Indian Ocean Share Stories Behind Their New Anthem Songs
In their 25th year, the Delhi band release seventh album with seven songs and seven collaborations including Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Shubha Mudgal and more
In 2013, when Indian Ocean guitarist Susmit Sen parted ways with the Delhi band, the last thing we expected was a new album from the group. Touring nonstop to mine their old hits across campuses and festivals would have not come as such a surprise. Ahead of the release of their seventh album Tandanu, Indian Ocean’s bassist Rahul Ram and drummer Amit Kilam, who were in Mumbai for the launch of a Hindi film soundtrack, sat down to tell us all how they began planning the album while Sen was still with the band. They performed the album’s title track “Tandanu” first at the Storm festival in Coorg last year. Ram asks, “Do you remember we collaborated with Shankar Mahadevan?” He continues the story without a pause, “He sang it with us at Storm and also sang “Bhor.” I learnt “Tandanu” from an aunt.” “Tandanu,” a folk song from the pre-Independence era made its appearance on Indian Ocean’s last album 16/330 Khajoor Road, which released in 2011. Says Ram, “You hear it on the second CD with us practicing a version ”“ Asheem was singing on it.” Kilam adds, “I’ve heard the opening line of this track since the time I joined the band.” The song finally made it to the album with Mahadevan’s vocals. “He hadn’t heard the song since he sang it with us that one time, but he nailed it when we got down to recording,” says Ram, still awed by the experience.
The seven-track album, says Ram, is filled with several such inspired moments ”“ be it the phenomenal Indian classical repertoire that Rudraveena maestro and Grammy winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt brought to a track named “Charkha” or the percussive brilliance displayed by kanjira player V Selvaganesh on yet another anthem titled “Chitu,” a tribal song that Ram had picked up when he was part of the Narmada Movement against the building of the Sardar Sarovar dam across the Narmada river in 1989, displacing millions of tribals and farmers in the region. Says Ram, “The song “Chitu” was born in February 1993 when I found myself in jail. It’s about a man named Chitu who had lost his home to the government. Ironically, the jail I was in was Chitu’s home. It was surreal. The jail’s thanedaar (the police official in charge of the jail station) joined us as we were singing it.” Kilam makes a face, gritting his teeth in mock angst as he tells us how “Chitu” was one of the most challenging tracks on the album for him: “In my head, the lyrics of the song make it all aggro, but then the composition is so mellow that I just had to reign it all in when I was playing.”
While protest songs are a given on Indian Ocean albums, their seventh album is packed with them. There’s Hindustani classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal on “Gar Ho Sake,” a song Ram describes as a “leftie anthem.” Says Ram of Mudgal, “We’ve always been fans. We’ve worked on a couple of jingles together, and were to collaborate with her on a Kabir song. Later, we realized that she’s sung this song at a show for Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) and knew she loved it, so we dropped the idea of the Kabir song, and went with this one.” Another song with Mumbai electro rock band Pentagram’s vocalist Vishal Dadlani speaks of displacement again. The song has lyrics in five languages including Kashmiri, Sindhi, Bilali, Farsi and Hindi. Says Ram, “This is the only conceptual song we’ve ever done after “Going To ITO.” We realized everyone had their own view on beingÂ the subject ”“ Amit is a Kashmiri Pandit, Vishal is a Sindhi and has his own take on Sindhis being displaced. There are just two lines in Hindi, which puts it all together.”
The aim was to not deliver a “standard fusion” album, says Ram. With names like Karsh Kale and Kumaresh Rajagopalan, Tandanu will be anything but.Â
Listen to “Gar Ho Sake”