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Kailasa’s Moonshine Tour

A brand new disc, a full American tour schedule including a show at the Hollywood Bowl and an international label deal for Kailasa

Lalitha Suhasini Jul 21, 2009
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A red mud-coloured wall, and a quirky landmark – opposite Daljit’s gymkhana – lead us to folk-rock band Kailasa’s spanking new studio holed away in the suburbs of North Mumbai. Fusion and folk have had several takers since the Delhi-based band Indian Ocean made its presence felt, but Kailasa is probably the only other band that has tasted enviable commercial success. With Kailasa and Kailasa Jhoomo Re, the band has torn down the age/genre barriers at concerts with its impressive folk balladry and a livewire stage act. The nano-sized Kailash Kher’s soulful vocals are fuel to the towering Kamath brothers’ (Paresh on lead guitar and Naresh on bass) highly inflammable rock chops. A devout Nusrat fan, Kher has cut out his own space with his Sufi love songs that were splashed all over radio and TV. Along with Naresh Kamath on bass, Kurt Peters on drums, Sanket on percussion, Rinku Rajput on keys, Sameer Chiplunkar also on keys, and multi-instrumentalists Sankarshan Kini and Tapas Roy, Kailasa is a hybrid of musical styles ranging from folk, jazz, rock, reggae and dance.

Their new album – Kailasa Chaandan Mein (roughly translated as “Kailasa in the Moonlight”) – is being prepped for a big bang release this month (complete with a promo tour that kicks off in Delhi on a full moon night with the Qutub Minar as the backdrop) and Kher likes the sound of the proceedings.

Inside the studio, lead guitarist Paresh Kamath has his hands full (literally) with production. “I’m not sure about the new version that you’ve just sung,” he says, as soon as Kher walks into the plush mixing area that is powered by Dynaudio. Kher defends why and how he’s sung a particular section in ‘Na Dhin Dhin Na,’ one of the tracks from the new album, finally relenting that the earlier version makes the cut. “Everybody’s really chilled out in the band. We all have a comfort zone now. But I’m like the Simon Cowell of the band,” Kamath later tells us.

The new album, says Kamath, has “got a lot more grit.” Kher agrees that the songwriting and the compositions have matured. Besides, khadi boli, a dialect of Hindi, Kher also borrows words from dialects used in Rajasthan, UP and Haryana. The lyrics also make metaphorical allusions and aren’t in the mould of the straight-up ballads in the previous albums.

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When we meet them, they are seven songs down and have one more to write. After a call for a round of chai, the band begins playing the entire unfinished album. Two tracks – ‘Na Dhin Dhin Na’ with its sitar licks and ‘Rang Rang Ma’ with its crazy loop should set off the dance floor fireworks. Kamath only has a germ of an idea for the eighth track. “It’s just a short piece – a loop really that came to me after a beautiful trip to Goa and I just want Kailash to react to it. I just want us to jam and see how it turns out.” The title track has a bit of ‘Naiharwa,’ originally sung by Pandit Kumar Gandharva and reinterpreted by Kailasa in their debut. It’s more of an unplugged number meant for a quiet audience so it came as a surprise when Kailasa previewed it recently to a hell-raising metal audience at the Channel [V] Launch Pad finale. But when they play ‘Jagoon Mein Saari Saari Raat,’ in the studio we know rightaway that it isn’t a typical Kailasa track – with the oud (also played by Roy) adding a Bedouin twist. “The lyrics evoke the quality of the night,” says Kamath, “So we wanted to use non invasive sounds – bells, chimes. We even had a kalimba playing.” Kher also jumped at a Bombay Black track when he heard it at one of the Hipnotribe gigs last year. Kamath had written just one line of it when he was in a fusion band called Divya back in 1995, and then incorporated it into the Bombay Black set list later. “This was different because it is a rain song, but the word ‘Cherrapunji’ doesn’t feature in the lyrics,” says Kamath grinning, “Kailash usually writes about love.”  Kailasa also roped in the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band to play on ‘Cherrapunji’. “These guys represent India at events like the Olympics and I knew that they were familiar with our music and in fact even play them at their shows so I invited them to join us on this track,” says Kher.

Kailasa is looking to break into the American scene this year with this new material with no less than 16 shows including a concert featuring Anoushka Shankar at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl in September. This month, Kailasa sets out for its first round of American concerts playing at San Francisco’s Stern Grove Festival in August just two weeks after the first lady of folk Joan Baez takes to stage. The schedule fell into place after they creamed the scene at the World Music Festival held at Webster Hall this year. “Ninety-five per cent of the audience was non-Indian and everybody seemed to love the show. At least we didn’t see anybody doing bhangra to our tracks,” says Kamath, “The thing is we still manage to sound like a rock band. Kailash is match for any rockstar on stage.” In fact, the band has even been signed on by Cumbancha Records, a sub label that belongs to Putumayo Records, to promote its music internationally.

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Is the band making a conscious attempt at reaching out to international audiences? Kher and Kamath have different takes that meet at the same point. “I don’t think when I’m composing or writing lyrics. I’m just feeling the music,” says Kher. Kamath too probably feels the same when he waits for the studio to clear out and work on the music during what he calls the “best time of the day” – the time between midnight and dawn. “This is when you’re really sensitive to all the sounds. It’s completely quiet and I get to the heart of the song. This is when the God tones play out all right,” he says. But Kamath also has his ear to the pulse. “I’m thinking about the younger generation. Is it cool? Is it different from the filmy stuff that they hear? But the most important thing is that I have to like it myself,” he says, “I don’t want it to sound too bhajanish and not too modern. I’m looking for a more organic, natural, effortless sound.” Kher’s thoughts are unsurprisingly similar when he says he too is searching for this middle path. The new album isn’t poppy but knowing Kailasa, they just might turn this one into an incredible hit.

Setlist Essentials

Teri Deewani – Kailasa

Chak De Phatte – Khosla Ka Ghosla OST

Babam Bam – Kailasa Jhoomo Re

Dhol Vajda – Let’s Enjoy OST

Jaana Jogi De Naal – Kailasa

Rang Deeni – Dev OST

Allah Ke Bande – Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part 2 OST

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