Tag Archives: Susmit Sen

Rajeev Raja Combine at The Blue Frog, Mumbai

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Unexpected Lessons from the Masters of Guitar – An investigative report

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In light of the recent retraction posted by Hindustan Times about an inaccurate article they had published regarding ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II’, WTS spoke to the artists and organizers involved to get a clear idea of what transpired between them. Here’s a detailed account:

23rd January  – An article titled ‘Guitar Gods to Rock India’ was published by the Hindustan Times stating that Susmit Sen of Indian Ocean was spearheading an initiative called ‘Masters of Guitar’ which will feature notable international guitarists Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Pat Metheny and Scott Henderson. Consequently, several newspapers and websites mirrored this information by publishing inaccurate versions of this news without any additional confirmation of their own with any of the artists or organizers involved. Several others (including ‘What’s The Scene?’) shared the HT article on Facebook believing it to be true.

Unexpected Lessons from the Masters of Guitar - An investigative report

30th January  – Susmit Sen’s company Studio Beat Route posted an update on their Facebook page clarifying that these reports were false and that none of the artists were confirmed yet and no official statements have been issued to the media.

February  – Studio Beat Route was in talks with Sandeep Chowta (who promotes and manages Scott Henderson’s shows in India) for an event in Delhi which was later cancelled close to the scheduled date due to an apparent lack of sponsorship. While Sandeep was booking Henderson’s group Tribal Tech for a gig in Delhi, Studio Beat Route believed that the talks were on for a Tribal Tech gig as part of ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II.’ An advance of Rs. 2 lakhs had been sent to Sandeep Chowta Projects by Studio Beat Route before the show was finally cancelled on 27th February . Parallely, an update went out on The Blue Frog website, stating ‘Masters of Guitar feat. Scott Henderson’ was scheduled for 16th March .

Unexpected Lessons from the Masters of Guitar - An investigative report

March  – Henderson was informed by Sandeep Chowta about the initial article published in the Hindustan Times and that Susmit Sen also happened to be the promoter of the cancelled Tribal Tech show in Delhi. Henderson wrote an angry email to Susmit, threatening to sue him for copyright abuse and fraud, claiming no knowledge of Susmit or his event in November and demanding a public apology. He also demanded that Susmit pay Sandeep 2000 Euros since Susmit’s company Studio Beat Route apparently  pulled out of the show too late, after non-refundable airline tickets were already bought, which allegedly cost Sandeep over 2000 Euros. After a heated debate with Susmit Sen over an exchange of emails in which Susmit accused Scott of being a racist and an extortionist, Henderson apologized for having asked Susmit to cover the airline expenses. Henderson however was upset about the illegal use of his name for Studio Beat Route’s ‘Masters of Guitar’ event in November.

4th March  – ‘What’s The Scene?’ receives a message from Studio Beat Route to take down the shared HT article on our Facebook Page, stating that the information in the article was completely wrong; similar messages went out to other online publications as well.

21st March  – Susmit created a Facebook note in which he posted the private communication between himself and Henderson, causing a heated argument between Henderson, Sen, and many of their friends and fans. Some of Susmit’s fans accused Henderson of knowing and agreeing to the event, which led him prove his claim by sending the newspaper articles to the other three guitarists named in the article who confirmed that they were not aware of any such event. Henderson shared the following responses from Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Pat Metheny:

“Hey Scott, Thanks for sending this. What nerve they have. Gees, I’m going to forward this to my agent, manager and attorney. I’m actually looking into going to India but not until next year and not with these guys. – Steve Vai

Scott – We will get on this ASAP. – Joe Satriani

Hi Scott, I’m sad to hear that my name is being used without my permission. I’ll contact my manager and the Ted Kurland agency about this. Thanks. – Pat Metheny”

These statements provided Henderson with the proof he needed, that none of the four musicians had any knowledge of the event prior to seeing the articles. Joe Satriani posted on his website that any stories about him working with Susmit Sen were fraudulent.

