Tag Archives: Rahul Ram
Indian Ocean at American Embassy School, New Delhi
Indian Ocean: Ebbing away from the mainstream
A rather exuberant fan from the land of Punjab wearing his newly bought shirt that screamed Indian Ocean was humming the Bengali lyrics and eventually came out flashing his devil horns when the ensemble played a song that talked about Lord Buddha’s journey.
Contrasting sensibilities or just defying odds? Indian Ocean’s journey, that spans more than two decades, has been about the duel between the two with latter being the worthy champion. Starting off at a time with a dearth of ears for “band music” leave alone semi-classical instrumentals, Indian Ocean has come a long way from defying the gravest of odds to be the cornerstone of India’s indigenous independent artistes.
In heart of upscale Gurgaon at Club Zygo, the band made their fans wait for long to take the stage. And when they did eventually, one “not-so-political” fan yelled in a desperate exhortation, “Dikha do ki abbhi Jawaan ho.” Tuhin Chakravarty- the Tabla player, with plenty of age on his side, was the unarguably the first one to retort back, “Jawaan toh hain yaar”, while Susmit just wore a childish grin that barely deserted his countenance throughout the show and others just followed the suit.
Dodgy stage sound and feedback were the price they paid for the late start as they hurriedly started off with ‘Khajuraho’. A long thirst of good music when quenched with a song having unmatched lyrics, it’s often worth the wait. ‘Darte Ho’ was the next and is a song of varied emotions. Powerful vocals of Himanshu Joshi and reverberating bass lines of Rahul Ram sets a darker tone, while Susmit’s wonderful work on the guitar, Amit’s harmonies and the brilliant lyrics serves inspiration.
The crowd were still shuffling with their martinis, and requests started flowing in with the shouts of ‘Jhini’ and ‘Bhor’. They didn’t dampen the spirits and ‘Jhini’ was aptly chosen. A song that pivots around the vocals of Asheem- the band’s late vocalist cum percussionist and better known as “the man with a golden voice” – that might have been rendered unimaginable without his presence for an Indian Ocean loyalist. But Himanshu Joshi dispels any biases and churns out a heart-touching rendition of the song that neither evokes a strong response in an Asheem fan nor makes him miss much. The biggest feat Himanshu manages is to make the song sound like a “Himanshu Joshi song” and not an Asheem one.
Meanwhile the bass’ string came undone but music went on undeterred, as Amit broke into an impromptu drum solo. Tuhin joined in and so did Susmit with his adept strumming. After putting the pieces together, Rahul’s bass was the latest entrant to the jamming session that suddenly started taking the shape of ‘Bol Weevil’. If that was an impromptu or pre-planned, the band’s chemistry on the stage refuses to reveal. The resonating bass riff forms the backbone of this song and along with melodic semi-classical scales on guitar; this one’s a true masterpiece. Tuhin, though was in no mood to be left out as he took the centerstage to much surprise and immediately stole the limelight with terrific jugalbandis. First, with the audience and then stunned everybody with his tapping on Rahul’s bass. In a reminder or maybe a tribute to Asheem’s exploits on the bass in a concert many years back- a video still available on YouTube- he had cast a spell on the crowd as everyone stood in a state of shock, awe and disbelief.
As the evening stretched, their improvisations went from terrific to stupendous to fantabulous, they belted out their beloved songs- ‘Nyam Myo Ho’, ‘Chand’, ‘Bula Raha’, while Himanshu Joshi’s Bengali accent barely slipped in ‘Bondhu’.
The clock struck midnight and Amit Kilam took out his gabgubi. Gab..what? An instrument with its roots in the Bauls of Bengal has long been patronised by the man during the course of years. Not only does he use it as percussion, he does a gabgubi solo too in ‘Maa Rewa’ – unprecedented even amongst the bauls. Amit is a multitalented and never constrains himself to his energetic drumming and percussions. Be it the harmonies, the gabgubi or the clarinet, he does it all. The next song had a rather sombre and solemn start with Amit’s clarinet that set up the mood for the most Grand of the Finales- ‘Kandisa’. Susmit’s guitar solo, that’s only heard in their live performances is a class act and distinctly different from the one on the record.
As the night drew close, Indian Ocean might have ebbed away from the stage, but did the music? The thunderous bass riffs, invigorating and energetic percussions, the fluid guitar lines with a touch of Hindustani classical music, the powerful vocals echoes aloud in one’s head long after the amplifiers were plugged out. This is a kind of music without any ephemeral shelf-life. It’s just timeless and perpetual. Jazz, Rock, Blues, Fusion, Sufi, Classical or Folk- it encompasses everything including sheer amount of honesty in it. If at all one were to describe music that’s “organic, deep rooted to Indian ethos and ingeniously indigenous”, this is it!
