Sunday, November 11, 2007

Indian Ocean’s free flow of music

Indian Ocean’s free flow of music
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Unadulterated, innovative and free flowing are the only words that pops in mind to describe the musical band Indian Ocean that performed to packed audience on November 12, the rainy Sunday evening in Chennai.

Sushmit Sen on the acoustic guitar, Rahul Ram on bass and vocals, Asheem Chakravarty on tabla, percussions and vocals, and Amit Kilam on drums and flute, gave some top class performers to regale the audience who came in large numbers with their rain coats and umbrellas to watch them at The Hindu’s Friday Review November Fest.

Indian Ocean’s music stems from the rich cultural Indian background, primarily folklore that forms its melodic soul. It combines Hindustani classical music, with jazz improvisation and rock-laden rhythmic patterns and with bass harmonics and matchless vocals to leave a stamp of its originality and creativity, a rare feat in the current context of the Indian musical scene.

Asheem the lead vocalist showed remarkable range of talent. A accomplished tabla player, he combined vocals, percussion with immaculate perfection. Sushmit's guitar work was consistent throughout, with crackling clean scale-based melodies.

Bassist Rahul, a PhD in Environmental Toxicology from Cornell University was bundle of raw rock power with a powerful gifted voice. He was more than a mere textural guitar player, a front man of the band who spoke to the audience narrating numerous anecdotes and tales to connect the right chord.

Amit the drummer and the flute player combined with Asheem to create unique sounds. The musical integrity of the four musicians on stage was a treat to watch and would linger on the memory for the long time to come.

The show opened up with the track from the ‘Desert Rain’, dubbed to be the first live album ever to be released by an Indian band. The performance moved to a track from their third album, Kandisa. They also sang “Maa Rewa,” a traditional folk song in praise of the river Narmad and a revolutionary song sung by the Bhoomi Sena of Mahrastra.

Their musical composition to a poem by Kabir, the great Indian saint-poet of the 15th century was another masterpiece. “Nam Myo Ho” captured the moment of Gautam's soul awakening on his journey to becoming Buddha, the enlightened one.

Other essential songs of the day were a track from their 2003 album ‘Jhini’ a song called “Bhor” and a Syrian hymn in praise of God, written in Aramaic.

The pick of the day was ‘Hilela’, a track from Kandisa, whose opening line is famous folklore of Bihar. Audiences were in ruptures when the orchestra was in fusion experimenting with sounds; many stood up and started dancing with the free flow of the music created by Indian Ocean.

The level of instrumental independence; magnitude and larger-than-life stage performance of the Delhi based band. The beautiful combination of bass and drums, solo and superb tabla and drums jugalbandi was a delight to watch.

‘Indian classical music relies on a variety of scales that are used to create specific moods, and Indian Ocean's music is largely based on that tradition’ said A Krishanan a radio jockey who came from Bangalore to watch Indian Ocean perform live.

‘Labels are pointless, to describe Indian Ocean, its undoubtedly India’s most original and creative bands, unique and different from all the accessible sounds,’ said Anjan Kumar, a garment exporter, who actually hails from Bihar but settled in Chennai for many years.

What’s apparent in the performance of the Indian Ocean was the social meaning behind each of their songs. The sound they created certainly was a tribute to India’s rural and modern background and their comprehensive understanding of India’s soul and spirits.

It's hard to believe that greater fame has eluded an impeccable and mature band like Indian Ocean that has been around for over 15 years with five albums under their belt and two movies to their credit that includes the controversial Black Friday. Well these are few imponderables of India that none can comprehend!

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist, based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

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