The Hot List 2017: Thaikkudam Bridge (Fusion Band)
How a mammoth 15-member, multi-lingual ensemble is hitting all the right notes in India and abroad
How is it that when most trios and quartets just about manage to break even on an India tour, a 15-member fusion collective is performing across the U.S. and Europe? Kochi fusion band Thaikkudam Bridge aren’t even close to being a commercial band, considering they sing about politics, death and nature laced with frenzied violin, heavy guitar riffage and gather the most evocative of voices.
Violinist, vocalist and co-founder Govind Menon says about the way they approached their debut album Navarasam , “We featured the traditional Kerala temple music ensemble consisting of chenda (a percussive instrument), kombu (a hornlike wind instrument) and elathalam (percussion akin to kirtans) because the tracks’ theme demanded a very rich and regional soundscape to it.” In just over four years, Thaikkudam Bridge have taken over the title of fusion kings, singing in Malayalam, Hindi and now, with their upcoming album Namah, even English. With the follow-up to Navarasam, expectations were clearly riding high. But Menon says they don’t really think about the burden of previous material. “Yes, there is pressure. There is expectation. But with so many band members working as a team, we don’t think too much about it! We just don’t have the time. It’s gigs, music and more music.”
Despite knowing their strengths—seeing how they’ve played to thousands in venues across the world—Thaikkudam Bridge aren’t afraid to take risks. While there’s little doubt that their biggest following comes from Kerala—they originally gained fans for covering and adding their own twist to Malayalam folk songs—their first single off Namah was the prog/alt rock-leaning “Inside My Head,” featuring only English vocals and drums from none other than virtuoso Marco Minnemann.
That’s not even where the collaborations end on Namah. The 10-track album which will release in early 2018 has also enlisted Grammy-winning Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, sitarist Niladri Kumar, ace flautist Rakesh Chaurasia and Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler. Going by this lineup of guests, Thaikkudam Bridge are certainly mingling the traditional and heavy in a way that no band before them has even attempted. Menon says, “When we started to dream about the collaborations one by one, we literally had no hope any one of them would materialize. But we tried anyway, and almost every one of them we approached, agreed, much to our shock and excitement! This was a gamble that paid off in mysterious ways.”
And with the stagnation of bands like Avial and Motherjane, the crown of Malayalam rock kings is more or less for the taking. They had a huge push from media publishing house Mathrubhumi’s Kappa TV for their album as well as the slick, unparalleled music videos for songs like “Navarasam,” “Chathe” and “One,” and enlisting Bollywood director Bejoy Nambiar [Shaitan, David] to shoot the video for “Aarachar,” starring actor Aditi Rao Hydari.
Menon mentions that they’re no longer working with Mathrubhumi on their upcoming album, but videos are still the band’s strength in gathering fans. With every official music video’s view count running into hundreds of thousands (“Navarasam” and “One” have passed the million mark), “Inside My Head” revolves around a murder in the woods and the idea of unreliability, stepping up the band’s allegiance to visual storytelling. Menon says there are more music videos in the works, building up to the release of a star-studded album like Namah. He adds, “We now are on the lookout for major music festivals around the globe and hope to keep touring.”
This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of Rolling Stone India.
Watch the video for “Inside My Head”