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Sur: Folk Meets Funk

The Mumbai-based band marries traditional folk melodies from across India with funk and rock; to release new single this month

Nirmika Singh Jan 25, 2016
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Sur band low res

Photo: Sana Waris

An hour-long set by Sur could well be a crash course on India’s folk music diversity. From bandish to bhajan to suf iana kalam, the Mumbai-based band covers quite a territory. On offer is a funk version of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Kinna Sona Tenu”, Rajasthani folk song “Mharo Assi Kali Ro Ghagro” reggae style and a rock anthemic version of the Gujarati devotional/garba composition “Mari Mahasagar”. Taking such popular tunes and ensuring that they carry your unique stamp on them is no mean feat, but by the looks of it, Sur seem to be doing a good job of it. Says bassist Suresh Mendoza, who founded the band in 2012, “Translating folk tunes into modern funky grooves is a challenge but I see many receptive ears wanting more and I hope to see a real big folk-fusion audience in the future.”

Mendoza is a well-known music composer in the city who has to his name many ad jingles. It was during the recording of a jingle in Glam Slam Studios which he owns that he toyed with the idea of starting a folk-fusion setup. He pitched the idea to his long-time music companions, guitarist Glenn Fernandes and vocalist Arunima Bhattacharya, both of who regularly worked with Mendoza on jingle recordings, and they came on board. Soon other members joined ”“ Joshua Vaz [drums and percussion], Shashank Acharya [bansuri] and Bosco Fernandez [keyboards and programming]. Apart from Bhattacharya, singers Ramya Iyer and Chandana Bala Kalyan also pitch in for vocal duties.

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Sur released their self-titled debut album in 2012. The six-track album featured folk composition from across India, spanning Bengali, Bihu and Rajasthani fare. While the melodies they present strike an instant connect with the audience, it is the bed of Western arrangements underneath them that make them distinct. The overarching rock and funk influence in the music is courtesy Mendoza’s two-decade long stint as a rock musician in the Mumbai music scene. “I think rock & roll has played a large role in the shaping of the indie music scene and rock seems to be the best way to communicate to a wider audience, especially the younger ones,” says Mendoza who spent the larger part of his music career as a producer. From 1992 to 2010, he was mostly doing studio work and got back to performing in 2009 with the gospel band G-sus [led by composer/guitarist Rupert Fernandes] and in 2011 with singer CaraLisa Monteiro. Mendoza counts artists like British funk/acid jazz band Jamiroquai, rock/jazz act Level 42 and and American soul, R&B and jazz band Earth, Wind & Fire as his biggest influences.

Sur is currently working on a new single, titled “Jee Le” recorded with Universal Publishing Studios. “It is being mixed right now and we plan to release it soon,” says Mendoza.

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