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Coming Back Home: Rehan Dalal

Canada-based Indian jazz singer Rehan Dalal, slated to perform at NH7 Weekender this year, will trade his signature mellow style for good ol’ rock & roll

Nirmika Singh Oct 05, 2015
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Rehan Dalal | Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

Rehan Dalal | Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

If you’ve been following Rehan Dalal’s music and love his old-school jazz vibe, you’re going to be in for a bit of a surprise at his upcoming gigs at NH7 Weekender (Bengaluru, Delhi, and Pune). He might just turn up with electric guitars and “turn ”˜em up real loud!” Dalal says, “When the lineup was announced for Weekender, I saw a lot of people kvetching about the lack of rock acts”¦So expect a mostly uptempo set.”

Rehan performs in several avatars ”“ each with its own distinct music thrust ”“ and always finds it difficult to describe his music in absolute terms. His full band’s shows are more Motown influenced R&B/soul, much like his first record, Got To Feel It [“Walk With Me”, “That Old Fashioned Feeling”]. Solo and smaller set-up gigs have what he calls roots-y singer-songwriter vibes. Dalal says, “I love groove based music though, so whether it’s stripped down or filled out it’s always got a solid groove.” On “Apples & Cinnamon”, you can feel the punch in the singer’s music even though he is accompanied by a string quartet that layers the song with plaintive refrains. And “That Old Fashioned Feeling” is a fabulously hook-lined and horn-sectioned song reminiscent of popular British soul/jazz outfit Incognito’s music from the Nineties.

Twenty-eight year-old Dalal grew up in Mumbai and moved to Toronto, Canada in 2005 to pursue Ecomonics at the University of Waterloo. But since he had been a Canadian citizen since 1993, he had the option to stay back. So he did and picked up the guitar only after settling there. During his time in Mumbai, Dalal was never a part of the local music scene and Canada, he says, has been a blessing in terms of the opportunities to work with musicians who are masters of the kind of music he set out to pursue. Dalal adds, “Canada is a particularly awesome place to be a musician as there is a lot of financial support for the arts available through grants. Also, I think there’s a much larger audience for that kind of music [and English music in general] in that part of the world.”

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He has planned his NH7 Weekender setlist already, and the singer couldn’t be more excited to play there. Especially because the band features “one of the best guitar player in Canada, Justin Abedin.” Dalal says, “It’s hard not to take advantage of that!”  Dalal will perform at three cities including Bengaluru, Pune and Delhi. Says Dalal, who also released an EP This Too Shall Pass in 2014, “We really want to get everyone up and dancing.” At his previous shows in India, he says he found the audience to be a little reserved, especially when it comes to interaction with the musicians while they’re on stage. Dalal says, “But that definitely seems to be changing.” He feels his credentials as a performer of Western music in India, where the music scene still has to witness full bloom, makes it easier for him to carve a unique identity. In Canada, despite the opportunities and incentives for artists, it is difficult to gain recognition, largely because there are too many players in the music game. Dalal says,It’s certainly harder to establish yourself in the scene there, even though there are a lot more outlets.”

Ask him to name his favourite Indian rock artists and Dalal pleads a certain level of ignorance. He isn’t too clued-up on the latest in the Indian scene. “I probably only know a handful of the Indian rock bands. Indian Ocean are cool”¦Also, a couple years ago I got to sit in on a session that Thermal And A Quarter were on. I was really digging [vocalist] Bruce’s [Lee Mani] tone and ideas.”

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Dalal is currently working on a new record, which he says, would be a departure from the last two albums. It is more elaborate and more jazz, thanks to his dedication towards jazz theory in the past few years. Adds Dalal, “I finally have my chops at a point where I’m comfortable writing more complex music.” Plus, it won’t focus largely on his love life like the last two. “No, this next record will not see a lot of that,” he says.

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