WE managed to catch the gig purely by chance. On Saturday afternoon, my friend Parag Kamani and I had gone to the Palm Expo at Goregaon, primarily to attend the Indian Recording Arts awards. As luck would have it, Parag saw a board announcing a performance by popular band Indian Ocean at an event presented by Yamaha. It was to start any moment, and we rushed.
Almost an hour later, Indian Ocean began their concert with ‘Behney Do’, a song from their latest album ‘Tandanu’. The small venue was packed, stuffy and sweaty, but one was quite surprised at how well the young crowd knew this number and ‘Gar Ho Sakey’, despite the fact that they are barely a few weeks old. Over the next hour, older and familiar tunes ‘Bandhey’, ‘Jhini’, ‘Ma Rewa’ and ‘Kandisa’ mesmerised the audience.
One had always wanted to see the new Indian Ocean line-up, moreso after Nikhil Rao replaced extra-popular guitarist Susmit Sen, who quit last June. I had often seen the original line-up – vocalist-bassist Rahul Ram, Susmit, drummer Amit Kilam and vocalist-tabla player Asheem Chakravarti (who passed away in December 2009) – but had missed the few occasions when vocalist Himanshu Joshi and tabla player Tuheen Chakravarti had performed in Mumbai. And since I have been tripping on ‘Tandanu’ for a few weeks now, this event was an absolute delight.
In ‘Tandanu’, Indian Ocean have done something unique in that each number involves a collaboration with a well-known Indian artiste. Thus, the songs feature singers Shubha Mudgal and Shankar Mahadevan, singer-music director Vishal Dadlani, Mohan veena exponent Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, violinist Kumaresh, drummer Karsh Kale and kanjira player V Selvaganesh.
Each song is brilliant on its own, but if someone were to point a gun at me and ask me my three favourites, they would be ‘Charkha’ with Bhatt, ‘Longing’ with Kumaresh’ and ‘Gar Ho Sakey’ with Mudgal. Of late, ‘Behney Do’ has been growing on me – its main vocals are sort-of stuck in the head, moreso after hearing it live.
What’s interesting is that despite the variety of musicians, the band retains the original Indian Ocean flavour. The smart fusion of folk, semi-classical and rock is very much present, and so are some amazing instrumental solo passages. The recording by Shantanu Hudlikar and mixing by KJ Singh are first-rate.
Two thoughts came to mind while hearing the album. One is that the decision to tie up with other illustrious musicians seems to be an intelligent or even a safe move. If they had released an album on their own, old-time fans might have compared the earlier line-up with the new one. But with some well-known musicians, the entire attention has been diverted. Of course, it must be emphasised that vocalist Himanshu, guitarist Nikhil and tabla player Tuheen have all played brilliantly. Even at the show, they were in great form.
The other thought is about how these songs would be played live, considering they feature guest musicians who will not tour with them each time. With ‘Behney Do’, it was possible because the guest (Karsh Kale) was a drummer, and one didn’t have to change much in the melody lines. At the show, they also adapted ‘Gar Ho Sakey’ with Himanshu’s voice instead of Shubha Mudgal. It was a superb rendition.
However, as bassist-vocalist Rahul pointed out, they are still working on the others, though it would always be difficult to match Bhatt and Shankar Mahadevan. He felt the only song which seemed really difficult to adapt is ‘Longing’, moreso because it has such a gorgeous violin stretch by Kumaresh.
For a while, one may expect Indian Ocean to perform only two or three songs from the new album (in all probability ‘Behney Do’, ‘Gar Ho Sakey’ and maybe the Vishal Dadlani number ‘Roday’) at its shows. But the good thing is that the band has such a fantastic repertoire, and its back catalogue is filled with loads of great tunes.
In the end, a huge round of applause for Rahul and Amit for keeping the Indian Ocean brand alive. After Asheem’s demise and Susmit’s exit, the hardcore fans may have had doubts about the group’s future, especially since both were hughly talented musicians with a major fan following of their own. In similar circumstances, any other band may have fallen apart. But Indian Ocean decided to rock on, and ‘Tandanu’ is on par with all the great music they have created in the past. Long live Indian Ocean!