Henderson later questioned the publications that had carried the story about the basis for their articles. Nirmika Singh from HT claimed that Susmit Sen was very happy to give her this confirmation over a phone call and that she had a PowerPoint presentation (a concept note shared by Studio Beat Route about ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II’) that clearly mentions that these artists were set to be a part of this concert. Lalitha Suhasini from Rolling Stones India (that had also carried a similar report) left a comment on this mail-trail saying “Susmit told my writer you (Henderson) were a part of the Masters of Guitar series and I have it on record. In fact, we don’t publish interviews that we don’t record,” but promptly changed her stance when asked to present the recording that backed up what was written in the article, she said, “No, I do not have Susmit telling us that Steve, Joe and Pat were part of Masters of Guitar on record. He mentioned these names to an ex-Rolling Stones writer before the interview but we do not have that on record.” and later on went on to say “No, I do not have a recording to post.”

The questions that remain unanswered are why the newspapers and websites that posted the inaccurate articles supposedly contact Susmit alone and not get in touch with Sandeep Chowta (who is Scott’s manager in India), or the management of the three other guitarists and if Susmit did tell them about it, why don’t they have any recorded interview and why did HT base their article on a concept paper which was sent out for media partnership to their marketing department?

25th March,  – In order to get clarity on the Tribal Tech confusion, WTS got in touch with Sandeep Chowta to know what transpired between Studio Beat Route and Sandeep Chowta Projects. Here’s what he had to say: 

What was the understanding between Studio Beat Route and Sandeep Chowta Projects about the show in Delhi? 

Sandeep: I was approached for the show by Anirban and Nikhil who said that they are very keen on doing the Tribal Tech show. They said that as soon as we go back we’re going to send you a token amount to confirm that we are doing the show – a basic amount to confirm the fact that this is happening. I was very happy to hear this and was really looking forward to it. It was decided that 50% of the amount would be paid by Studio Beat Route after the band’s confirmation and the remaining 50% would be paid once the band reaches Delhi. The first instalment of 2 lakhs came in with the promise that the remaining amount for the first 50% would be sent in by 15th February. After that they never gave me the venue or any details, they said they were finalizing everything and looking for the venue. It was purely on trust that we said ok we’re waiting for the second instalment. 

What happened after that? 

Sandeep: I did not hear from them and I got really scared because the band was to leave from Delhi and I had booked their tickets from Delhi instead of Mumbai to make things easier for Studio Beat Route so that they need not go through the trouble of flying the band to Mumbai from Delhi before they head back to LA, but there was no confirmation yet of the show happening.  I never sent out any publicity or teasers, nothing. Finally on the 27th of February I called him and asked what’s going on, Anirban said we’re having a problem and that the sponsors are not helping. I asked him, what do I do now? He said I don’t know. I asked where is Susmit? He said he is busy. I’ve never spoken to Susmit Sen I’ve only been speaking to his associates. So I asked are you saying the gig is not happening? He said well that’s what you’ll have to consider what I’m saying. In the mean time I see a flyer on Blue Frog Delhi’s programs saying ‘Masters of Guitar feat. Scott Henderson.’ When did that happen? How did that come up? And then nothing, I didn’t hear from them and we were screwed. That’s when I realized that things are screwed up and I have to do something about the tickets, the change of flight was coming up to 2000 Euros but we could not change the flights we had to change the airline! 

Was Studio Beat Route under the impression all the time his talks were for ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II’ all the time? 

Sandeep: How can it be ‘Masters of Guitar’, this was a band called Tribal Tech. If you really look at the ‘Masters of Guitar’ series it was started by Blue Frog and Susmit as partners, why will we have another venue if they were partners from the beginning? It wasn’t a Scott Henderson concert; it was a Tribal Tech gig. The whole concept behind ‘Masters of Guitar’ is inviting Indian musicians to play with foreign musicians right? There was nothing like that. There was a request from Anirban at one point in time asking if Susmit could jam with Tribal Tech. That idea was completely dismissed. I said that’s not going to happen. If you look at the MoU, if there was any discrepancy he would have immediately come and said listen this is not going to happen.  I thought he was interested in bringing Tribal Tech to Delhi. There was no question of anybody performing with anybody in this gig. Tribal Tech would play their set and go. 

What’s your main grouse with Studio Beat Route? 

