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Abhay Nayampally’s Debut Album is a Winner

The Mumbai-based composer-guitarist’s self-titled Carnatic jazz fusion record has been produced by Sandeep Chowta

Arpito Gope Jun 10, 2021

Composer and guitarist Abhay Nayampally. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Composer and music director Sandeep Chowta is well-known not just for his critically acclaimed music but also for scouting for some of the most promising talents in the country. He gave Sunidhi Chauhan her first big hit, and Arijit Singh his first film song, launched the Viva girls, and helped push the careers of the likes of the Kakkar siblings and Anushka Manchanda

Chowta’s newest find is Abhay Nayampally, a Mumbai-based composer and a student of the late mandolin maestro U. Srinivas. His speciality is playing Carnatic music on electric guitar. His self-titled Carnatic-jazz fusion debut album, released today on Chowta’s label Namma Music. “Abhay Nayampally is an accomplished musician,” says Chowta, “I say that because he means every note he plays, and there is an emotion in his delivery. I am very fortunate to be part of his debut album. I am sure his guru, the late vidwan U. Srinivas, must be smiling, knowing his legacy is being carried forward by a worthy student. ‘

Abhay’s earliest memories go back to when he was very small and fell in love with John Mclaughlin‘s guitar strumming on Zakir Hussain‘s album Making Music, released in 1987. “I would throw tantrums at the table for food or refuse to go to my nursery school if the album was not played,” he says. Luckily, his parents acquiesced. They were, after all, trained musicians themselves.

His mother was initiated into Carnatic music but went on to learn Hindustani classical. His father was a composer as well. Their influence led him to try something new in the form of playing Carnatic music on the electric guitar. Early encouragement also came from his teacher. U Srinivas was the man who introduced the electric mandolin to Carnatic music and so was always open to experimentation. Under his tutelage, Abhay was able to navigate and adapt the Carnatic’s complex forms to the six-stringed electric guitar.

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Abhay has been performing publicly for the last fifteen years, and Sandeep Chowta had been following Abhay’s guitar exploits and invited him to play on a track on his 2019 album Yeto Valli Diaries. Abhay did a great job of interpreting the Telgu hit song, “Yeto Vellipoyindi Manasu,” in Carnatic style. He held his ground on an album featuring stalwarts like Brazilian jazz guitarist Ricardo Silveira.

Abhay Nayampally artwork
‘Abhay Nayampally’ album artwork

After his work on Yeto Velli Diaries, Abhay requested Sandeep to co-produce his debut album. Abhay says he has been a fan of Sandeep since the day he first came across the composer’s music in Satya, and it’s a dream come true to be working with his idol. “You get spoilt working with him because it is such a beautiful experience. It is a lovely collaborative and mutually respectful environment where you can completely be yourself as a musician.”

The album, which climbed to the No. 1 position on iTunes India chart with its debut today, comprises five tracks and one reprise. The list of backing musicians is an impressive roster of big international names. The album starts with a Hamsadhvani rendition by Abhay. The major notes of the raga immediately set the mood for a beautiful journey into a world of Carnatic-jazz fusion.

The two versions of the foot-tapping and melodic “Celebration” stand out for their Bossa Nova like arrangements. Sandeep says he thought of the song 30 years back, and it just stayed in his mind. Those backing Abhay on these tracks include South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo who played with the likes of Joan Baez, Herbie Hancock, Grover Washington Jr, and Paul Simon on Graceland, Dominican pianist Hector Morena Guerrero, American drummer King Robinson Jr, English bassist Seb Read and Cuban Diego Hedez on the trumpet.   

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“Ballad of Krishna” is a track based on the ancient Indian melody “Krishna Nee Begane Baro” set in raga Yamuna Kalyani, sensitively arranged by Sandeep with American jazz musician Thommy Knoles providing a gorgeous backdrop on the keys. There is a haunting upbeat quality to this Carnatic reinterpretation of the 500-year old composition, which was popular in the late 1990s as the super-hit pop version by Colonial Cousins.

The other two songs, “Hues” and “Ex Animo,” underline the strength and confidence of Abhay’s musical ability and U. Srinivas’s influence on his composition. “Hues,” which features Seb Read on bass, is set in raga Abheri. “Ex Animo” is a Carnatic traditional aalap in Madhyamavati, another ancient Carnatic raga. Those who are more conversant with Hindustani Classical will identify it as similar to Bhimpalasi. “This is music that is close to my heart,” says Abhay, “The idea behind choosing this raga was that it’s considered very auspicious in Carnatic music and would be fitting to have on a debut album and also to showcase the traditional aspect of my playing style.”

Steream the album below. Hear on more platforms here.

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