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Songs from a Room Returns to India

How the intimate gig series returned to the country and why it’s here to stay this time

Anurag Tagat Jun 28, 2016
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Warren Mendonsa and Rohan Rajadhyaksha perform at the first edition of Sofar in Mumbai.

Warren Mendonsa and Rohan Rajadhyaksha perform at the first edition of Sofar in Mumbai.

Global gig series Songs from a Room [Sofar] has finally managed to find a place in alternate performance spaces in India’s major cities. Turns out, if you want to go to a gig without being bothered by people inseparable from their phones or the chatter of the bar crowd and a million other distractions at every club, there’s Sofar.

What started off in 2011 in Pune and even had a one-off gig in Mumbai in 2012 fizzled out all too quickly, compared to the global series that hosts multiple gigs every month in cities across the world. Bengaluru-based Prarthana Sen, who is the founder of Sofar Bengaluru, has ensured shows have been running monthly in her city ever since October last year. Says Sen, “In the last few years, the indie scene has changed a lot. The market is ready for a new model.” She adds, “It’s not often that you get a quiet room of listeners.” In May, Sen’s friend Arul Kacker, armed with years of experience in artist and event management at his college cultural festival, set about renting out a performing arts studio in Mumbai to host instrumental rock act Blackstratblues, electronica artist Sid Vashi and more.

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Although living rooms are the preferred setting, Sofar’s India organizers have turned to art galleries and smaller performance spaces to host their invite-only gigs that run on donations. Says Kacker, “We can’t just fit 20 to 25 people – that doesn’t make sense if we have to break even to cover costs of video, sound and décor. We always tailor the lineup to the venue.”

Blackstratblues guitarist Warren Mendonsa played a stripped down set, minus bass and drums. “We were really in a room with folks. There was no other separation between us and the audience. A lot of quieter, more intimate songs – we got a chance to play those in this setting,” says Mendonsa. Unlike the previous team, Sen has recruited a dedicated team of volunteers, has a ready list of host offering venues and artists interested in playing. They’ve already started back up in Mumbai, in addition to setting up in Ahmedabad and plan to expand to Kolkata, Chennai and New Delhi. Sen adds, “The hope is to make Sofar a registered company [in India].”

Sofar co-founder Rafe Offer says that India can catch up with their global editions. He says, “The main thing is the local team feels they would like to be personally involved and [pursue it] as a career rather than volunteering. India would be a natural evolution and I hope we get there soon.”

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Watch Warren Mendonsa and Rohan Rajadhyaksha perform “E Major Groove” at the first edition of Sofar in Mumbai.

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