Way back when in the year 2011, I had witnessed a live performance by Parvaaz at Legends of Rock, the audience was informed that Parvaaz was a Psychedelic, Sufi rock band from Bangalore and that they sang most of their songs in Urdu and Kashmiri. I distinctly remember hearing an audible moan from a metalhead a few tables away. Although most of us did not understand the lyrics, needless to say, by the end of the show the band had managed to turn us all into rabid fans with their amazing stage presence and lead singer, Khalid Ahmed’s explosive vocals.
With a number of “fusion music” acts such as The Raghu Dixit Project, Swarathma and Emergence making it big in India and beyond, the time is ripe for Parvaaz to be the next big thing. Their soulful, psychedelic rock, powerful vocals and eloquent lyrics are guaranteed to take them places. Although they are mistakenly categorized as a “Sufi-Rock” band because of their Urdu and Kashmiri lyrics they strive to shake-off all stereotypes and are hard to typecast into any genre. Parvaaz is a pioneer in the Bangalore music scene with their vibrant songs; deep, meaningful lyrics written in an unfamiliar language and unmatched vocals and stage presence.
Parvaaz (which means “flight” in Urdu) came to be in March 2010 when two of the three original members and childhood friends- Khalid Ahmed and Kashif Iqbal reunited in Bangalore while they were studying here. The band is truly a brainchild of these two talented musicians from Kashmir. After one of their original members and bassist Neil Simon, Rhythm guitarist Adarsh Deokota and drummer Somarshi Bhattacharya were not able to continue with the band, Parvaaz settled into its current line-up with Khalid Ahmed on vocals, Kashif Iqbal on lead guitar, Fidel D’Souza on Bass and Sachin Banandur on Drums. It is not an exaggeration to claim that Khalid Ahmed has the strongest vocals and best showmanship of all the lead singers out there in India. Their songs and live performances have distinguished them from the rest of the herd. Parvaaz’s electrifying performances led them to win numerous college fests and they have been steadily gaining popularity since their performance at the Fireflies Festival of Music and Arts in Bangalore in 2011.
After much speculation and doubt, the band released their debut E.P. called Behosh on 13th July, 2012 and if this is to be considered a teaser for their planned album then nothing short of extraordinary can be expected from their album. Khalid Ahmed and Kashif Iqbal have penned the lyrics for all the tracks on this album in Urdu and Kashmiri, as is the case with the rest of their songs, and are unapologetic about it. They write and sing in the language they find comfortable and anything else would seem unnatural. Their sound incorporates elements of Sufi, Jazz, Blues and Psychedelic rock beautifully without being unpalatable to mainstream audiences. One can get a sense of their confident, electrifying and unabashed live performances from the five tracks that they have chosen to put in this E.P. As the band puts it, they want their listeners to lose themselves completely to the music and quite literally become “Behosh”. All the tracks on Behosh contain mesmerizing instrumental interludes and deep soulful lyrics. A sense of nostalgia and melancholy pervades the album and they have managed to create a seamless flow from song to song. Behosh starts off with a funky, psychedelic sound and progressively becomes more peaceful and melancholic.
‘Behosh’, the title track, begins with a funky, ominous, psychedelic bass section and leads into the vocal acrobatics of Khalid Ahmed. This track is a perfect mix of Psychedelic rock and blues with the addition of amazing vocals. The guitar solo section followed by the Harmonica interlude provided by Jerome Mascarenhas really drives home the blues influence on this track. Just when you thought the song would end quite tamely, the frontman’s oft mentioned amazing vocals kick in and the song ends in a glorious flourish.
‘Marika’ immediately shocks you with an almost primal scream. Written for a female friend of theirs, named Marika, from Norway, the song contains some great instrumental sections like the previous track. This track is a delicious mélange of frenzied vocals and guitar riffs accentuated by the brazen laughter track thrown in. A very memorable song as I instantly recognized it from their live performance a year back. ‘Marika’ is sure to get your pulse going with its racy drums, suggestive lyrics and energetic lead guitar.
After the first two energetic pieces, the E.P moves onto a mellower ‘Itne Arsey ke Baad’. Penned after Khalid Ahmed and Kashif Iqbal met their friends from back home, this song captures the heartbreaking distance from and the fervent longing for their homeland. The lazy, bluesy music belies the intensely nostalgic and heart wrenching lyrics. If you are not suffering from melancholia, you might just end up leaning back, closing your eyes and enjoying this relaxed tune and forgetting all about the otherwise heavy subject matter.
‘Dil Khush’, literally translated as “happy heart” is an uplifting tune and is the longest track on the E.P clocking in at over eight minutes. It celebrates the joie de vivre that comes from blissful ignorance. The sound of rain welcomes you to this optimistic track with its thumping bass line and brilliant guitar dominated interlude. I might be prudish to admit that I did not particularly like the three minute drum solo. Maybe they got a bit carried away with the theme of celebrating life with this drum solo as it seems disjointed from the rest of the song and unpleasantly jolts you right when you are getting into the groove of the song. Kashif Iqbal’s delightful guitar riffs and unrestrained playing are the high points of this track.
