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Local Heroes and Heroines

At a workshop in Bombay last year, Jonas Hellborg, the frontier-pushing bass player, is said to have decried the notion that Indian bands don’t explore their Indianness enough. They sound too Western, he said, subjugating their own selfhood for that of another culture. The Swedish virtuoso offered the tanz metal mavens Rammstein as an example […]

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Uday Benegal Jul 21, 2009
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At a workshop in Bombay last year, Jonas Hellborg, the frontier-pushing bass player, is said to have decried the notion that Indian bands don’t explore their Indianness enough. They sound too Western, he said, subjugating their own selfhood for that of another culture. The Swedish virtuoso offered the tanz metal mavens Rammstein as an example of a band who manage to keep their Germanic identity intact even as they crank out a fairly common form of music (electro-metal is hardly a new thing). Jonas speaks the truth, and I don’t think it’s just because the Deutschlanders sing in their mother tongue – or father tongue, as it were. Rammstein just happen to sound, well, German (the Euro-techno slant to their slams probably helps).

Indian bands are too often mere simulacra of someone else’s angst. For some reason we seem determined to keep that “they must know better” insecurity alive and bubbling. The rockers, particularly, appear hell-bent on honing the perfect emulation of their occidental heroes. And when we do want to establish our local credentials we seem unable to think beyond bringing out the raga. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but, frankly, it rarely works. While Advaita do get it right often with the trad shit, I’m inevitably more convinced by their Zero 7-ish bits. That Jalebee Cartel didn’t think it necessary to chuck an alaap over the beats – à la most of their electronica brethren – on their excellently programmed One Point Something, solidifies the idea that you can be Indian and still be yourself. If Soulmate want to keep it to the blues, they’ve got my vote – and if Tips chooses to suddenly punctuate the set with a stirring Khasi folk song, as she did at their album launch in Bombay in June, your hairs will decide if they’ll stand for it or not. Mine did.

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Last month, I spoke a bit about some musicians exploring the acoustic realm. Two of those mentioned in separate contexts appear to be in convergence. When Sanjay Divecha heard Ashima Aiyer sing recently he was blown away. The girl from Pune took him back to his earliest days, he said, of honest-to-good songsmiths – just a guitar and a book of great ideas. Sanjay told me he did a thing he rarely does: He went up to Ashima and offered to produce her music. She’s on to a good thing. Along with her serendipitously-found mentor, she’ll be singing her tunes at Blue Frog on June 30 with the help of Karl and Kurt Peters. When I met her after her three-song set at Il Terrazzo the other day she seemed a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of fronting such a seasoned section. I have little doubt that they – and we – will all be the richer for it.

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At Shri’s reunion-of-sorts gig with DJ Badmarsh in Bombay on June 18: A guy next to me shrieked so regularly through the performance that I began to wonder if was part of the act – improvisational electro-funk gone fully concept. It’s not unthinkable. It sounded like someone was jamming a Scotch bonnet pepper (100,000”“350,000 on the Scoville scale – Wiki it, pal) up his crack at intervals. I think he was just caught up in the energy. I’ve got to choose my spots more carefully at these gigs.

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