Interview with Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean is a contemporary fusion music band from Delhi. Some music critics describe its music as “Indo-rock fusion with jazz-spiced rhythms that integrates shlokas, sufism, environmentalism, mythology and revolution!” WTS had the chance to have an in depth conversation with the band and here’s what they had to say...
WTS: Your first album sold over 40,000 copies within a year of its release at that time, the highest selling record by any Indian band ever. Did success come too early? How did it feel to know that your songs were a rage soon after their release?
Amit: The truth is success didnt come at all! (loud laughter)
Susmit: We were very happy but we really thought wed get a bunch of shows but nothing really happened. It was released in December 1993, we got our first show in March 1994 and there were no shows till November 1994! Our drummer back then left because he had to make a living and there was nothing happening. It was not success by any chance! (laughs)
WTS: What do you think was the reason for this?
Rahul: We dont know! Its new music, people take time to adjust to that; at that time they didnt even know how to get in touch with us. This was the pre-internet, pre-cable, pre everything era there was only Doordarshan.
Amit: The basic means of communication back then were chitthi and normal phones.
WTS: New Years Day 1997. During your concert, the band noticed a DAT recorder, bought a tape and recorded the concert. No music company wanted to release a live album of an Indian band, so a label called Independent Music was formed to release this. Desert Rain almost a decade later, still continues to sell (no. 2 on the iTunes UK world music charts!) what does the band have to say about this?
Rahul: What we feel now is that it proves our decision about 16/330 Khajoor Road right, even more than ever! Music companies know f***-all about what sells and what doesnt.
Susmit: Absolutely. Thats the reason weve gone completely independent. The thing is, what sells and what has future in music or any other art form, nobody can tell. There are a bunch of management guys out there who think they know everything. In fact, theyd written us off. They said that the first album was a fluke, the second would be a flop!
Rahul: We werent hanging around in order to do well. We were enjoying the music we were making and playing. That was what was important. We didnt sit around feeling sad about it. We actually felt, Oho! These company guys are a little you know (smiles impishly)
WTS: Black Friday was your first full-length album for a Bollywood film, which also helped you reach to a larger audience. How was it different from recording a regular album?
Susmit: There are differences and then there arent. When we make music, we dont think about situations, moods etc. We go haywire and it beautifully takes its own shape. But here we are given situations and moods. How it is not different is that filmmakers come to us to get music done by us, which will sound like us ultimately we do our own thing. Many a times we already had certain compos. Once we were doing music for dancer Sonal Mansingh, and she said well sit down, shell explain the situation and then well compose music and that well meet again when shed tell us what changes are to be made. The first time she said the mood is such and such we looked at each other and started off. The same thing followed the second time and with the third and fourth compo. Then she looked at us and said, Is this a joke? My musicians take days and weeks and months and youve already done four compositions one after the other! In the same way there are many compositions we came up with at that point of time. But there are times when we compose something completely Bande was composed completely.
Rahul: But there are many things people dont know about Black Friday. Black Friday has three songs but has seven pieces of music which were background scores and thats a different phase in time where we got to see a lot of new things Amits ability to program music and for the first time there was programmed music which sounded like something else but still sounded like it came from us. Thats an interesting facet of Indian Ocean that people have no clue about. People only know Bande,they dont know the other stuff. In fact its so weird, a really close friend of mine called me up 2 weeks ago and said I was just listening to Black Friday, and the rest of the music is fantastic! and I said, Yeah! We always knew it! (laughs)
WTS: Tell us about your new album 16/330 Khajoor Road. We hear it has been named after the space you have been rehearsing at since May 1997?
Rahul: Its a 100 year old Bungalow in Karolbagh!
Susmit: We have experimented a little bit in this album. Theres one song where weve played the saxophone and the clarinet, and in two more songs one with a Rajasthani vocalist and the other with a Bangladeshi vocalist.
Amit: And one in which Susmit has played the electric guitar!
WTS: Its the first Indian album to be given away completely free as mp3 downloads from our website. What prompted this decision?
