Sanjeev Thomas Brings Carnatic Fusion on New Release ‘St.’
The Bengaluru-based composer, producer and guitarist talks about how his latest creation was born out of an “Indian orchestral section” of flute, nadaswaram and thavil
There’s a chance you’re reading guitarist-composer Sanjeev Thomas’ new record title all wrong. The seasoned guitarist clarifies that St. doesn’t mean “saint,” but more like his own initials. “I wanted to make it short. I’m not a saint or anything. Then people will be like ‘Epic Shit and now he’s a saint?’ he says with a laugh, referring to his 2013 album.
A guitarist who first made his mark with the erstwhile Rainbow Bridge (the name now belongs to his music school and studio space in central Bengaluru), alongside singer Benny Dayal, Thomas found his catalyst for the four-track St. when he attended his former bandmate’s wedding a year and a half ago. He came across the wedding band, featuring flautist Tejasvi Raghunath, nadaswaram player Dakshina Murthy and thavil artist Raju Kodanda and was understandably “blown away” by the unique combination. “I wasn’t bothered about Benny’s wedding at all, I was totally mesmerized by them and I was looking at them the entire wedding. That’s when I realized I have to hone this sound,” Thomas says.
Once in the rehearsal and writing room, however, Thomas realized just how loud and powerful the thavil and nadaswaram were compared to everything else in the mix. The record now involved bassist Shalini Mohan, drummer Joshua Gopal, keyboardists Noel Prashanth and Siddharth Kumar, saxophonist Sweethin Hartman and keyboard/synth player Dilip Thomas. “This is a band, so St. is more of a singular sound with the same musicians and the same instruments and Epic Shit had musicians from different parts playing different instruments, so there was a variety of identities,” Thomas says.
Mostly instrumental, groovy fusion in the vein of fusion acts such as Snarky Puppy, St. features Thomas and bassist Shalini Mohan on vocals on “Mount Palani,” which was composed by the guitarist when he was “engrossed in the grandeur” of the hill range that lines Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The playful, Carnatic-style guitar tinge on “Wake Up Rama” aims to give expression to the ill-treatment of women across the country. Thomas adds, “When you’re a musician and you’re creating art, the situation you’re in, it matters.”
It’s been a rollercoaster month for Thomas, considering he released St., had a packed launch show in Bengaluru, got married and even celebrated his birthday all in the span of a week. He says with a laugh, “I did everything within my budget.”
Speaking of budgets, of course, the artist is plotting a November tour to promote St. in different parts of the country. Since he’s still an independent artist with a self-released record, Thomas does have to go back to the same challenges of travel, money and logistics that he’s been facing for close to two decades (save for the times he performed with composer A.R. Rahman). Like most diehards, he believes his music will do the talking. He says about taking his new sound to the clubs, “It’s something of a big blast – because when you hear nadaswaram and you’re drunk… it’s a new experience for gigs.”