The Groove Guru Presents: Blues-Jazz-Funk from Indie India
by Arnav Adhikari on July 30, 2013
Posted in: Blues, Eclectic, Jazz, Music, World
There are few things in life more orgasmic than a good blues lick, that perfect, sultry jazz line, or just the pulsating, visceral scratchiness of a funk song that makes you feel beautifully primal. There is a palpable energy to this music that is so complex yet so simple in its effect on body and mind; music that sparks movement that seems so natural yet never ceases to surprise us when it does. So, this week, I’m talking about bands that have not only shaped the genres of blues, jazz and funk in the Indian indie scene, but have also redefined and reinterpreted them in their own unique ways, while continuing to preserve the ultimate and sacred goal of staying true to the groove.
Now, music under the umbrella of jazz-blues-funk has always been around in India, mostly in the form of standards, but there are few artists who have brought it to the fore and pushed its limits. One of my personal favourite Indian bands of all time – Thermal and a Quarter– is in fact just one of these. The mighty TAAQ are a Bangalore based band that have been around for a while, and are considered one of the fathers of the indie music scene here. Known nationwide as a mind-blowing live act, one that I was lucky enough to see years ago but unfortunately too young to understand, TAAQ have taken their soulful amalgamation of vocal jazz, slow blues, and percussive rock n roll funkiness all over the world. Having toured the US, the UK and pretty much every corner and college festival in India, they are perhaps one of the most experienced outfits around; what makes them so popular and perennially effervescent is their simple respect for rhythm and melody. Few bands fully appreciate the immense value of a vocal hook; listen to their most popular track, Paper Puli, and tell me if that infectious scatty vocal line doesn’t lather the inside of your head for days. TAAQ’s sound is defined by arguably one of the tightest rhythm sections in India, layered over with front-man Bruce ‘Lee’ Mani’s combination of incredibly articulate guitar work and soaring, whiskey soaked vocals: listen to Bend the World or Grab Me as a perfect example of this sound. The other great thing I love about Thermal and a Quarter is their devilish satirical streak; listen to Shut Up and Vote, a song written around election time about ‘living-room intellectuals’, happy to complain about the nature of politics, but too lazy to get up and do anything about it. Kickbackistan is another great song that jibes at the greasy fingered politicians and bureaucrats that profited from the illicit deals and contracts during the 2010 Commonwealth Games that were held in Delhi. TAAQ knows how to do their covers too, with masterful renditions, or re-inventions rather, of Hey Jude by the Beatles and In Bloom by Nirvana. This is a band that is incredibly innovative, and has pushed the blues-jazz-funk genre in India further than anyone before, while maintaining the integrity of the feel. They are currently warming up for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the back of their fifth album 3 Wheels 9 Lives, a massive double disc. If you want to listen to a straight-up damn good band that knows how to play fine music but unrelentingly keeps you on your toes with odd tempos and unbelievable guitar licks, do yourself a favour and open your mind to Thermal and a Quarter, you will not regret it. (Check them out here – http://www.thermalandaquarter.com/)
The next stop on Jazz-Blues-Funk Highway has to be Soulmate, the sultriest band around. Fronted by guitarist Rudy Wallang and vocalist Tipriti Bangar, Soulmate knows the blues better than most. To see them live is an acid trip in itself: Rudy’s luminescent red Fender Strat moans while Tipriti sways gently on her knees and wails out the blues like a prophetess, pleading us to follow, while clutching her whiskey glass; the drums and bass come to life, pulsating so subtly yet ever so constantly. Soulmate have made huge leaps in the last few years; while continuing to play small bars and pubs, they are regular festival giggers, headlining the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, The Mahindra Blues Festival and opening for Carlos Santana on his India tour. Listen to their breakthrough album Moving On, to get a glimpse of Soulmate in all their retro glory. Stay Away exemplifies Tipriti’s mean vocal range and Rudy’s raw, thick guitar tone. Moving On, the title track, is a slow waltzy number with a great organ line, highlighted by some tight drum work. Your Sweet Loving has a beautiful Bonnie Raitt feel to it, with great slide guitar and one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard. My personal favourite though, is Set Me Free, a song that is just so simple yet so incredibly intricate and sexy. The bassline is phenomenal and the vocal melody is perfect and articulate. Listening to Soulmate is often a cathartic experience for me, an opportunity for smoky self-reflection, if you will. Moving On is an album that has broken the glass ceiling for independent original music in India, paving the path for more hybridized band to come forth and play music that belongs to them. Soulmate has taken the good old blues sound (which can often get rather monotonous) and put it through the mixer with a distinct flavor that they can legitimately call only their own.
Check them out here – https://myspace.com/soulmateshillong
Some artists you cannot dream of leaving out when you’re talking about jazz-blues-funk include Adil & Vasundhara, a fairly new jazz duo that is so funky you can’t help but get cosy while listening to them. Powered by Adil Manuel’s thick, milky guitar tone and immaculately phrased melodies, Vasundhara’s vocals are undoubtedly the show-stealer. Channeling Aretha Franklin-esque gospel, Etta James-esque blues and Ella Fitzergald-esqu jazz, Vasundhara’s vocals are simply extra terrestrial. Check out their brand new album Ampersand.
Other bands to check out include newer artists like Big Bang Blues and Ditty and Mark, spacey funk fathers Skinny Alley, and the most incredible minimalist jazz trio Drift. Overall, I think the blues-funk-jazz genre is growing to mammoth proportions in India, and we’re not the only ones recognizing it. Huge blues artists like Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal and Dana Fuchs Band are making their way here because the scene is blooming and we’re right at the heart of it. There is an inexplicable feel to the way we approach our music that makes our jazz that much more flavorful, our funk that much more sexier and our blues that much more powerful.
Here’s the Groove Guru’s prescription for the week:
1) Grab Me by Thermal and a Quarter – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKTZsdeg-0o
2) Set Me Free by Soulmate – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIvXtm8GWMY
3) Make Love by Adil & Vasundhara and Thermal and a Quarter – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7G-b_7in8g
4) Illuminated by Ditty & Mark – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Meq5nQIMglk
5) Ten One by Drift – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiVaP3OZrw8