At last, my favourite song of the album- ‘Lolmatlai’ is trippy, soothing, utterly beautiful and an appropriate end to this album. Listening to this track one can’t help but compare Khalid Ahmed to the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This track is fully written in Kashmiri and speaks of the object of one’s love. ‘Lolmatlai’ instantly transports you to another worldly and ethereal place (should I daresay Kashmir!) and I couldn’t help but lament at how short this track was. The dramatic and orchestral sound achieved by the deep bass, guitar strumming and percussions does not distract from the clean, breathtaking vocals on this track.
Behosh is a succinct sample of Parvaaz’s body of work and a perfect reminder as to why Parvaaz has such a large fan base. The five tracks on this E.P cover varied topics and musical styles and yet do not seem haphazardly placed. They have managed to capture the energy of their live performances in this near perfect E.P. Enough cannot be said about Khalid Ahmed’s vocals; passionate, perfectly enunciated and unmatched in power and complexity; no other lead singer can hold a candle to him. Each track on the album is a harmonious blend of ridiculously good vocals and beautiful instrumental pauses and to truly enjoy this E.P I will repeat what was suggested to me- lock yourself up in a dark and tranquil room, close your eyes and listen.
The band members financed the E.P themselves and produced it on a shoe string budget and a lot of hard work. So yes, their music is awesome and yes, it is tempting to download it illegally but don’t be a nasty freeloader and buy the E.P which is now available on Flipkart as well as digitally on OkListen. Enjoy the music and the beautiful album artwork. Also, as you wait for their upcoming album with unbridled enthusiasm make sure to watch them live; which is the best way to witness the phenomenon that is Parvaaz.
Blues Before Sunrise is a five member blues, blues rock, classic rock band comprising of Sammy J David (guitar and vocals), Sheela Sequeira (vocals), Srish Chander (guitar), Anand Mahadevan (bass) and Claude Loren (drums). Last Sunday, the band treated the crowd to a fantastic hour and a half of good ol’ blues and classic blues rock covers. Having been in existence for nearly three years now, the band pulled off a really handsome gig in a really cramped up stage in a corner of the floor at the pub.
When I entered the dimly lit interiors of the aforementioned venue, ‘Highway 61′ by Johnny Winter was already playing on the screen. As I took a seat beside the pictures of Frank Zappa, Hendrix and Cobain, the first thing I noticed was the small little stage where a five member band would somehow accommodate their equipment and bend or rather ‘quarter bend’ their way through the gig later in the night. they had a retro mike in the middle of the stage giving the 60s club feel and one would expect a couple of formally dressed musicians complete with suit vests and bow-ties with worn out acoustic guitars sing their “Cramped-up Blues”.
Along came Sammy, cigarette in mouth, and started off with a solo acoustic cover of the SRV classic, ‘Pride and Joy’ setting the mood just right with some good 12 bar blues in E. Anand and Sam then played ‘Daughters’ with Anand on vocals and Sam taking leads. Just to mention, it was pretty obvious that these guys knew their blues sticking to the basic minor pentatonic and glass slide solo. The first song with the whole lineup was a cover of ‘Have you ever seen the rain’, another classic rock number by CCR, complete with some nice harmonica work by Srish. The rest of the setlist comprised of a mix of classic numbers with a little bit of modern blues covers thrown here and there and the best feature of the carefully assorted set list was that it was “all rise” till the end.
The numbers that followed were ‘Bell Bottom Blues’, ‘Give me one Reason’, ‘Bottle of red wine’, ‘Redhouse’, ‘Third stone from the sun’, ‘Willy and the Handjive’, ‘Rocking all over the world’ and finally ‘Joker and the Thief’.
What was good about the band was that they were right on cue. They lost some time due to some technical trouble and compensated for it by not taking a break. Sheela’s singing was a fresh change from the usual male blues vocals and she was at ease with the mike, grooving along with the music and interacting with the crowd. Sam was great on the solos playing within the pentatonic scales, the slowhand as well as the finger tapping, had his string bending in control and the flawless use of the wah-wah pedal needs a special mention. After all, what one looks forward to most in a blues performance are some nice lead solos and the licks in place. Srish was a good rhythm support handling all the familiar riffs beautifully. Claude’s drumming and Anand’s bass work supplied the band with all the energy.
The band did justice to all the songs without much variation in their covers except for a change of key in some for convenience. The crowd enjoyed the gig, and so did I. Blues before Sunrise makes for a good listen for those looking for “easy on the ears” classic numbers as well as the heavy riffs and Rock n’ Roll and I hope they come up with more original compositions soon.
Sunday the 7th of August was a cloudy, drizzly evening that had me trudging up the road leading to Legends of Rock, Koramangala. I entered to find the place packed and was told that I might have to stand to listen to the band playing. Legends of Rock seemed like THE place to unwind after a week of hard work at the office; it was also the place to be to share space with a smoking hot band, rather literally considering its cramped and smoke-filled interiors.
