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In The Studio: Adil & Vasundhara

The Delhi-based duo’s debut album Ampersand draws from jazz, R n B and Assamese folk tunes

Lalitha Suhasini Nov 12, 2012
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Adil and Vasundhara Photo: Naman Saraiya


Had it not been for Delhi band Advaita, vocalist Vasundhara Vidalur and her bandmate Adil Manuel may not have considered stepping into YRF Studios in North Mumbai to record their debut album. “The fact that we aren’t fromBombayand a Bollywood establishment has opened its doors to projects like this is big,” says Vidalur, who is overwhelmed even a year after the duo began recording at the studio.

What set things rolling was Manuel dropping in at the studio when Advaita was wrapping up the recording for their sophomore album The Silent Sea. A chat with veteran sound engineer and mainman at YRF Studios, Shantanu Hudlikar further convinced Manuel. “He moved heaven and earth for us,” says Manuel of Hudlikar. From then on, the making of the album was dream-like as Manuel puts it. Vidalur and Manuel, who got together in 2009, were in the middle of mixing their debut when we met them at the studio. The album titled Ampersand namechecks several Indian music vets including jazz pianist Louiz Banks, drummer Ranjit Barot and Indus Creed’s Zubin Balaporia on keys. Says Vidalur, “The album is called Ampersand because it’s bigger than us. It’s not just about Adil & Vasundhara. Everybody just stepped in.”

In the studio, the vocalist and the guitarist are keen to show off their chops. “Pinocchio Times” features Barot on a tight drum section and “Refuge,” a song about displacement draws from Vadalur’s Assamese roots with a rhythm section that is based on a bihu, a traditional harvest song. “I used to hear my uncle sing this song and even my mother,” says Vidalur, adding, “But we’ve only alluded to the bihu and not based the song completely on it. Harmonically, it’s us, but rhythmically it’s a bihu.” “Refuge” displays enough artistic ambition to call for an encore.

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The album also features Hindi film composer Loy Mendonsa on keys on a track titled “15 Nights To Dawn.” The song talks about the writer’s block, tells us Manuel. “[It’s] about the seemingly interminable stretch of time when one feels creatively barren and completely devoid of inspiration. It is often only when one’s creativity seems to have vanished that one realizes how much his art actually means to him,” adds the guitarist. Ampersand is an attempt to avoid being tucked away into a neat slot. “The 10 tracks that we now have, cover a huge spectrum: jazz blues, funk, R&B to jazz fusion,” says Manuel. The duo also hopes that the album will showcase the sound of a collective including Sava Boyadzhiev on drums and Saurabh Suman, who Manuel calls the band’s “soul brother,” on bass. “A lot of people think Adil & Vasundhara are an acoustic duo ”“ one plays guitars and one sings,” says Manuel and Vidalur finishes off his sentence, “This was true [of our sound] only in the first three months of us forming a band.” The band’s stage lineup also includes Pranoy Praveen on drums and Rohit Gupta on keys. “He is a burning young cat. A complete star,” says Manuel of Gupta, “Having Rohit on the keys adds this entirely new dimension to our live set.”

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The duo is also planning a woody take on EDM in their upcoming performances. The new direction, tells us Vidalur, is a result of having collaborated with the two-member audio-visual project from Delhi, B.L.O.T. “I performed with them when they launched their debut album [Snafu] and it was great fun,” says Vidalur, “I have no clue about EDM because it isn’t something I’ve listened to at all. But I realized historically, there’s one form of music that’s repetitive, hook-based and people will dance their pants off to it. Be it James Brown back then or EDM now. Vidalur breaks into Brown’s “Get Up Get Into It Get Involved” to make her point and Manuel joins in. There will be no laptops on stage during this EDM experiment, assures Manuel. “I’m an analog boy.”

Besides being busy recording and producing their debut, Adil & Vasundhara have become regulars at music festivals. “We’ve performed at least 22 festivals in the past two years,” says Manuel. This month, they perform at Jazzmandu, the annual jazz fest in Nepal. “The lineup this year is killer,” says Manuel, “It’s such an honor to be there. There’s Tito Puente Jr and a whole lot of others.”

The album that is slated for late 2012 or early 2013 release is currently being mastered in the US by Chris Athens, who has worked with a range of artists including Rick Ross and Coldplay.

The article originally appeared in the November issue of ROLLING STONE INDIA and erroneously credited the collaboration between Vidalur and B.L.O.T to MIDIval Punditz

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