Rahul: What people are not cognizant of is that royalty payments are close to nothing. Money from CD sales profits the company, not us. Most Indian artistes make their money playing live concerts. By giving away our songs as mp3 downloads, fans get to listen to our music for free, and if the songs become popular we will get more concerts in turn and get paid more we stand to make whatever wed make through a music company without the hassle of contracts and copyrights. They live in an era of the past which is why Im glad they are going to flounder and fall because they still think that we will do all the intellectual work and just because they are signing us, theyll take away our copyrights. I hope were starting a trend. Many bands are watching keenly. We were the first to come out with a live album, live DVD, giving it away for free, first band on which a full-fledged film has been made.
Amit: I think its time to do something second! (sniggers)
Susmit: We would like to hold the rights to our songs; its terrible when somebody else has the rights and is not doing anything with it
Rahul: doing bad things with it! You know why? Take for example Kandisa – Times Music retains the copyright to it. They put songs from it into anything and everything! Sufi Lounge mein Ma Rewa! Ma Rewa kahaan se Sufi hai mereko ye batao. Kuch bhi kahin bhi thop dete hain!
Susmit: They dont consult us before doing these things because they have all the rights! Now we can choose where to give our songs and where not to. Its the easiest way to get across to the market. Were not relying on the distribution systems of music companies.
WTS: Aamir Khans production venture Peepli Live youve composed two songs for that. Doesnt making music for movies limit your creative freedom in many ways?
Rahul: In this movie, absolutely not! We were not even shown the movie. One song already existed in our album Jhini, and a bit of the lyrics was changed Swanand Kirkire wrote a part of the lyrics. Another was a poem given to us. We were not told anything else but the form was given to us saying Now you compose.
WTS: But you still dont have the final say.
Rahul: Sure, but then this happens otherwise also. For example, during Kandisa Pramodji from Times said Im happy with all the songs but I have an issue with one song, and Kya Maloom evolved out of that. Within two days we came out with a part of it and took it into a completely different direction. It does help when somebody gives critical comments. Somebody says this song is too long and were like Okaaay, sometimes you get too close to your creations also.
WTS: Rabbi Shergill says that “beyond Indian Ocean, I don’t see anyone… I see brown-wannabe whites”. What do you have to say about musicians still aping westerners instead of looking within and coming out with truly original music?
Rahul: It will change, sometimes it will continue. For example, if an American wants to do Kathakali, why do we feel happy? Why dont we tell them Chee chee chee! Youre not being original, go do something American! Theres always exchange between cultures. Lots of Indians love rock music, I love it too.
Amit: And there are more role models out there. Its not a crime.
Rahul: Its not a crime! You can play what you want to play whatever touches your soul. Big deal! Back then the guys who played in bands tended to be from the rich sections of society who looked to the West. Its only now that the society has increased confidence in itself, gradually the music will also change.
Susmit: Bands start off with only guitars, bass, keyboard and drums. The number of role models in the West who have been playing this is far more. They grow up listening to them and its very difficult to get away.
WTS: Tell us about Leaving Home how did it feel watching your own story unfold on screen?
Rahul: You want to meet the director? Hes here! (fetches Jaideep Varma)
WTS: Did Leaving Homes release see any trouble in terms of screening it?
Amit: Rephrase that to Were there any easy moments? (laughs)
Jaideep: There were only problems. It was very difficult because nothing like this had happened in India. It only happened because of this person in Big Cinemas who loved their music. Asheems death had left everyone in a reflective mood and that also contributed to it. I had been holding out for quite some time, the producers were not getting any money back. The turning point was when Asheem collapsed, that was when I decided Im not going to be waiting anymore. I was beginning to think it might not release on the big screen. I wouldve released it on DVD or online. At the end of the day, how much can you wait?
WTS: Would you ever attempt something like this again?
Jaideep: I would never do it again. Its not worth it; its just too much. It was worth it only for Asheem we caught something really special on tape. Im very proud of this film but its not worth trying these kind of projects in India. I wouldnt recommend it to anybody.
Susmit: I must say hats off to him. With all odds going against him, he made it happen. In my opinion, there will be a time when it will see a second release.
Amit: 100 percent. Maybe hell wait until one of us says tata bye bye! (laughs)
Jaideep: Dont say that! Dont even talk like that.
WTS: What do you think will finally shift the focus of people from music from movies to live performances?
Amit: That will happen slowly. I think our entry into Bollywood will change that, how ironic huh?
Susmit: In Bollywood, the advertising strength is so huge its a proper industry. If theres somebody doing equal promotion for live performances then definitely. Why do you think Black Friday became so popular? Its the same people!
Rahul: Because of the advertising focus, the media goes gaga over it they dont have a mind of their own and only go after TRP. Bollywood has a huge reach, theres no denying that.