Sandeep: They could have told me they didn’t want to do the show. Why did I have to bring it out of them? Susmit could have come over the phone, or at least written an email saying they’re sorry it didn’t happen. I could have at least settled the flight scene if they had informed me in advance, I had to pay the artists anyway. Also, if Susmit’s side of the story that he published  where he mentions that on February 7th after receiving the MoU they were shocked to know that it wasn’t Masters of Guitar, was true why did they continue the talks about the show till the 27th and why did they send out a confirmation to Blue Frog to put up the event on their website? 

Hadn’t Studio Beat Route paid an advance to SCP? Didn’t that cover the costs that you incurred? 

Sandeep: No, 2000 Euros is what it would have cost me for just changing the flight tickets, but it cost me a lot more because I had to change the airline and book individual tickets for their flights from Mumbai to Dubai and back to LA. They were earlier booked on Malaysian and were flying via the Pacific route (Delhi-Kuala Lumpur-China-LA). I had to also cover other costs like their hotel reservations, food and beverage, expenses of the sound engineer and additional gear that was flown in for the gig and I had to pay the band irrespective of whether there was a show in Delhi or not. Over and above the 2 lakhs advance sent by Studio Beat Route, I had to incur a cost of about 2.5 lakhs just to book their one-way flights out of Bangalore via Dubai to Los Angeles and Qatar to Barcelona. 

The HT article was out in January . Why did you mention it to Scott in March only after Tribal Tech got cancelled? 

Sandeep: I didn’t know Scott knew nothing about the article until later when I told him the person who cancelled the Tribal Tech show in Delhi is the same guy he is working with for the show in November and he said he didn’t know about any such show! 

Why did you book the flight tickets before Studio Beat Route sent across a confirmation with the signed MoU? 

Sandeep: They had already confirmed the event by sending the 2 lakh rupees advance, and in his emails Anirban has mentioned “As of now, please confirm Tribal Tech for Delhi on the 16th March’13. The balance amount (for the first 50%) will be transferred by 15th Feb’13 and as per your mail, the rest will be paid to you when you guys land in Delhi.” and he also said they were in the process of signing the MoU and sending it across.

26th March What’s The Scene? had a conversation with Scott Henderson to get to know his opinions on the matter and here’s what he had to say:

When did you first see the Hindustan Times article?

Scott: When I was on tour in Asia with Tribal Tech, this month.

What was your first reaction?

Scott: I was pretty upset. Joe Satriani handled it the right way by posting on his website that he had no knowledge of Susmit Sen. I lost my temper and sent Susmit an extremely angry letter, threatening to sue him, and he wrote back demanding an apology. There were more heated email exchanges after that.

Why were you so angry about the article?

Scott: Because my friend Sandeep Chowta has brought me to India four times for little or no profit to himself, and out of nowhere appears some other guy who I’d never heard of, claiming that I was working for him. I took this as a huge insult to Sandeep, who’s worked harder than anyone I know to bring jazz shows to India. I was angry more on the behalf of Sandeep than myself. I later learned that Susmit was actually the promoter of the Tribal Tech show in Delhi, which had been cancelled sometime earlier.

Did Susmit explain why the articles had been published?

Scott: Yes, he said that it was all a mistake because his PowerPoint presentation was leaked to the press without his consent.

Did he also explain that to the public?

Scott: Yes, he told me there was a post on his Studio Beat Route page which included the statement “owing to some confusion, it has been published that Scott Henderson, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Amyt Dutta, Sumit Ramachandran are playing at the festival/series. We at Studio Beat Route would like to state that we haven’t confirmed any artists for the upcoming volumes as of now and have not issued any official statements regarding the same.”

What did you think after reading the post?

Scott: I found it hard to believe that a major newspaper like the Hindustan Times would publish such a fact-based article without getting the information directly from the organizers of the event. I told Susmit I thought his story was bulls***.

Do you know anything about the cancelled Tribal Tech show in Delhi?

Scott: I have no facts about the cancelled show. Cancellations happen all the time in this business and it’s not something I get angry about. It’s between the agent and promoter and I’m not involved in business negotiations. The only thing different in this case is that Susmit pulled out of the show too late, after non-refundable airline tickets were already bought, which cost my friend Sandeep over 2000 Euros. This was unfortunate but not illegal. I was only angry about the illegal use of my name for Susmit’s event in November. This was ridiculous, since I’m touring South America in November with the HBC trio.

Why did you ask Susmit for money?

