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Shadow and Light: Finding Balance

The New Delhi-based fusion duo talk about complexities of blending genres, working with Karsh Kale and the mental block people have when it comes to Hindustani classical


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Shadow and Light by Steve Peter

Shadow and Light’s production is tight and free of discord even though their sound combinations seem unlikely on paper. Photo: Steve Peter

In their three years as a duo, New Delhi-based act Shadow and Light have established themselves as an act that isn’t afraid take on the unconventional. Pavithra Chari (vocals) and Anindo Bose (arrangement) blend electronica, jazz and blues in their compositions, but what truly makes them stand out amongst their peers is the unexpected but refreshing addition of Indian classical.

Trained under veteran vocalist Shubha Mudgal, Chari also displays a remarkable flair for the Western vocal styles that complement Bose’s roots in R&B and fusion, thus allowing for a vast arsenal of musical skills between them.

The two initially met in 2012 when Bose (who plays the keyboards for New Delhi fusion act Advaita) was auditioning for singers for a musical. Although she never did end up participating in the show, Bose noted her talent and kept in touch, eventually advising her to make a demo. Says Chari, “Though I had made melodies and sung original music before, I had never really written something on my own. So I was a little scared but I thought, let’s give it a shot.” Bose liked the demo so much he asked her if he could make a few additions production-wise. The result was a song titled “Shadow and Light,” which eventually became the duo’s name.

Bose, on his part, recalls how Chari’s demo impacted him—it came as a particular time in his life when he wasn’t finding much inspiration to make music. “Even though she sent me something that would have been her demo, I sort of stole the idea and thought, ‘I want to write some part of this too,’” he says with a laugh.

The two musicians released the song on their separate SoundCloud pages as collaborations and focused on individual projects for a while until they began writing new music again together. “We really didn’t have an agenda or a plan of what to do with the music and over a period of 10 months we had written 10 songs.” The two realized that perhaps their music had potential to interest audiences and decided to test the waters with a compilation. “So for us it worked backwards where we’d written the songs first and then decided to be a band.”

The duo released the tracks in 2014 as part of their eponymous debut album, and revealed their unique blend of gospel, jazz, rock and Hindustani classical which immediately created a buzz. Their 2016 follow-up Elements brought in bold dashes of R&B and featured both Hindi and English tracks, breaking more boundaries of genre and language to display Chari and Bose’s versatility as artists.

Over the past year the duo have gone on to further establish themselves, winning the Best Pop Act (Judges Choice Award) at the 2017 Radio City Freedom Awards, touring through India and Sri Lanka and collaborating with Indian-American multi-instrumentalist Karsh Kale. “He has been very supportive and appreciative of our work,” says Chari. “It was definitely a dream come true for us to collaborate as Shadow and Light and put in our own sound as part of the Karsh Kale Collective.” The duo debuted their collaborative track with Kale along with two of their own tracks [“Unkahin” and “Whisper”] at NH7 Weekender in Pune in 2016. Kale had chosen both the tracks as they were his favorites from the duo’s repertoire.

Adds Bose, “I still remember the first time we got a message from him on Facebook and it was like ‘Wow… This is Karsh Kale!’ But he’s still so kind and humble.” The duo joined hands with Kale again this year for the Red Bull Music Academy’s Studio Science project and though they can’t reveal much, add that there may be more in store. As of now, the duo are working on fresh tunes for their next release. “The first tunes of the new album are very up-tempo, sort of R&B, contemporary. It’s not longer in the dark lounge vibe people think we are,” explains Bose.

Chari adds that the album–set for a 2018 release–is stronger than Elements and bolder in terms of attitude and lyricism. It’s about the different things you experience when you’re on a journey. “I always feel like I’m on a constant journey to somewhere and more than the destination it’s the journey that makes the big difference to me.”

In terms of sound, Shadow and Light like attention to detail. Their production is tight and free of discord even though their combinations sound unlikely on paper. The duo agree classical music (blended with other genres or not) tends to scare off listeners and budding musicians with its presumed complexity, which is quite the hurdle to get past while trying to book gigs or release music.

“As with any art, Hindustani classical takes a lot of discipline and dedication to master,” says Chari. “I don’t think anyone can truly master it in their lifetime, they can only put in their best attempt at mastering it and you sort of have to make it a part of your life [to do so.]” She explains she and Bose also have fears before blending styles. “There is a balance that we don’t want to break,” she says. “It can get either underwhelming or overdone and we don’t want to do either of those and we think that balance is very essential to making music like ours.”

Shadow and Light prefer taking their time developing each song rather than putting out something average. Perhaps it is this requirement for copious amounts of patient, grit and discipline that often prevent younger artists from taking on and experimenting with the genre? In Bose’s opinion, a possible reason for younger classical musicians hesitating to write and release their own music could be a fear of judgment from peers and gurus alike for putting out music before they are deemed ‘ready’ to do so. “You would always see them come and collaborate with another artist on their song, but never say, ‘This is my own song and I want you guys to feature on it.’”

Something’s gotta give. Chari says, “What we do wish for is more platforms for younger artists in classical genres—any classical genres—to come up. Those might help artists to express themselves more.” However with the lack of such live platforms, most artists turn to the Internet for help, with the possibility of becoming a viral sensation too tempting to pass up.

“The latest trend I’m seeing right now is a lot of mash-ups,” Bose says, explaining that it could be instrumentally driven or vocal driven mash-up and there is always the time an international artists visits the country; everybody jumps on the bandwagon of covering a particularly popular song in the hopes to get noticed. “They know it’s hard to find a gig–it’s easier to get known via Facebook or Twitter.”

It’s not like Shadow and Light haven’t tasted the sweet success social media spawns. At a recent show in Varanasi, the band was welcomed by a thoroughly appreciative audience that had probably discovered it online. Not surprisingly, the band also witnessed an increased followership of new listeners on their social media post the show. At the end of the day however, they agree that if more resources are put into generating events that showcase original acts in contemporary settings, it might erase ignorance and increase demand. “Because you’ll always have the commercial acts that come in and perform the same film songs which the people already know,” says Bose. “So it’s a circle that you’re never breaking out of. Unless somebody invests in younger acts and nurtures them, gives them those equally huge big-branded shows, we won’t get to reach out.”

Check out the digital edition of Rolling Stone India here.

Listen to Shadow and Light’s album ‘Elements’ below:

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