Sunday, December 14, 2014

My first Indian Ocean concert ...

I have been listening to the music created by Indian Ocean since the release of Kandisa … a dear friend, Krishna Prasad, introduced me to this band and lent me his cassette … (yes!  cassette!!  yeah, it was that long ago…) honestly, the music I heard was something I had never heard before … those were the days when very good ‘independent’ singers and musicians had come out with their albums and one could count Colonial Cousins (Hari & Les), Silk Route (Mohit Chauhan & others), Lucky Ali, Euphoria, and others as having made their considerable mark and are listened to even to this day … the music I heard on Kandisa was quite different from what one usually hears … one could immediately identify the guitar and voices as moving militantly away from established or prevalent norms … and the guitar playing was out of this world … the sound created by Susmit Sen for Indian Ocean was a blend of rock, Indian classical, jazz, Indian folk … and the voices of Asheem Chakravarthy and Rahul Ram were distinctly folk and desi … Amit Kilam’s drums were a blend of Western and Indian beats and he also played the Recorder and the folk instrument called Gabgubi … and if I am not wrong, he played the Clarinet too in some songs … 


Indian Ocean’s music pieces are quite long, sometimes going up to 9 minutes … and therefore it was a delight to listen to long stretches of Susmit’s guitar in Kandisa … I hadn’t heard their earlier two albums then, the first was simply called Indian Ocean and the second was a live album called Desert Rain … the stories of how these two albums came about is intriguing as well as interesting … and these stories are documented elsewhere … Kandisa contained a whole range of songs like the ode to river Narmada, Ma Rewa, the revolutionary Hille Le by Gorakh Pande, the Aramaic- East Syrian song Kandisa, Kashmiri lyrics in Kaun …  and Susmit’s exquisite guitar … Kandisa was their breakthrough album and propelled them into the limelight and Indian Ocean, so to say, became ‘Famous’ … and the rest, as they say, is history …

Jhini came next and kind of followed Kandisa’s pattern in terms of range … there’s a folk-like song called Des Mera, Kabir in Jhini, Buddhist hymns in Nam Mo Hyo, a sufi inspired Bhor … and of course, Asheem and Rahum with their exquisite vocals and Susmit with his guitar … and the multi-instrumentalist Amit Kilam … and then Indian Ocean toured the world and the country …  by this time, I had acquired their second album Desert Rain, which had gone out of ‘print’ and was re-released by the same company that released Jhini … and after a couple of years, HMV came forward and re-released their first album, simply called Indian Ocean, which too had gone out of ‘print’ … but for some reason, I hadn’t witnessed a single live performance of Indian Ocean … and it was showing in my music CV …

And recently, that lacuna was filled … I watched a live Indian Ocean concert at Ravindra Bharati, Hyderabad as part of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest 2014 … before the concert, there was some regret that I wouldn’t be watching Asheem live and also that Susmit has since left Indian Ocean … the new line-up included Nikhil Rao, the lead guitarist, Himanshu Joshi, vocals, and Tuhin Chakraborty on Tabla and other percussion … I had heard this new line-up’s recently released album called Tadanu and it made very good listening  … but you have been listening to Kandisa, Desert Rain, and Jhini and Khajoor Road all these years and the sound of Indian Ocean has sort of embedded itself into your senses … and one knows when Asheem is going to come in … when Susmit’s guitar kicks in … when Rahul’s voice soars … and when Amit would come out with his Recorder or Gabgubi … and you wait for these moments … Tandanu definitely had a new kind of sound, but the essential Indian Ocean-ness was intact and moreover Tandanu, the album, was a collaborative effort with an acclaimed artiste guesting each number …

So, it was with all these things swirling in my head that I sat down to watch and listen to Indian Ocean … it was a delight to see Rahul and Amit for the first time … and once, that expectation was fulfilled, I relaxed … the concert kicked off with From the Ruins, and Rahul said it was a song that was rarely performed live and I think we were lucky … and it also gave us a chance to see how Himanshu would deal with those soaring shlokas that Asheem sang so beautifully … and I feel Himanshu acquitted himself very well … but, this kind of comparison will always be made and though unfair, Himanshu will have to bear this … and then Rahul Ram introduced the new members after the first number, said that they would be performing numbers from their new album Tandanu … and as each number in Tandanu had a guest artiste, it would be difficult to have all of them during concerts and that Indian Ocean would try to do their best in making the songs sound as good as they are in the album … 

