Chennai Artist Amrit Rao On Going From Parody Rocker to Satirist: ‘It’s Selective Madness’
His year-old band Amrit Rao and the Madrascals have released their theatrical debut album ‘Baemaani’
In January this year, Chennai rock act Amrit Rao and the Madrascals made their debut at Bengaluru venue Bflat, Indiranagar. Rao – the reliable and funnyman’s voice previously fronting parody rock outfit Live Banned – had gathered together some of the top musicians from Chennai to work on material that became part of their recently released album Baemaani.
There’s bassist Conrad Simmons and drummer Ramkumar Kanakarajan (from rockers Grey Shack), violinist Manoj Kumar (who replaced fusion artist Shravan Sridhar early on), guitarist-producer Karun Ramani and keyboardist Bharath Sankar (from Tamil rockers Oorka). It had been more than a year since Rao had got on stage and he was no longer the same wig-wearing, voice-modulating garish frontman of Live Banned. He was now a thought-provoking satirist wielding Tamil poetry about socio-political issues over dark, cinematic fusion rock and metal. He says about the seven tracks on Baemaani, “They’re not very direct, but satirical, with hidden meanings in wordplay which wasn’t there in Live Banned. I always like songs to be intense and that’s why I think there’s a heavy part in all the songs.”
Created early last year, Rao quickly realized the club wasn’t the best place for these songs any longer. When he wrote “Thanni” – which questions environmental damage and the exploitation of rural India – the material assumed a grander scale. Rao says, “I thought the sound of all the songs was big and grand. I thought the better way to present it on stage was with dance or theater, adding to the grandeur.” In August, Rao – also inspired by prog artist Devin Townsend’s 2013 live album The Retinal Circus – teamed up with Chennai theater company Crea-Shakthi and choreographer Preethi Bharadwaj to stage Baemaani as a complete musical. Songs about political exploitation (“Kaattukkulla,”) godmen (“Buddhiketta Manidhar”) and even economics (“Kaasimedu”) were translated to stage at the Museum Theatre with help from actors and dancers.
He admits that the budgets involved in staging a musical are often not within your regular independent band’s reach, but he hopes more musicians find their way. “After we finished the premiere, we were wondering why other bands haven’t thought about this. There are so many more ways to present your music – there are more bands exploring this, but I feel we’ve been late as an independent music community. All these years, we’ve been very rigid, even in how we look at other artforms,” says Rao.
As much as Baemaani is a moody and lyrically heavy album, the band does cut loose on the closing track “Hindi,” which is not only a throwback to the comedy of Live Banned but also a commentary on the long-standing issue of Hindi as a national language. Rao says, “This is a whacky song, I told the band, ‘You guys do whatever you want, let’s just have fun.’”
With the songs out, Rao hopes to “tell parallel stories through music videos” as well as take Baemaani the musical to different audiences. He adds, “I’m already thinking about the next album. This time I think it’ll be the story first and then the song, like a concept album.”