Scott: I shouldn’t have asked Susmit to pay Sandeep back. That matter was between them and was none of my business. All I wanted was a public apology from Susmit for fraudulently using my name.

Why do you think the show was cancelled?

Scott: According to Susmit, he couldn’t find sponsors for the concert. I don’t understand why he would go into the negotiating stage of a concert without having the sponsors on board first. After learning more about Susmit, I have my own theory about why the gig was cancelled. Susmit doesn’t think of himself as a concert promoter in the traditional sense. He doesn’t want to just bring famous musicians to India, he wants to perform with them. During the negotiations, Anirban asked Sandeep if Susmit could perform with Tribal Tech, and Sandeep said absolutely not.

Did Sandeep have your OK to say that?

Scott: Yeah, of course. If this had been my blues trio, we probably would have let Susmit play, since that gig is all about guitar. But Tribal Tech is not a guitar show, and we don’t let anyone jam with us on stage. Sandy knows that. My guess is that after Susmit learned he wasn’t going to be allowed to perform, he cancelled the show. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but that’s what I think. Regardless of the reason, he’s the promoter and it’s his right to pull out of a show if he wants to, but he should have done it earlier before expensive airline tickets were bought.

What if it really wasn’t Susmit’s fault? What if the newspapers and websites misquoted him?

Scott: Well if that was true I would apologize profusely.

28th March  – After the interview, Henderson decided to post an apology to Susmit. When asked why, he said “because HT became less credible in my eyes. Nirmika Singh had no corroboration from anyone else at HT, and when I wrote to her, she told me she no longer had Susmit’s PowerPoint presentation in her possession. I chose to take Susmit’s word over hers.” When WTS contacted Nirmika Singh, she refused to comment further and asked us to “refer to her comment on the Facebook note with the mail trail.” Susmit Sen didn’t want to answer the questions that he had initially requested us to mail since Scott had already issued a public apology and Susmit didn’t want to drag the matter further. WTS dropped talks and investigations since the artists seemed to have resolved the issue among themselves. 

4th May  – Hindustan Times posted the following retraction and made the Power Point presentation (a Concept Note provided to Hindustan Times by Studio Beat Route in order to have them on board as sponsors for the ‘Masters of Guitar’ event) available to Henderson which he shared with WTS that states “The Concept: MASTERS OF GUITAR festival is a unique festival featuring the best and topmost guitar players from all over the world. This is an initiative to initiate collaboration between Indian musicians along with guitar legends from all across the world. The festival will feature music from all over the world and across all genres – From Pat Metheny, John Mclaughlin, Scott Henderson churning out blues/jazz melodies to Wayne Kramer, Bernie Marsden, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai shredding their respective axes to produce technically challenging blues/rock tunes. All of these great musicians will be collaborating with Indian guitar gods from the likes of Susmit Sen (Founder, Indian Ocean), Sumith Ramachandran (Founder Hip-Pocket), Amyt Dutta (Founder, Skinney Alley), Baiju (Ex guitarist, Motherjane), Prasanna (Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music.)”

Unexpected Lessons from the Masters of Guitar - An investigative report

In light of the latest developments, when asked what he felt after seeing the Concept Presentation and HT’s apology and if the matter had reached a conclusion, Scott said “It was over for me months ago, after I apologized to Susmit and he took his Facebook thread down. Susmit enjoys well deserved respect in India, but seems extremely hungry to expand his career by associating and performing with as many world renowned musicians as he possibly can, and I think his ambition led to fabricating concerts and events which don’t exist, and even showing these fictional events to the press. The musicians should be invited first, before their names are given to the press in any capacity, and I think Susmit and Studio Beat Route acted unprofessionally.” When asked if he was sorry he apologized to Susmit, Henderson said, “No, not at all. I don’t think he realized that exaggerating to the press would result in this ordeal. I found out that Joe Satriani’s manager had seen the HT article before I did, and was already gathering his armies. I wrote to all three guitarists and told them it was just a press misunderstanding. Susmit owes me a drink for that one. He wanted to bring famous musicians to India, but didn’t handle his marketing in the right way – a professional publicist would have never made those mistakes, and I think he desperately needs one. I have no hard feelings toward Susmit, and I’ll certainly say that he’s proven himself to his fans and deserves the respect he’s earned for his musical work. His business skills, well, he should probably stick to music.”

