Why ‘Tandanu’ Is Indian Ocean’s Best Album Yet
Indian Ocean go from
strength to strength in
their new album
There haven’t been too many protest songs by Indian bands in the last two decades, and it isn’t because we don’t have enough to rant about. Songwriting has always been the weakest link for bands in the country. Rabbi Shergill’s “Bilqis,” from his second album Avengi Ja Nahin and Indian Ocean’s “Ma Rewa” stand out on our list of best songs. Then there’s “Bandeh,” which, though composed by Indian Ocean and commissioned for the soundtrack of the film Black Friday, has been a constant on the band’s concert setlist, distinguishing them as one of the few politically conscious bands in the country.
When was the last time you heard an Indian artist or band take on Kashmiri Pandits losing their homes in the Valley or sing in five different languages? Or, heard a Grammy award-winning classical musician jam with a rock band? Indian Ocean checks all these boxes on Tandanu.
The collaborative album is a landmark for the band. Barring the title track, it has been made without the input of two of the band’s founding members including lead guitarist Susmit Sen and Asheem Chakravarty, whose vocals and tabla playing will always be missed.
While Sen parted ways with the band in 2013 and was replaced with guitarist Nikhil Rao, Chakravarty passed away in 2009, leaving vocalist Himanshu Joshi and tabla player Tuheen Chakravarty to fill the the void. While the band’s stage sound was rough around the edges when we last caught them on stage last year, Tandanu is their return to form.
Even when you’re listening to “Roday,” you know that like “Bandeh,” it is one of those fist-pumping tracks, which will spiral into a concert hit. Bassist Rahul Ram opens the track with his raspy, instantly recognizable vocals and the song about displacement gathers steam with Mumbai electro rock band Pentagram’s frontman Vishal Dadlani joining in on vocals. Rao’s strengths are evident on each track ”” clean, strong, lines, devoid of frills even during a shining solo.
Remember “Darte Ho,” from their last album 16/330 Khajoor Road that wound you up despite its straightforward lyrics? “Gar Ho Sake” has been fired in the same kiln except for more powerful lyrics and vocals. Shubha Mudgal fuels the surging track, shaping it into a Hindustani classical-metal jam (yes, Rao went metal on this one) with lyrics you want to shout along to: “Nafrat pehlaa rahein hain yeh nafrat ke naam par/Satta ke bhooke logon se mazhab bachaaiye.”
When V Selvaganesh leads a track on kanjira, it’s tough to appreciate an arrangement that includes anything other than vocals, drums and an epic bass, which is why the guitar parts on “Cheetu” stand out awkwardly at first. The song, in memory of Cheetu Bhil, an Adivasi whose home had been converted into a police station during the pre-Independence era, sounds like a dance party with racing beats, which prove that acoustic is gold.
With names like Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, violinist Kumaresh Rajagopal, Karsh Kale and Shankar Mahadevan in the lineup, Indian Ocean deliver an album that awakens a new consciousness and a renewed sense of patriotism, at a time when the nation has never been more polarized. Both sonically and lyrically, Tandanu establishes Indian Ocean as one of the most relevant bands in India right now.
This review appeared in the July 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.
Stream Tandanu here