Sunday, April 27, 2014

Kandisa (2000) - India Ocean

Published in Stream- July 2013


Till about twenty years ago, the Indian music scene was bleak. We had Film Music, with its role as just a supplement to the story and the visual, and Traditional Music, Hindustani and Carnatic, with their deep-rooted traditions and musical styles, both unapproachable for the lay listener and unsuitable for experimentation. Folk Music offered a wider spectrum of topics to deal with but somehow never spread across the length and breadth of the country. The Hippie counter-culture movement that spread across US, binding hundreds of thousands of people with a shared ideology of love and peace, was obviously ignited and kept aflame by the garage bands that cropped up in literally every town. Their musical output has since been unmatched and a lot of people still consider the music produced in 1960s and 1970s to the greatest music ever. Though those are personal claims, what cannot be ignored is the impact they had and the culture they encouraged. Bands like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin among others were incredibly popular among the youth across the world including India. And though we had a few local bands in the 1980s, like Rock Machine and Axecalibre, they still played what was essentially Western music. An indigenous band that was deeply Indian yet had the appeal to go global was yet to arrive.

And Indian Ocean did just that. Born as the brainchild of guitarist Sushmit Sen, a self-taught musician whose style has been compared to that of greats like Jerry Garcia and John Mclaughlin, Indian Ocean is a band whose music that is beyond categorization. Having been influenced by a wide variety of musical genres, he teamed up with Hindustani Classical vocalist and Tabla player Asheem Chakravarthy, a genius of a man who probably was one of the very few musicians in the world can sing while playing percussion. They decided to put together a band that played soulful music and that didn't have to fit into any genre. In a revealing anecdote, in the must-watch documentary on the band Leaving Home: The Life and Music of Indian Ocean, Asheem recalls how they expected to be booed off stage the first time they played but ended up playing for more than two hours because the crowd had never heard anything like that before. After a string a musicians who came and went, the band took its final shape in 1994 with the inclusion of vocalist and Bass guitarist Rahul Ram, a social activist with a Ph.D in Environmental Toxicology, and drummer Amit Kilam, an extremely talented musician who could almost play any instrument he picked up. The band was to stay together for almost sixteen years until the untimely death of Asheem.

From then on, they played. Because of the extremely different personalities of the band members and what they brought to their music, the sound of Indian Ocean is beyond description. Their music cannot be categorized because it seems to be a fusion of folk, traditional, rock, jazz, Sufi music etc. and also strangely does not carry the baggage of any of them. Their songs do not follow conventional structural patterns, it is almost impossible to predict where a song might be heading, the use of instruments is very novel and sometimes it appears as if the song that ended was different from the song that started. But what can definitely be said of their music is its hypnotic effect on the listener, the feel of its earthiness and an almost unexplainable joy it provides to the soul.

To talk about Kandisa is almost impossible. Its like having to explain what makes a Jackson Pollock so appealing. The seven songs are musically extremely diverse, the canvas of the album is huge and their emotional depth is indefinable. Kya Maloom begins with the haunting sound of Sanskrit slokas and slowly Asheem's voice and Sushmit's melody weave a world around us. Ma Rewa is a brilliant adaptation of a traditional folk song about the Narmada rider and is set to a solid rhythm with its almost river-like melody meandering through the mountains. Leaving Home is an extraordinary example of world-music, its sound is extremely native and the music loops around our head in spirals, taking us deeper and deeper within. Hille Re is the most energetic song in the album and an incredible amount of fun. To listen to Rahul Ram enjoy himself singing simply rouses one's spirits. Khajuraho is a deeply religious experience that makes us acknowledge the cyclical nature of life and the lyrics by Sanju Sharma are just incredible. Sample this- Dhoom machi har nabh mein phoote ras ki phuharein/ Anhad ke aangan mein naache chanda sitare ( At the sight of showers, as the skies erupt with joy, the moon and stars dance at the courtyard of the Immeasurable ). If Khajuraho is deeply religious, Kaun is extremely philosophical. The song is a prayer for peace, and Amit Kilam gets us hooked with that beginning before rest of the band joins in communicating as much musically as lyrically. The final song of the album Kandisa is not just a song. It is an experience, a musical voyage so powerful that it will transport one into deeply spiritual places within. What a song. It cannot be explained but can only be indulged in.

Kandisa is a really old album, released in 2000, and contains some of the bands most popular songs. It is a must have for those who are into fusion but is highly recommended even to those who are into other genres of music. Kandisa is music at its truest and albums like these don't come often.

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