This Women’s Day we spoke to four women who helped revolutionize the rock circuit in Kolkata. We reached out to the bandmates, family members and close friends of these four iconic women from the Kolkata scene, and they spoke about what makes these women so special.
If there is anyone who is entitled to the title of The Queen of Kolkata Rock Circuit, then that person is Jayashree Singh. Jayashree came to prominence in the 90s during her stint with the aptly named pop act Pop Secret. But it was her spell with Skinny Alley, one of India’s pioneering indie acts, which shot her straight to the doorstep of fame. Not only was Skinny Alley the forerunner of indie in India, it was also one of the first Indian bands to release an English album on a major label. The magic of Skinny Alley was carried forward in another avatar, PINKNOISE and Jayashree has been incredible as the frontwoman of two of India’s leading bands.
Both Jayashree and guitar god Amyt Datta were founding members of Skinny Alley and PINKNOISE, and not only have they been band members and musical collaborators, Amyt is also one of Jayashree’s closest friends. There are very few people who know her as well as he does. “We’ve known each other for more than 30 years now. Her music is singular and that aids the bond we have. We have been bandmates, friends, family and more. It’s unique what we share and it’s safely beyond conventional tags. I suppose we’ve arrived at “that”, what we have is “that”.” explains Amyt Datta about the unique bond he shares with Jayashree Singh. The one thing he envies about her is her ability to do nothing! And when quizzed about what she envies about him, he quips “Absolutely nothing!”
Jivraj Singh or “Jiver” as he is popularly known is another pillar in Jayashree’s life. This dynamic duo is not only known for the mother-son bond that they share, but also because they are both band-members and musical partners-in-crime. “How does one begin to describe someone who is son, friend, philosopher, guide, bandmate, fashion consultant and critic, driver for provision shopping and escort for late night gigs? That pretty much sums it up right there, doesn’t it?” explains Jayashree. Jivraj Singh’s all-time favorite song by Jayashree is ‘Dollar $cience’ the video for which is soon to be released and his message to all the female musicians in Kolkata would be “Try to learn and grow constantly, work on your craft and build a really strong foundation of music basics to depend on. Regardless of what style of music or what culture you want to be a part of.”
The Saturday Night Blues Band is not only the top blues band from the City of Joy, it is arguably one of the best mainstream blues acts of the country. The band has been enthralling listeners at Eastern India’s music mecca, Someplace Else, for years – but the band has also played a fair share of gigs at some of India’s most prominent live music venues. Indeed, it would difficult to envision the success of The Saturday Night Blues Band without the telling contribution of vocalist Arunima Banerjee. But she would probably be the first person to tell you that she owes a large part of her success to her sons, Nikhil and Josh.
Nikhil and Josh are the special men in Arunima’s life “because they keep things real and always keep me grounded and no matter how impossible things get they always make me laugh!” When we spoke to them, Arunima’s children told us what makes her special to them “She is special to us because she is our mom and she does everything for us.” One thing they envy about her – she has a Mont Blanc fountain pen and that she can do whatever she wants whenever she wants like watch TV and use the internet! One thing they suppose she envies about them is that she can’t do gymnastics and turn cartwheels or ride a horse or a bike! Their advice to her would be to “keep smiling and laughing and play with us all day long and NO STUDIES!”
In 2005, Someplace Else Kolkata in collaboration with The Telegraph organized Boom-Bass-Stick: The Band Hunt – a competition to unearth some of the city’s latent musical talents. This competition was noteworthy not only because it provided a huge platform for the winning band Crystal Grass, but also for bringing to the fore-front a vocalist who has undoubtedly made it big in the years that followed. For Tanya Sen, her musical journey post-2005 has been nothing short of phenomenal. As front-woman of Crystal Grass, Tanya has never failed to captivate her core audience. And she has carried this vibe forward in her new four piece electronic-alternative outfit ZOO, which is currently the rage of India’s top music festivals. If comparisons may be made, then Tanya’s voice is like a swift flowing river, sweeping everything and anything that lies in her path – and probably no one would agree with this more than her Crystal Grass and ZOO bandmate, and long-time boy-friend, drummer Rohit Nandi.
Tanya and Rohit met in school and have been making music ever since. They work and hangout together and Rohit has been her closest friend and she says “I have to say I consider myself the luckiest to have found such a great friend in my partner.” On asking Rohit what makes Tanya so special to him he says “When one has spent more than a decade with someone it might get a little difficult to recall how one found someone to be special and also on the other hand if you are still wondering why you fell for that person it just means that all’s right, you can’t possibly point out how someone is so special – they just are!” He goes on to say that at times he just reflects and appreciates – he really appreciates her ability to deal with complex situations with ease and dignity and goes on to say that very few people have this gift! “What most of you don’t know about Tanya is that she is a brilliant cook…anybody who has had her Asian or Italian creations can vouch for that!”
1993 was a huge year for Indian Rock. For the first time ever an effort was made to bring together rock music artistes from across the country under the same umbrella. The brainchild of Amit Saigal (founder of The Rock Street Journal), The Great Indian Rock (or GIR in short), showcased musicians from the four corners of the country – and one of these artistes to be featured was a young woman named Chandrani Banerjee. Chandrani’s song ‘The Ministrel’ successfully showcased her singing and song-writing talents, which led her to becoming an over-night success.
Currently, Chandrani is vocalist of the legendary Krosswindz, one of the pioneers of the Bangla rock band movement. Krosswindz has also made huge strides in the genre of World Music, and Chandrani’s contribution to the band’s success has been huge – and her husband, and Krosswindz lead guitarist, the legendary Vikramjit “Tuki” Banerjee would be the first person to acknowledge this fact, “She is a big-hearted musician. She is really special because of her unassuming ways and she never imposes her presence. She is always ready to play a supportive role in any situation if required and is always there to lend a shoulder and a keen ear. She makes me a better person, just being with her has been a huge privilege and I have grown to be the person I am today due to her healing presence in my life. I envy her humility.”