NAIR
Published Dec 21, 2014, 11:59 am IST
Updated Mar 30, 2019, 5:42 am IST
Sudha Khaterpal has brought light into the lives of millions with the help of her device
Sudha Kheterpal in Kenya
 Sudha Kheterpal in Kenya

People often talk about the “power” of music, but Sudha Kheterpal — the British-Indian drummer who has played with artistes like Dido, Kylie Minogue, the Spice Girls, and her own band Faithless — has actually found a way to harness it.

Sudha is the creator of “Spark”  — a percussion shaker shaped like a flint stone (hence the name) — which generates enough electricity to charge a cell phone, or power an LED light for an hour if played for about nine minutes. Spark has just won in the “best product design for personal use” category at the London Design Awards 2014, and Sudha is set to take the little device with a whole lot of power into production, to make it available in India and five African countries by next year.

 

The idea of an energy-generating musical instrument had always intrigued Sudha. As she performed on stage and saw all the energy that the audience and her band members gave off, she wondered if it could be captured and translated in some way, into actual power. When Faithless disbanded in 2011, it seemed like an ideal time to focus on her idea.

“After playing professionally for 20 years, the buzz that I’d had for so many years had disappeared and I needed to look at why I was looking for some answers — how I could combine what I had done in my career with something new that could help others?” Sudha recounts, of what she felt at the time.

The answer was Spark, which took about a year-and-a-half to conceptualise and execute. Each time it is played, the magnet and copper coil inside it creates electricity, which is stored in a rechargeable battery. In March, Sudha and her team took the first prototypes to Kenya for testing, where 75 per cent of the population has no access to power. “We thought getting our first prototypes ready in time to test in Kenya this year was big enough, but getting the shakers through customs — both in the UK and Kenya — was even bigger! It didn’t help that our prototype looked like a bomb inside!” says Sudha, laughing.

On a more serious note, getting Spark to Kenya showed Sudha and her team the areas where the device could have maximum impact: “In Western Kenya where it rains a lot, it can get dark at 4 pm, so people have to spend hours in the dark. We took Spark there and 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 schoolwork Also, in rural areas, many people have to walk long distances to charge their phones. In Kenya, 75 per cent of the people have a mobile phone and with the same amount living without electricity, people really need to charge up their phones and Spark is allowing them to do so,” she explains.

Despite all the progress her team has made, Sudha admits there’s a lot more work to be done with Spark, and she’s put her musical career on the backburner for a little while. “Music has been my life and I’m really grateful for all the fantastic opportunities that have come my way, but I’m dedicated to this mission now I’m sure I will perform again and go back on tour at some point. I’ve played with some fantastic musicians all over the world, including headlining at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK and playing at Madison Square Garden in New York with the Spice Girls,” she says. “But now the only music plans for me are to use the energy of music in order to put power into the hands of those who need it.”

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