Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram Is On A Roll
The bassist and vocalist, who performs with his band in Coorg this week, talks about the several collaborations lined up this year
For close to two decades now, Delhi folk rockers Indian Ocean have had thousands of fans singing along “Kandisa” word for word in Aramaic, a Middle Eastern dialect. As the voice of the band, bassist and vocalist Rahul Ram also has a keen ear for languages having picked up Aramaic, Punjabi, Kannada, Bhilali, Magadhi, besides Hindi, Bengali and English.
When we call him up for a chat, Ram is at a studio in Imphal, recording a Manipuri-English track called “Nonglei” with Imphal Talkies frontman Akhu aka Ronid Chingangbam and Naga folk artist Guru Rewben Mashangva for Akhu’s upcoming second album, tentatively titled When The Home Is Burning. “I asked them to write the lyrics in the Hindi script [devanagari], it’s the best way to get the exact pronunciation,” says Ram about singing in the Manipuri language, Meitei-lon.
For now, he has more than one collaboration going with Akhu. A year ago, Ram approached the Manipuri vocalist to record a track that Akhu had written on Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila for a solo concept album that Ram has been working on for a couple of years now. “It’s a long term plan that includes political songs by and about women,” says Ram, jokingly referring to it as “Ladies Special,” “I started work on this album when I read about the census showing a further dip in the girl-boy ratio in India.” Ram’s own composition for the compilation is a song titled “Kill That Girl” that talks about female infanticide. The Cornell graduate, who supported the Narmada Bachao Andolan protesting against the Sardar Sarovar project in Gujarat in the early Nineties, has also found a way to reconnect with his compatriot Medha Patkar for this album. “She has sung so many songs, so it wasn’t difficult convincing her. I have also approached Aruna Roy and though she won’t sing, the album will have her recite a verse.” Activist Binayak Sen’s wife Ilina has also recorded a Chhattisgarhi folk song for the concept album, and artists like Shubha Mudgal, Shilpa Rao and Rabbi Shergill will feature on this project too.
In Mudgal’s opinion, Ram’s greatest strength is his natural ability to be himself on and off stage. “He makes and plays the music he wants to and believes in, and off stage too his dress, demeanor and manner is unpretentious and relaxed,” she says. The two met in the early Nineties at one of the January 1st gatherings organised by SAHMAT (Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust) in Delhi, “Indian Ocean has been a staunch supporter of SAHMAT, and I too have a close association with the group,” she adds.
Ram also has an international collaborations lined up. Ram and tabla player Tuheen Chakravarty performs at World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where the two will collaborate with Ghana-based musician Aaron Bede Sukura. “We jammed with Aaron when he played at India Habitat Centre in Delhi as part of an India-Africa initiative in 2012. Tuheen will play the djembe and we will do some Bollywood songs like ‘Woh Chali’ and even Nepalese tracks like ‘Kanchi Re’. The idea is to have fun,” says Ram adding that the Nepali song has a similar melody with some Ghanaian music.
This year, the vocalist will also record a Kannada track titled “Tandanu,” which is likely to make it onto Indian Ocean’s next album. “It’s a Kannada folk song that I learnt as a kid in Mysore,” says Ram, “My dad is from Mysore, which is how I picked it up”. A rough scratch recording of “Tandanu” also featured on Jaideep Varma’s rockumentary Leaving Home: The Music of Indian Ocean. Ram calls it a “nonsense track” that talks a lot about everything and ends with an ode to Ganesha.
The bassist adds that he may perform “Tandanu” at the upcoming Storm festival in Coorg, on February 1st and 2nd, where his band is the headlining act. The performance will feature yet another collaboration. This time, it’s Ram and his entire band teaming up with Hindi film composer, singer and Carnatic vocalist, Shankar Mahadevan. “It’s exciting for musicians to collaborate with other musicians. Shankar and I have been judging Sa Re Ga Ma Pa 2012 together. He asked me if he could join us since he didn’t want to do his Bollywood stuff there. Initially, he had planned to play his kritis, but I think he dropped that,” says Ram, who plans to record the collaborative track with Shankar. India Ocean and Mahadevan will also get together to jam on the Delhi band’s track “Bhor” as well as Mahadevan’s popular solo track, “Breathless.”
Indian Ocean has previously headlined Storm 2012, but Ram is sure they will bring more to the festival this year. “We get bored playing the same songs again and again too. For our set, we’ve started doing a lot of newer songs. We recently played ‘From The Ruins’, for the first time since Asheem died. That went of well, plus we’ve got a couple of new guys in the band… so the newer elements will make the set sound fresher.”
But while bandmate Sushmit Sen launched his solo project in 2012 with Depths of The Ocean, Ram says he has no such plans of going solo. However, the bassist, who has been rechristened Logic Baba by his bandmates, is not short of collaborations in 2013.