I somehow found a seat just in front of the bar and settled down to enjoy an evening of music with Bourbon Street. I was looking forward to hear them play, having sampled their music online, but was a little apprehensive: recording music in a controlled environment is quite different from how you carry yourself in front of an audience.
The band consists of Jerome Mascarenhas (Vocals/Harmonica), Chester Pereira (lead guitars), Fidel D’Souza (bass), Bharath Kumar (Keyboards), Sudhakar Prabhu (Drums) and Ian Castelino (Djembe). The band is often joined by Carnatic violinist Dr. Sangeetha, who performs with the band for the fusion set.
Bourbon Street opened their gig with a rendition of John Scofield’s ‘A go-go’, an instrumental which lent a jazzy feel to the evening. I was glad they didn’t start off with something heavy, having come across artists who’re too eager to please by playing stuff that upsets the mood of the place. This pleasant number was soon followed by Roy Buchanan’s ‘Roy’s Bluz’. Chester doubled up by lending vocals to this song.
Starting off with jazz, Bourbon Street slipped into the comforting sounds of the blues. Chester’s waspy vocals were accompanied by their vocalist Jerome performing harmonica duties. I found myself cheerfully tapping my feet to the music, and I wasn’t alone. The place was suddenly transported back in time and there was no looking back: the audience was hooked.
‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ followed next, with Jerome taking charge of the vocals. Bold and empowering, this song was a little heavier than the previous two songs. By this time we’d understood that this band was going to surprise us with every new number.
Just when we thought the event was going to be a one-sided affair with the band doing all the hard work, Jerome asked the crowd if they were sober enough to follow their music. Dave Brubeck’s ‘Unsquare Dance’ followed, with the audience clapping in tandem with the beat. It proved to be quite a challenge keeping up with a tune on a 7/4 and quite a few members of the audience falling out of rhythm before long. But was great fun to be part of the magic of the band.
Bourbon Street’s version of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’ followed next, as the crowd grooved to the snappy funky solos that each member of the band churned out with an ease that made it seem like they were in their element.
After playing a flurry of covers during the first set, the second set opened with an original composition ‘Opulence’. Opulence is a progressive instrumental track written by Chester, making use of an odd meter sequence from 7/8 , 6/8 to 5/8 + 4/8. This number was also shortlisted at the Yamaha Asian Beats 2011 contest. This number took a myriad of turns, one blending seamlessly into another, taking me through a mesmerizing trip. ‘Opulence‘ certainly brought out the best in each of the band members.
The song that followed took us all by surprise. What started off with funky guitar and harmonica riffs ended up being Dr. Rajkumar’s ‘If you come today (tick tick tick)’. Now it takes courage to belt out a Kannada film number at a bar called Legends of Rock, but Bourbon Street pulled it off and got the crowd shouting out for more. An excited Ashish, (of LOR) took stage and commended the band for flawlessly syncing their genre with a Kannada number. My verdict- Incredibly ingenious!
‘Got my Mojo Working’ was the next track, and boy did they get the crowd’s mojo working! Much heavier than the numbers played before, the rhythm and drums in perfect sync, this Muddy Waters cover got the audience singing/screaming/shouting out what they could of the chorus with Jerome. They also moved on to cover Doobie Brothers’ ‘Long train runnin’ which kept up the crescendo that was built up through the show.
Bourbon Street wrapped the evening with Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’. A familiar number to most on the floor, it was the perfect way to end a show that was sure to leave a lasting impression on everyone who was there that night.
I was lucky enough to get some time with the band once their gig ended, thanks to Jerome’s invitation to have a chat with the band. The first question I had was whether they were comfortable playing at a small venue like LOR, with the band members seemingly jostling for space on the tiny stage. “We performed here the first time LOR reopened for live music after the whole ban thing.” said drummer Sudhakar, who’d been obscured from view for the most part of the evening. “We like the place and are comfortable with playing here since the crowd is very responsive as they’re seated quite close to the stage.”
On asking Jerome, where Bourbon Street stood among blues bands in Bangalore, he replied with a smile, “In this city, there are bands that play the blues, there are bands that play jazz, bands that play fusion and then there’s Bourbon Street which plays a bit of jazz, a bit of blues, Carnatic fusion and a lot more. It’s a mix of genres packed into one show.”
On being asked as to why they chose to play cover versions for most of the evening, Sudhakar said, “None of the covers sound like the original. In fact we lend in our own touch to every cover that we perform, so you’d never find two shows sounding the same”. A soft spoken Chester added that they’d like to expose the public to a broader spectrum of music primarily from the older days. The artistes of that period, he said, performed with such passion that it puts many of the contemporary artistes to shame.
The gig went well apart from uncomfortable seating and an annoying light that kept shining into the audience’s eyes. I wrapped up my conversation with the band thanking them for the chat, making a mental note to catch them live again next time.