Hybrid fusion music totally legit: Vasundhara
Niche genres of music have been struggling to preserve their sounds ever since cable TV and internet invaded the country’s popular sound and visual scape. Two decades on, bastions of jazz and pop music, mainly in urban areas, are still thriving albeit smaller but more fanatical followers may who faithfully keep the fire burning.
The artists are a content lot- neither hankering after- fame or fortune, diligently crafting a sound that uniquely belongs to their roots and experiences. This sound, distinctively urban, is dissimilar to the ‘fusion jugalbandhis’ performed by popular artist which ‘fuse’ the East with the West.
For the merry band of musicians like Adil & Vasundhara who regularly play in India and abroad- the fusion is more ‘natural’ and more ‘real’. Radioandmusic.com caught up with Vasundhara for an insight into their world and sound.
How are the Blues- Jazz artists in India surviving the Bollywood/ Indie pop onslaught?
It isn’t an onslaught per se. It is what the majority of India listens to. Our work isn’t an attempt at combating the dominant popular culture of our time but to establish a form of music that is truly urban Indian. We have grown up in cosmopolitan cities and English is our first language. However, our experiences are typically and truly Indian as are our value systems, family structures, spiritual and religious beliefs.
The music from the subset of people that we belong to has a very different connotation from ‘fusion’. Fusion is more intellectual. It is an attempt to blend two diverse worlds. But here, the individual himself is a hybrid.
The elements that one would otherwise try to ‘fuse’ are already within him as part of his nature and upbringing. And, hence, the music he spontaneously expresses must necessarily be so too.
I say this because we are not competing with Bollywood or Indie Pop. We aren’t alien entities doing alien things. The breed of Indian that we are is totally legit. We aren’t trying to break anything or break into anything. We make honest music and urban people do relate to it.
The only thing that we are combating is the agenda of keeping India an exoticized place. Of portraying the Indian as a certain exotic ‘other’ that people from outside will have to make an excursion to access. It is those with this agenda who are the real roadblock for us.
Are live shows the most viable platform to get your music across to audience? Or are you satisfied to keep it within the confines of ‘true lovers’ of the music.
Yes. There is a human element in live performance that a packaged CD cannot offer. One’s intention communicates very strongly when one performs something live.
Early on, we had many experiences where people would be at a venue already and end up watching sound check and stay on for our gig. For many of these people, this was the first time they were exposed to the blues or to jazz standards or to say Bossa Nova. They would speak to us after the show and would eventually end up following our shows regularly. Our sound then became an addition to the mainstream stuff they would be listening to anyway. And I feel that ‘first experience’ resonated with them because the music was performed live.
These people are not converts. They are just people who include a certain sound within the spectrum of sounds they love.
How can the genre win over more converts?
We are happy to play for those who are happy to listen. There is no pressure on us or on the listeners. We are not insecure about playing ‘minority music’. When what we do comes from a place of love and faith, there can be no place for insecurity. And in spite of everything, we are highly ambitious about the music we make and the future of this kind of music in India.
Are you open to the idea that Blues/ Funk/ RnB/ Jazz- music can be adapted to ‘Indian’ style to be more acceptable- but not in the ‘typical’ fusion style of incorporating Indian instruments and style?
It has already happened. We have a song called ‘Refuge’ on our album ‘Ampersand’ (Yash Raj Film studio production). It is a Blues atop a ‘Bihu’ (an Assamese folk rhythm) in a very non-fusiony way. Lyrically, Refuge talks about how Delhi is made of refugee pockets and how that is an outcome of the Partition.
There are no traditional instruments, no vocals in vernacular etc. but to all the Assamese people who have heard the song, the Bihu is clear and to those who listen to the Blues, it is a really different Blues. Yet, this song cannot be classified as regular Indian Fusion in any way.
On the album, Suchet Malhotra has created some magic with percussions on the song nobody else could.
We have made this song as it perfectly defines us and our set of experiences. It wasn’t made with the intention of being more ‘acceptable’ to an Indian audience. While singing it I am often entirely unaware of my surroundings…about the stage…the people around me. All we do as a band is strip everything away and show them what’s inside our head.
A little about Harlem Nocturne- (themed show played at New Delhi’s Turquoise Cottage)?
Back in 2010, we decided to do a residency. We wanted to play at a place that is known for its music and open minded enough to be our musical laboratory. So we spoke to Gaurav (who) started Harlem Nocturne at Turquoise Cottage. There would be a different theme every week. There were much collaboration with musicians visiting from abroad and with all the musicians we love in this city. We pushed every boundary we could …we played whatever caught our fancy… every week was a new adventure and we grew immensely as musicians.
Harlem Nocturne was our baby… and it was our statement. It was that space of complete artistic freedom for us and we intensely enjoyed it.
With Harlem Nocturne things come full circle. This is where our experiments as a band started out and we are going back in there to document where we have reached in our musical journey today. We will be playing the songs from Ampersand.
The album documents us collaborating with Uncle Louiz Banks, Ranjit Barot, Loy Mendonsa, Sanjay Divecha, Suchet Malhotra. Saurabh Suman and Sava Boyadzhiev.