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In The Studio: The Ska Vengers

The Delhi band’s second album combines funk, Afrobeat and Latin jazz with SD Burman influences

Atul Dev Aug 22, 2013
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(Left) Producer Paul Schneiter with The Ska Vengers keyboardist Stefan Kaye. Photo: Atul Dev

(Left) Producer Paul Schneiter with The Ska Vengers keyboardist Stefan Kaye. Photo: Atul Dev

For an eight-piece band such as The Ska Vengers, finding a recording studio can be a tricky task. Two rooms in a basement in South Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave are just about good enough. Says the band’s keyboardist Stefan Kaye, “This is the best that you can get here.” While Kaye sets up his Nord Stage compact keyboard synthesizer, Paul Schneiter co-producer of the band’s upcoming album, plays a yet-to-be-titled track off the album.

“We have given this song an SD Burman treatment,” says Kaye, “The riff is very much inspired by SD’s music in Jewel Thief.”

Producer Schneiter, who is also the drummer of Delhi alt rock band menwhopause, has regularly performed with The Ska Vengers. While playing “Double Cross” Schneiter remarks that the beats recall world music legend Fela Kuti’s music. In the new album, the band experiments with funk, Afrobeat, Latin Jazz and reggae. The band has tried to approach ska from a very different perspective. In an instrumental with the working title “Stef Bitten,” the sounds are essentially clubby with the minimalism of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, “when you listen closely, there are elements of bossa nova, Fifites exotica a la Les Baxter as well as the more obvious drum n bass and ambient stylings,” explains the British percussionist and adds, “We aren’t ska purists by a long chalk.”

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Next, Kaye is completely absorbed with his keyboard, trying to get a riff right for the track “I Want Justice.” Schneiter scribbles away in his notebook throughout the session. “The band has great energy and I wanted to bring it out on the record” says Scheiter, before getting busy on the sound mixer.

The band’s drummer, Nikhil Vasudevan, who regards reggae drummer Carlton Barrett as one of his key influences, tells us later, “Most of the songs in this album just happened as everyone has got more comfortable with each other’s style. It was very spontaneous.” After getting together in 2009, The Ska Vengers released their eponymous debut, after a long wait, last year. A lot has changed since Stefan “Flexi” Kaye brought together Tony “Bass” Guinard (bass guitarist), Vasudevan (drummer) and Raghav “Diggy”Dang (guitarist) four years ago. Since then, Delhi Sultanate (Taru Dalmia) and Miss Samara C (Samara Chopra) joined them on vocals, Shiresh Malhotra on flutes and saxophone and Rie Ona stepped in on the alto-saxophone.

Like their self-titled debut album, the new release also includes cheeky, socio-political lyrics. “Double Cross,” a comment on the republic losing faith in its government while addressing the killing of two Naxal leaders during peace talks is a new song on the 12-track album, with Dalmia, Guinard and Kaye, all taking on songwriting roles. While Kaye insists that the band’s prime concern has never been about making political statements, Dalmia believes “it is important to raise these issues because the democracy is being hollowed out.” The lyrical theme of addressing cultural-societal scenario remains constant throughout the yet-to-be-named album. The band had to delay their last album because they were expected to edit their lyrics and cut out words like ”˜naxalism.’ “It sounds rubbish in a country where we have right to speak,” says Dalmia.

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This article appeared in the August 2013 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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