In Susmit’s defence, he had mentioned earlier in his emails to Scott that there was a concept paper that his company Studio Beat Route had presented to a media company that was misrepresented by their marketing department to the reporters which was the source for their articles and that there was never a formal press release that went out to newspapers or magazines. The fact whether he spoke to the journalists or not, remains debatable. The question however remains, whether it was ethical on Studio Beat Route’s part to include a list of artists as people set to perform at an event in the presentations floated around to prospective sponsors. Susmit says “My stand in this whole episode is that my company Studio Beat Route had presented a concept note to certain media houses with the sole purpose of raising sponsorship for ‘Masters of Guitar.’ This concept note was not meant to be printed or shared with public at large. The day I got to know about the articles naming the leading guitar players I immediately issued a clarification on mine and my company’s Facebook pages on the 30th of January. If I had any intention to draw extra mileage by using the international names, I could have exploited the situation to my advantage.” 

7th May WTS contacted Anirban Ghosh from Studio Beat Route and here’s what he had to say: 

Did you approach Sandeep Chowta for a Tribal Tech show in Delhi? 

Anirban: It was I and my colleague and fellow drummer, Nikhil, who wanted Scott Henderson and his band Tribal Tech to perform at the ‘Masters of Guitar’ festival and it was us who suggested Susmit to get him here. Susmit had never even heard of Tribal Tech earlier. We met Sandeep who was bringing Scott Henderson along with his band Tribal Tech to India in March for a show in Mumbai. The concept of ‘Masters of Guitar’ was to bring the best guitar players from all over the world and make them collaborate with Indian guitar players, that’s why there were both international and Indian musicians mentioned in the concept presentation. It was not about just Susmit jamming with any of the guitar players, but was meant for many other Indian guitar players including Susmit to collaborate with them across different series. We concluded a successful 2 concert series with Bernie Marsden and were thinking of doing the same with the others. A big misunderstanding arose after that regarding the Tribal Tech gig which was supposed to be a part of Masters of Guitar and not a separate show (after the clarification from Sandeep that Scott would not jam with anyone onstage without having prior rehearsals, we decided to just have a Tribal Tech gig as part of the ‘Masters of Guitar’ series without any collaboration.) 

Tell us more about the Concept presentation that was sent to HT.

Anirban:  I had sent a concept presentation to Hindustan Times for media partnership that had the names of Scott, Joe, Steve, Pat, Sumit Ramachandran, Amyt Dutta etc. which was supposed to be just a media partnership proposal and nothing more! The source mail to HT clearly states in the subject line “Media Partnership proposal.” We had sent the presentation to a lot of other media companies including The Times of India but no one else printed an article on the basis of that since there is some basic research any media company should do before printing such articles bearing heavyweight names. They should get in touch with everyone involved and take their quotes/ confirmations, but in this case, neither we knew that the media company would print this, nor did they take anyone’s confirmation before printing the article. It is really bizarre that anybody would print an article based on a concept presentation! Things really went out of proportion and ended in a mindless quarrel between Susmit Sen and Scott Henderson because of the inaccurate articles. 

Why did a post go up on Blue Frog’s website about ‘Masters of Guitar Vol II’?

Anirban:  The Blue Frog post came up as a mistake. They were our partners for the entire series and they did get a mail from us confirming Tribal Tech, but soon after we canceled the gig, we asked them to pull it down. They pulled it down after the weekend since here generally, people take an off on weekends.

Was Susmit ever directly involved in any of the talks that transpired about the show in Delhi?

Anirban:  Sandeep and I were in touch on the phone regarding the entire gig and I was informing Susmit about the talks between us. Susmit has been the face of Studio Beat Route, which is why he had to face the brunt of it, but I was equally involved in this from the beginning and I should have handled this thing more professionally so that the situation would never have blown out of proportion the way it did. I am really sorry to everyone who were involved in this issue as a connoisseur of good music and as a musician myself, my intention was to get Scott Henderson to be a part of the ‘Masters of Guitar’ series and I had never ever imagined in my dreams that it would take this route. Like I had told Scott in the thread, there are very few people in the world who care for his kind of music, and instead of criticizing them, he should probably help them in organizing such endeavors as it would do a greater good to the overall music community.

