I got the low-down on politics of band culture during their rehearsals.
I’ve seen Suman Sridhar and her madness on stage over the years—at one point she sprayed an unassuming audience with a water gun at a show in Blue Frog, another time she ended her set by throwing fake currency at the audience. So it was with a mix of anticipation and curiosity that I went to interview her during a jam session with her recently formed band, Suman Sridhar and The Oracle. I went in with my radar probing their comfort zone and contagious energies and walked out with enough dope to unload on this article.
It was on a Monday afternoon, armed with my mandatory 20 questions that I usually prepare for an interview, I took off to the Delta jam pad at Malad, while the Bombay sun burned with a vengeance. The jam pad was run by Sadanand who had set it up for his son’s band Daira, an alternative rock band from the city that recently won the Mumbai leg of Hornbill on Tour event. Sridhar’s band was out to grab a bite while I made small talk with Sadanand.
Soon enough Sridhar and her band trickled in one by one. We all stepped into the cozy jam room where the band got down to trading licks and improvising on fresh material. And I thought, fuck the 20 questions, this jamming is awesome! Let me play it by ear, literally.
Their music was infectious and flowed effortlessly with Sridhar’s multi-galactic vocals prodding into the Karan Joseph’s soul-meets-jazz progression on the keyboards—he kind of made up for the absence of a guitarist.
The rhythm section was fired up by Anjo John’s bass assaults launching into Anand Bhagat’s percussions and Didgeridoo strains that mapped from tribal to floral bleeding through the funky drumming of Dhir Mody.
At some point I was informed that all the band members had some Malayali blood in them.
“No wonder I feel at home,” I said.
After jamming on a few songs that also included some song writing process, the band broke for tea, the ordering of which turned out to be more complicated than some of the progressions they were playing.
Sadanand took it upon himself to get the assortment of teas which he joked would confuse the tea vendor. Black tea with sugar, black tea without sugar, one cutting chai, green tea without sugar and tea with milk and no sugar, even I was confused.
But most of them got what they ordered while a spliff did the rounds.
Sridhar has been in the timeline of the music scene since 2008 following her stellar collaboration with musician and novelist, Jeet Thayil.
Their debut 2012 album STD was a mark of their vast arsenal of poetic and musical skills that were laid out through a range of genres and themes explored to contemporary perfection as an indie dream laid bare in a warped urban reality. Sridhar and gang has been dropping the red pill to their audience ever since.
She’s also the token sultry voice for Bollywood remixes with songs such as ‘Fifi’ from Bombay Velvet ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’ from Shaitan and has also lent her talents in the field of theatre, multimedia opera and spoken word. Her current fascination seems to be with her loop station for live looping her voices and sounds.
“I took some time off after STD and started writing music and doing solo shows with just the keyboards and sometimes inviting friends to jam,” Sridhar says. “I’ve played with all these guys at different set ups,” she adds referring to her current lineup.
The band’s sound is evolving towards an Afro-Indian Neo-Soul genre according to Sridhar and one of the immediate effects of the sound is the absence of a guitar.
“We have 15 songs now but I might weed some out. It’s a mix of hip hop, afro beat, spoken word rap, sort of funk inspired stuff. It’s eclectic and it’s our own thing as there’s strong Indian influence but the grooves are African and Latin inspired and a lot of stuff is about Bombay,” Sridhar says.
John on the bass and Joseph playing the keyboards
As for the The Oracle, Joseph is a product of Berklee College of Music in Boston and has been part of choirs in New York and dispenses an authentic soul vibe fusing his organ and piano tones with psychedelic wah wah tweaks on his keyboard. As for John, Sridhar feels that he is very good with melodies and can write memorable songs that are almost poetic in phrasing.
“I primarily make music for films and also produce stuff for other artists. I’m reconnecting back to the very basic idea of song writing, in the sense of not letting your ability to play an instrument to overtake the idea of a finished song,” John says.
Bhagat had zoned into his percussive temperament so much so that he had gone to Mali and Burkina Faso to understand and learn the nuances of the tribal beats and rhythms that has been stitched to his musical fiber these days.
Bhagat playing the djembe
“I went there to study West African traditional music rhythms and I’m also planning on doing some voice percussions as well,” says Bhagat. Dhir meanwhile is the replacement drummer for Lindsay D’Mello who was in the line-up during the band’s debut Black Mamba tour in August this year. In fact, this was the first time Dhir, who’s also a faculty member at the True School of Music, was jamming with the band.
As evening approached, the band continued with their bohemian bonhomie and wafted through fresh tracks such as ‘Plastic’, ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Rail Gadi.’ The latter’s lyrics went like “Bhenchod behen ko chod…” and the song is a cheeky and sarcastic take on the sensationalism of rape in India.
Jamroom Session: Rail Gadi
Political fragments and issues are very much built into Sridhar’s songwriting prowess as she takes on the issues plaguing this country. A new song on the current ban culture is in the making and I’ve been sworn to secrecy regarding the title of the song.
“I think the urban middle class has finally been affected by the fascist policies of the government, hence bans are being discussed. But the process of censorship and attack on basic human rights has been steadily underway for quite some time now,” Sridhar says.
“It kind of sucks man,” Karan stated after my question to the band on the ban culture wafted around.
“The band culture?” Bhagat was heard asking.
“No. The ban culture, B.A.N, ban,” some of us quipped in.
Meanwhile, Sridhar’s debut film Ajeeb Aashiq, filmed by Natasha Mendonca is scheduled to be an internationanal release. It's an experimental feature film shot in the cinema verite style set in Mumbai.
The band hopes to release their debut album next year, which will feature collaborations with the likes of Micah Nelson, the son of legendary American songwriter Willie Nelson.
So is the break from Sridhar/Thayil a temporary thing?
Sridhar says, “I think so. He is focusing on his band (Still Dirty) and writing his second novel. I’m focusing on this. We kind of collaborate with each other for some of the live shows but nothing full blown.”
As for her and the Oracle, she says, “Once I started with the band I wanted to see where this goes. I feel the sound is getting shaped by the members also as it’s such a local sound and I would love to see what happens.”
“There’s some Marathi rap, bit of Tamil stuff, the Indian sections are gonna just evolve because the sound is still evolving,” says Sridhar who has also musically reconnected with her classical musician parents recently.
“I’ve been jamming with my folks and also played a few shows with my dad playing the tabla,” she says.
The jamming continued and I nodded my head soaking in the cerebral grooves while I clicked photos of the band with much glee.
Twilight set in, so did my time to leave as Sridhar and gang broke into the final jam for the evening which turned out to be O P Nayar’s ‘Babuji Dheere Chalna’ which she crooned juggling along Osvaldo Farrés original Spanish version of the song called ‘Quizás, quizás, quizás.’
Jamroom Session: Jailbird
(Suman Sridhar will be performing a solo set at The Hive tomorrow Saturday 24th Oct at 8 pm. Entry: Rs 500)
By Mohan KK