They began with the title song, Tandanu … Tandanu is a Kannada spiritual-folk song and Rahul told us that his chikkamma taught him this song when he was a child and that has stayed with him … and in Tandanu, the album, Shankar Mahadevan had sung this song along with the Indian Ocean gang … and most of you know what Shankar Mahadevan is capable of … and now this was a song that this line-up could call their own without inviting comparisons with the previous line-up … (there is a scratch version of Tandanu in the bonus CD in the 16/330 Khajoor Road album, but the one in Tandanu is a much more accomplished effort, not to mention Shankar’s vocals) and it is a fast song and so, the gang went hell for leather with all members singing and the song came out beautifully … Himanshu came into his own in this song and sang the konakol and Carnatic classical bits with ease … and one could see Nikhil Rao revelling in the role of the lead guitarist … but I think Nikhil’s skill and talent came out exceedingly well in Charkha, where he had to fill in for Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s Mohan Veena (VMB guested this number in the album) …  and also play the lead … and it is at this point that I felt Nikhil Rao will go a very long way with Indian Ocean and Susmit had selected him with care to succeed him in Indian Ocean … and Nikhil has not only mastered the Indian Ocean sound, but has made compositions like Charkha, Tandanu, and Behney Do, his own …


The band also played Behney Do from Tandanu and the folksy Des Mera, and the roaring Hille Le and an exquisite Bhor (and I missed Asheem sorely here) with Amit showing his skills on the Recorder and Nikhil making everyone forget that he is not Susmit … and Rahul’s version of how the song came about … quite hilarious … and oh yes, how could I forget Bandeh …  which Rahul has made his own … my god, how he drawls and drags those words … arrre ruk jaaaaaaaaaaaa re bandeeeehhh … arre tham jaaaaaaaaaaaaa re bandeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhh … ki kudrat hans padegiiiiii … the whole hall was quiet … 


Nikhil provided the rock background … he is brilliant … !!! and somewhere towards the end, a string on his guitar snapped and he picked up another guitar and continued playing, and it was only after the concert that Amit told the audience that the other guitar that he picked up was tuned differently for another song and that Nikhil had continued playing the current song without anyone knowing that he had made the change in tune … brilliant !!


And at the end we had Kandisa for dessert … and it looked like the entire hall was waiting for this moment … and Rahul, oh god, he sang it so achingly beautifully … and it is not even in any language he knows …


My first live concert of Indian Ocean and I was more than happy … my earlier anxieties were washed over with the sheer genius of these musicians and I came out confident that Indian Ocean will give us many more such hours of musical pleasure …


Of course, I went backstage and took autographs of all the band members on the Tandanu CD jacket … and I also had brought the coffee-table book on Indian Ocean, Indian Ocean: A photographic Journey Spanning More Than Two Decades of the Band,’ which had a lot of wonderful photographs and I got Amit and Rahul to sign on their pictures … and both of them were surprised to see that someone had taken the trouble to bring such a heavy book to take autographs on their photos and said they had not seen anyone do it before … I had also taken Indian Ocean’s first album, which was released only as a cassette, and since Rahul is the only member of that line-up who continues to be in Indian Ocean, I took his sign and again, Rahul was surprised to see the cassette … arre, Amit yeh dekho, hamara pehla album ka cassette … 

2 comments:

Lina Mukhopadhyay said...

I got know about the Indian Ocean's journey through your fine description of the band's evolution over time - :-) Thank you Jai for this excellent description -I think reporters of the Hindu Fest would find this valuable.

Lina

Aravind Sci said...

Yeah, a lovely group of people they are. I've assisted them once during a performance they gave at a conference in HICC. I've got a CD autographed by them. In fact each one of them took the pain of signing a whooping 200 CDs personally, to be distributed for free.