In conclusion, it was unfortunate that the incident had to play out the way it did, we only hope that the artists and organizers involved, put the incident behind and continue to put together great shows and stay open to the prospect of working with each other in the future. Although it looks like it will be a while before any of us catch our Guitar Gods live in concert in India, we hope the wait won’t be too long.

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Priyanka Shetty

Priyanka Shetty is the founder of What's The Scene? Follow Priyanka on Twitter @priyanka_shetty

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Indian Ocean at American Embassy School, New Delhi

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Nilakkhya Dutta

Nilakkhya Dutta is a Delhi based photographer who loves to tell tales through his photographs, be it a wedding, a rock concert, portfolios or travel! Check out his work on https://www.facebook.com/niandniphotography

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Susmit Sen – Depths of the Ocean at Hard Rock Cafe, Pune

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Aryan Porwal

Aryan Porwal is a UX designer by profession, born with an addiction of working on pencil illustrations and cartoons. He also loves music, gaming and photography.

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Indian Ocean: Ebbing away from the mainstream

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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!

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Shubhodeep Datta

Shubhodeep is home to a lunatic in his head, who is on his own with no direction home. Tell him about his grammatical errors! Follow him on Twitter @datta_shubho

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The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

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The first edition of The Mad Festival was greatly anticipated mainly because it held the promise of bringing Music, Arts and Dance together – each one being a form of expression where the difference lies only in the medium through which ideas, thoughts and feelings are conveyed. A closer look at the festival details revealed that they had an amazing line-up with some of the most accomplished musicians and dancers. The location seemed to be the cherry on top of the cake – Ooty was the perfect destination to head to, to enjoy three days of unadulterated bliss. There was no way we would miss this one.

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

The journey began with high expectations, mixed with a lot of apprehension because it is a known fact that organizing events of this magnitude with performances by 48 artistes over a span of 3 days is no ordinary task and since this was the first edition of The Mad Festival, we hoped that everything would run smoothly without any glitches. Strategically placed signboards on the streets leading to Fern Hills ensured that no one had trouble finding the venue. A massive doorway at the entrance announced the name of the festival in bold letters. The setting for the festival was provided by sky-high trees, lovely hills outlining the venue and step farms, lush green with tea plantations. The sheer beauty of the place, and the lovely weather made the venue seem like any art lover’s paradise!

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

The security at the entrance stripped people off all their eatables, unsealed cigarette packs, lighters and water bottles after a thorough inspection of bags and sent the articles collected straight to the dustbin, with no provisions for collecting them after the festival. However, this was forgiven and forgotten as soon as one got past the gates and beheld the massive stage setup. The two stages at the venue called ‘Blubaloo’ and ‘Callaloo’ (which apparently don’t mean anything, in case you were wondering if they had any tribal significance) were set up at different locations and were well-separated from each other by the Mad Bazaar, such that walking over from one stage to another wasn’t much of a chore and the music from the two stages hardly interfered with each other. Two massive boards at each stage announced the line-up for the festival, which was a delectable mixture of different genres featuring artistes spanning various countries and origins.

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

The turnout at the festival was surprisingly low, especially on the first day. Two food stalls and the limited number of tents at the sparsely populated venue made it seem like a large crowd wasn’t expected. However, more people turned up on the second day and the third, making the place a lot livelier. Each day’s proceedings began with an invocation on both stages by the local tribes – Todas, Kotas, Irula, Kattunayakans, Paniyars and Kurumba. On day one, the first few bands played to a sparse audience. However, towards the latter part of the day, a satisfactory number had gathered around both stages to relish the variety of tunes being belted out, scuttling from one stage to another from time to time, not wanting to miss out on too much of anything. The performances on the two stages were well-spaced, giving the audience the opportunity of catching a bit of everything!

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

The pathway from the ‘Blubaloo’ stage to the ‘Callaloo’ stage was lined by the Mad Bazaar with lovely little stalls that sold everything from soft toys, flamboyant cowboy hats, shimmering bows, feathered stoles, fancy hairbands and tiaras, books with original 3D comic art, hats with oversized bows, unconventional musical instruments to a variety of other trinkets. Cupcakes of different varieties were hugely popular and consumed in large numbers. Curiously, there was very little variety across the food stalls at both stages, which got boring towards the end of three days and also quite heavy on the pocket! The ‘Blubaloo’ stage was also lined by the Paintball Zone that had a foosball table, darts and other fun games to indulge in!

