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Adil Manuel: ‘Delhi and Bombay Scenes are Poles Apart’

The versatile guitarist-composer talks about being on the music circuits of both cities; to perform with his newly formed band in Mumbai tonight

Nirmika Singh Mar 30, 2016
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Adil Manuel is often labeled the ”˜musician’s musician’ in drawing-room [or post-gig] conversations about guitarists on the indie circuit. While it would be unfair to say that he is the only young guitarist known to shape-shift musically ”“ across pop, rock, soul and jazz ”“ he is unarguably one of the most remarkable of the lot. And it doesn’t take very long to gather that if you happen to be watching him live–his dexterity on the guitar is known to make many a regular indie axeman break into a sweat!

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Adil Manuel. Photo: Babul Bhatt

Long before Manuel became known for his soul/jazz-fusion trademark with his former duo Adil & Vasundhara, he was riffing away with Delhi-based rock bands like Rock Opera and Bandish and metal outfit Asphyxia. In his more ”˜commercial’ avatar, he has backed popular artists like Mohit Chauhan and Shubha Mudgal among others. His newly formed outfit, Adil Manuel Collective, marks a new milestone for Manuel, who has now made Mumbai his home. The band, fresh off its successful first gig at the Kala Ghoda Festival last month, will be playing at Blue Frog, Mumbai tonight. In this interview with ROLLING STONE India, Manuel talks about how he put together the band and the material he is working on.

When did you decide to move to Mumbai and what prompted the shift?
I shifted from New Delhi to Mumbai last January.  I moved here for change; a new chapter. It’s been a great year. I can safely say that Mumbai has been kind. [I have done] a lot of sessions work for films and advertising, guitar work for Vishal-Shekhar, Clinton Cerejo and a whole bunch of super wonderful people. Also, [I’ve done] compositional work [jingles/background scoring] and I have my new band of merry gentlemen. So yeah, my hands are quite full.

How did the Adil Manuel Collective come about and how did you meet each one of your band members?
Adil Manuel Collective didn’t happen overnight. It took time and is still a work in progress. Right now the lineup is Ashwin Andrew [drums], Jayakrishnan Unnithan [keyboards], Saurabh Suman [bass], Jose Neil Gomes [violin amongst many other instruments] and Azamaan Hoyvoy [vocals].

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Ashwin and I go back 16 years! We first met as members of competing bands at IIT Kharagpur. He was handling drum duties for Friday the 13th [Donn Bhat et al]. My band won that year, Y2K 2000! The band was called Asphyxia, yes, as the name suggests we were quite metchul and had a lot of Pantera and Metallica on our setlist along with our own songs.

In a sharp contrast to that, I saw Azamaan sing at a jam session/gig at The Drawing Room, Bandra, around six months or so ago. I loved his voice texture and delivery. He is all of 18! Saurabh Suman is an old mate and was Adil & Vasundhara’s bassist so it was only natural to get him on board when he shifted here to Mumbai.

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Adil Manuel Collective performing at Kala Ghoda Festival in February 2016. Photo: Babul Bhatt

Neil — I first met him a couple of years ago when I had gone to hang with Paresh Kamath — also an old friend — after a Kailasa gig in Delhi. He is an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist and saves me from getting five other members in.

JK [Jayakrishnan] I met through Adil Kurwa [The Colour Compound] who was playing along with me for my buddy Siddharth Basrur’s band. I was looking for a keyboardist and Adil suggested I call JK.  

What can people look forward to at your gig tonight?
We are playing a fun set. It’s divided into two parts — the first is an all-original set; tunes that I have written and co-written. The new sound revolves around R&B and neo soul but there are some jazz fusion and Latin-influenced tunes as well. There is more material that I have written but we will save that for another set.

The second half of our set is going to be mad fun as some of our friends are joining us. We have Uday Benegal, Siddharth Basrur, Sharule, Paresh Kamath and Kush Upadhyay [from blues rock act Kanchan Daniel and the Beards] doing some good old jam tracks!

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Are you working on releasing any songs/EP/album with the Collective anytime soon?
I have new material worth a full-length album, but plan on doing a couple of singles over the next couple of months along with some music videos. I’d like some collabs to work out, so yes, there is something in the offing very soon.                                                                                                                                                                    

How difficult or easy has it been for you to make your mark as an indie musician in both Delhi and Bombay? How has the general response from venues and audience been like?
It has never been easy, but at the same time it hasn’t been terribly tough as well for me. I mean, it all boils down to what you want and how you go about working around that. There are always ups and down and twists and turns and rises and falls, just like a good song taking you on a trip…a journey. And this isn’t even close to the end. It’s like a prog rock song in ten parts and we’re on chapter six! It is about having a dream and believing in yourself and having faith, patience and courage to keep working and moving positively.

Delhi and Bombay scenes are poles apart! One of the good things in common is that there is a lot of superb new material coming out from both these cities and it feels great to be a part of both these scenes. Audience response has almost always been good to great. In my personnel experience they have been encouraging, supportive and friendly. This really helps in taking the music to newer places.

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