The Groove Guru #2
by Arnav Adhikari on June 18, 2013
Posted in: Music, World
Hello again friends and lovers. On my last post I introduced you to the existence of a vibrant and energetic indie music scene here in India, and we talked about a broad spectrum of musicians that have been fundamental to the establishment of this core.
This week, I’m talking about artists who, quite frankly in my opinion, form the very foundation of what makes our music so unique. Artists who have made the boundaries and limitations of genres merely mythical, artists who have somehow found this middle ground, this space where innovation thrives. The bands I’m talking about are nothing short of alchemists, pushing consistently to create new sounds that are so unique yet so viscerally connected to their roots. In essence, I’m talking about the masters of fusion.
First off, Indian Ocean, a band without which we probably wouldn’t have had half the other bands I’m talking about today. Started as an on-and-off project in the 80s by Susmit Sen and the late Asheem Chakravarty, Indian Ocean recorded their first self titled album in 1990, a record that was almost entirely instrumental. With the likes of Rahul Ram on bass and Amit Kilam on the drums, Indian Ocean slowly began to evolve their sound, play larger gigs and gain immense popularity, culminating in the release of more independent albums. The problem for record executives was twofold: 1) They wouldn’t dream of recording an Indian band 2) They couldn’t quite understand what Indian Ocean was in the first place. The latter is something I still don’t understand, but embrace nevertheless. What makes the band so unique is this (anything-but) gray area in which its music falls. With punchy bass lines and hypnotic percussion, guitar lines as fluid and meditative as the tide, and vocals that are so intertwined with where they come from, Indian Ocean is a band that values its ethnicity, but is also not afraid to challenge and mould it. Listen to their album Kandisa from start to finish; I promise you, it is one helluva journey of an album that, in my mind is even more powerful than Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. For some of their more rock n roll stuff listen to Bandeh; dig up Desert Rain, one of their earlier, grooviest tunes, in which Susmit Sen’s guitar sounds like a sitar on acid. Finally, one of my personal favourites – Des Mera (Angrezi babu)- an incredibly dancey number that is basically flipping a giant middle finger to our former Colonizers, the British. Indian Ocean are now touring all over, working on new material, have an autobiographical movie out, and just kicking ass well into their 50s. Check them out here: http://www.indianoceanmusic.com/
Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram, Amit Kilam and Susmit Sen (from left)
The next band that we’re looking at is quite honestly one of my favourite bands of all time, and one that I’ve been lucky enough to see live and interact with on a number of occasions: Advaita. A band that’s been around for a while but probably has an average age of 25, Advaita’s sound is, to put it simply, God’s synesthetic brushstroke. The band found its origins around 2004 and has since then gained mammoth popularity, and has almost single-handedly injected the indie scene in India with this burning drive to innovate, to invent your own sound, and to put it out there fearlessly. Advaita is one of those few bands that can actually have the same unifying impact on my grandparents that it does on me. Drawing on classical Indian vocals, percussion and strings, Advaita compounds its sound with electronic sprinklings, explorative drumming, bass lines that lather you with groove, and vocals that, in their complexity, seem to be conveying higher subliminal messages. All of this is swaddled in a psychedelic glaze, with hints of jazz and blues, but presented in a transcendental genre (or lack thereof) that is well and truly theirs. Advaita have now grown from garage band status to giants, releasing two albums, Grounded in Space and The Silent Sea (available on Amazon!), touring the country tirelessly and winning innumerable awards and recognition. They are the stalwarts of the music scene here today, and are symbolic of a musical transformation in the country that every single school band here wants to be a part of. My personal recommendation would be to listen to both albums start to finish on a stormy night with a candle lit, watching the flame dance to the music. However, if you just want to get a taste, listen to Hamsadhwani, a song that takes a classical Indian raga (scale) and sends it into another realm entirely. Listen closely to the Sarangi (the fluid violin-esque instrument) in Miliha and Gamapanipa. Follow the bass and percussion in Mo Funk, and lose yourself in the stratified vocals of So Lost. Advaita will blow your mind. Trust me. Check them out at: http://www.advaitaonline.net/
So now that I’ve spoken about the two biggest fusion artists in my opinion, I’ll introduce you rather briefly to a host of others. This post would be incomplete if I fail to mention Swarathma, the most eccentric fusion band around. Hailing from Bangalore, these folk rockers enjoy their choruses more than anything, and will rope you into singing them even if you don’t understand a word of what they’re saying. Listen to Yeshu Allah aur Krishna and Topiwale. Also, if you need any more encouragement, their lead vocalist likes to attach a fake horse to himself and ride around stage (it’s brilliant). Next up, another Bangalore giant, the Raghu Dixit Project. Spawned by Raghu Dixit, a former corporate executive who just couldn’t take it anymore, the band is an amazing amalgamation of acoustic, folksy, punchy rock n roll with soaring classical vocals. Listen to Hey Bhagwaan and Ambar Pe, great study songs. Finally, check out some more experimental artists like Motherjane, Mrigya and Avial, a South Indian band that takes native folk songs and puts them through a heavy, progressive, alternative rock sieve, creating an incredibly weird yet interesting mix.
This should give you a good sense of what sets the Indian indie scene apart from the rest: the innovation and both the deviation and adherence to our roots. Check back soon for the next post in a couple of weeks when I introduce the jazz/blues/funk legends of India. It’s going to get very interesting.
So, finally, here is the Groove Guru’s weekly prescription:
1) Des Mera by Indian Ocean – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBtiEZNQimI
2) Rasiya by Advaita – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42lbTxR2zEU
3) Hey Bhagwan by Raghu Dixit – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYzENrdZasg
4) Topiwale by Swarathma – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDU_z-zPfJs
5) Adu Pambe by Avial – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDU_z-zPfJs