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

Not surprisingly, The Bar always seemed to have a sizeable crowd with people gathered around, beers in hand, making their own music by beating on cartons that doubled up as percussion instruments and belting out their own tribal calls at the top of their voices. Mild flirting, animated conversations, socializing and bonding over alcohol and shared cigarettes contributed to most of the buzz while the rest of the buzz came in from the stalls comprising the Mad Bazaar.

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

Sadly, the stalls were the only things that contributed to the “Art” in the festival. The space available around both stages could have been put to better use to display art more extensively. Three days into the festival, we realized that it was more about Music than Arts and Dance, with the latter two thrown in seemingly just to fit the bill to qualify as a festival that promotes all art forms. Hopefully, the second edition of The Mad Festival will have more to offer on that front!

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

In addition to listening and watching the bands and artistes perform on stage, the attendees could also interact with them at the various workshops conducted at the festival such as the ‘Depth of Expression’ workshop by Susmit Sen and the ‘Chaos Theory’ workshop by State of Bengal. There were also several theatre, photography and Yoga workshops that people could enroll for.

The camping place with over 160 tents was quite a walk from the stage (for those who weren’t smart enough to figure out a shortcut!) and was probably the best place to hang out after the day’s proceedings. Bonfires were lit, guitars were wielded and popular tunes were played that everyone sang to. The chilly breeze and drunken conversations over the crackling of a fire with the soft strumming of a guitar or two in the background brought each eventful day to a close. However, when it was time to retire to the cramped tents, the hard floor and the not-so-warm sleeping bags, one would think enviously of all the people in the palace with a soft bed for comfort. A couple of foreigners were spotted complaining that the ticket said “basic power supply” but there was none provided at the camping site. People had to run to the Dell stall next to the ‘Blubaloo’ stage or the palace to charge their phones, which was quite an inconvenience. The portable toilets were many in number although a few of them were quite unclean. This left people with the only option – of running to the palace located 1 km away from the camping site (unless they knew the shortcut!)

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

Days two and three definitely seemed to gain a lot of momentum with a lot more people joining in and enjoying the music, sprawled on the lawns, hanging on to the barricades or just dancing to the tunes at a distance. Some even found a vantage point overlooking the hills and step farms, relishing the music while enjoying the sights and sounds. One thing a lot of artistes complimented the organizers on was the sound. There were almost no problems with respect to sound save for some feedback and volume issues here and there. The sound was pristine, with the sound engineers doing an impeccable job, except for the low volume levels for the Concordia Choir and some feedback during Slain’s performance.

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

The bands and artistes at The Mad Festival covered the whole gamut of genres and sounds. It is rare to come by a festival where you get to see a heavy metal band like Kryptos play alongside a folk rock fusion act like Swarathma or a World music band like Moon Arra. There was clearly an effort made to showcase ethnic music from all over the country. Artistes like The Kabir Project (Sufi, Folk) singing the mysticism of the poet Kabir, Manganiars playing Rajasthani folk music and Vayali folklore group from Kerala portrayed the musical roots of India, while international bands like The Krar Collective from Ethiopia and Kutumba from Nepal had the audience spellbound with their local ethnic music. Fusion acts like Yodhakaa (Sanskrit-based contemporary Indian music), Agam (Carnatic Rock), The Raghu Dixit Project, Indian Ocean and Papon & The East India Company bridged the musical gap between the traditional and the modern sounds, whereas, contemporary rock bands like Motherjane, Slain, Live Banned, Thermal and a Quarter and Avial had the young crowd rocking out. The Shillong bands Soulmate (Blues) and Afflatus (Rock) were particularly impressive with their onstage intensity and sheer incredible musicianship. The Electronic Music fans had something to groove to with bands like State of Bengal, Schizophonic and God’s Robots providing pulsating beats. With such a diversity of music on display at The Mad Festival, there was hardly a soul around who wasn’t caught up with the music of their liking.

The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty

Overall, The Mad Festival proved to be a wonderfully executed event that brought together several artistes and fans from different parts of the world and gave them a chance to interact closely and become acquainted with each other. There were incessant compliments for the organizers by artistes and fans alike for having arranged something like this in the first place, in such a beautiful location, and pulling it off in such a short time frame and the vote in this regard, was unanimous. One of the endearing, and overlooked, details of The Mad Festival was that no band was billed as the headlining act with other bands opening for it. All bands, local and international, were given equal opportunity and a level platform to showcase their art. With the festival featuring 48 bands, stretching over three days, on-site accommodation in tents and camps, the air sizzling with carnival atmosphere, The Mad Festival surely has the potential to be India’s equivalent of international festivals like the Glastonbury Festival.

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Priyanka Shetty

Priyanka Shetty is the founder of What's The Scene? Follow Priyanka on Twitter @priyanka_shetty

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Interview with Indian Ocean

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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 didn’t come at all! (loud laughter)

Susmit: We were very happy but we really thought we’d 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 don’t know! It’s new music, people take time to adjust to that; at that time they didn’t 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.

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: New Year’s 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 doesn’t.

Susmit: Absolutely. That’s the reason we’ve 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, they’d written us off. They said that the first album was a fluke, the second would be a flop!

Rahul: We weren’t hanging around in order to do well. We were enjoying the music we were making and playing. That was what was important. We didn’t sit around feeling sad about it. We actually felt, “Oho! These company guys are a little…you know…” (smiles impishly)

Interview with Indian Ocean

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 aren’t. When we make music, we don’t 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 we’ll sit down, she’ll explain the situation and then we’ll compose music and that we’ll meet again when she’d 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 you’ve 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 don’t know about Black Friday. Black Friday has three songs but has seven pieces of music which were background scores and that’s a different phase in time where we got to see a lot of new things – Amit’s 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. That’s an interesting facet of Indian Ocean that people have no clue about. People only know ‘Bande,’they don’t know the other stuff. In fact it’s 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)

Interview with Indian Ocean

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: It’s a 100 year old Bungalow in Karolbagh!

Susmit: We have experimented a little bit in this album. There’s one song where we’ve 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: It’s 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 we’d make through a music company without the hassle of contracts and copyrights. They live in an era of the past which is why I’m 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, they’ll take away our copyrights. I hope we’re 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.

Interview with Indian Ocean

Amit: I think it’s time to do something second! (sniggers)

Susmit: We would like to hold the rights to our songs; it’s 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 RewaMa Rewa kahaan se Sufi hai mereko ye batao. Kuch bhi kahin bhi thop dete hain!

Susmit: They don’t 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. It’s the easiest way to get across to the market. We’re not relying on the distribution systems of music companies.

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: Aamir Khan’s production venture ‘Peepli Live’ – you’ve composed two songs for that. Doesn’t 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 don’t have the final say.

Rahul: Sure, but then this happens otherwise also. For example, during Kandisa Pramodji from Times said I’m 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 we’re 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 don’t we tell them “Chee chee chee! You’re not being original, go do something American!” There’s always exchange between cultures. Lots of Indians love rock music, I love it too.

Amit: And there are more role models out there. It’s not a crime.

Rahul: It’s 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. It’s 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 it’s very difficult to get away.

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: Tell us about Leaving Home – how did it feel watching your own story unfold on screen?

Rahul: You want to meet the director? He’s here! (fetches Jaideep Varma)

WTS: Did Leaving Home’s 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. Asheem’s 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 I’m not going to be waiting anymore. I was beginning to think it might not release on the big screen. I would’ve 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. It’s not worth it; it’s just too much. It was worth it only for Asheem – we caught something really special on tape. I’m very proud of this film but it’s not worth trying these kind of projects in India. I wouldn’t 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 he’ll wait until one of us says tata bye bye! (laughs)

Jaideep: Don’t say that! Don’t even talk like that.

Interview with Indian Ocean

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 – it’s a proper industry. If there’s somebody doing equal promotion for live performances then definitely. Why do you think Black Friday became so popular? It’s the same people!

Rahul: Because of the advertising focus, the media goes gaga over it – they don’t have a mind of their own and only go after TRP. Bollywood has a huge reach, there’s no denying that.

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Priyanka Shetty

Priyanka Shetty is the founder of What's The Scene? Follow Priyanka on Twitter @priyanka_shetty

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