You can make anything by writing – CS Lewis
When people were running crazy over Bollywood and English rock music, they did not forget their root but brought it in their music. Indian Ocean one of the most known fusion rock band in India.
Members of Indian Ocean are coming down to practice at their not so studio but jamming place at Sanik Farm. What will be a better time than this to catch up with a musical band doing their trade? Musical instruments and stuffs are all around, as they are flying to Lucknow for a concert next day and before that, they have to finalize a song for Prakash Jha’s upcoming movie Satyagrah. Amit Kilam is excitedly gazing over the huge nagara (drum) they have ordered from Rajasthan and is going to use it in this song, “I have just applied pure ghee over it.” To which quickly replies Himanshu Joshi taking deep breathe, “Yeah, I can smell it and it smells yummy nah?” On one corner, Susmit Sen is playing a note over and over again on guitar, hardly bothered by nagara-discussion. There comes in Rahul Ram, the spokesperson aka gyan-dev of the band, using the ‘F’ word for the Delhi traffic that gets worse with the rain. Or is it just an excuse because he came late?
They all sat down next to their respective instruments – Susmit Sen with an acoustic guitar, Rahul Ram with electric bass guitar, Amit Kilam on drums and Himanshu Joshi with nothing, as he is a vocalist. But there is no one near the tabla that is Tuhin Chakraborty for you. He also joins them after some while but nobody is hardly bothered as they are already into the song. Suddenly Amit raise his hands gesturing to stop, “I am not getting that feeling! It is a marching song, people should be getting goose bumps when they listen to it.” He looks at Himanshu and makes a beat sound with his mouth “give me that on nagara!” They start it all over again and then this time it is Susmit, “I think we should use this part in the beginning and slowly we get into the tempo or else it will be too monotonous.” To which Rahul adds, “Nahi reh! Director (Prakash Jha) has already approved it so let’s not do much with it; just try to make it catchy!” All of them went to adjacent room to a computer, played the recorded song. Rahul closed his eyes trying to get the tune, Amit pointing out where they are going wrong on the monitor and Himanshu trying to get it right vocally. And it goes on and on and on …
Finally, Rahul gives me a wink to come out, it seems he realize that I am not a band member nor I am here to compose a song. “See this is how we work and if it is for somebody else then we can’t do our stuffs, which you saw. In our songs we don’t give a s**t how it sounds, that’s why our songs are longer,” lighting up a cigarette says Rahul. Slowly other members also joined us on porch, so are the dogs that were roaming around for a while. Cuddling a dog Rahul continues, “When we started in 1990, there was hardly any lyrics in our songs till our first album in 1993. From our second album, we used vocals but that also in some of them. First song that we got it written for us was Khajuraho by Sanjeev Sharma in 1999. Then Piyush Mishra wrote it for Black Friday. Possibly sometime in future but so far, we have not wrote a song until now.”
Indian Ocean is the brainchild of Susmit Sen and Asheem Chakravarty during their college days in the eighties. Though they have an interesting band name but idea behind is, “Susmit’s father suggested it. It clicked with us,” smiles Rahul. Himanshu trys to add some logic, “We are Indian and our songs are like ocean,” which made everybody laugh loud as it made no sense but it surely scared away the dogs. “We are mainly using western music instruments but we make it sound like Indian. Slowly and gradually now there is a change in the trend to go back to traditional folk music,” Rahul on the uniqueness of their music. “Or is it rhythm pattern that sounds more like Indian?” pops up Susmit from behind. “No, the tune, the scale and the way we use the instrument has Indian influence. For example, harmonium is a German instrument but you cannot imagine of a north Indian folk song without it. Instrument is for you, how you use it,” Rahul exhaling cigarette smoke from his nose, that must be the reason why his white mustache are yellow near the nostrils.
“We come down together, start jamming and if we like it, we take it forward. Like Amit comes up wit a beat – ah! that sounds good, lets do it. Somebody with a rhythm pattern, a baseline, or a vocal line, anything could be the starting. Then we build on it,” Rahul as he looks for support. “We finally end up with what sounds good to us,” adds Amit the drummer. “Generally when we make music for ourselves there is no time pressure, we can take two years it doesn’t matters to anybody. At the end as a group it is everybody’s decision, just that we should like it. If we don’t like it ourselves then how will our fans?” Rahul tries to make a point, who is a PhD in Environmental Toxicology.
Indian Ocean is not just famous in India but abroad also. In 2006 their album Desert Rain was number two in the iTunes UK world music chart. Venues of their concert goes on from New Zealand, USA, UK, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Germany and then on to Singapore. “Our kind of music has its own space, we are not competing with anybody. On that, these days there is no more genre thing, bands are experimenting with their music. We have done more than eight hundred concerts and everywhere we had a blast. Like in one of our concert in University of Hanoi (Vietnam), these people had no idea what the f#@k we were singing but they were enjoying it! Just tell me what do you expect us to sing, Michael Jackson? So, we had to play our own songs and only our stuffs,” there comes the dog again rubbing against Rahul Ram, knowing they are safe around the social activist.
Above that Indian Ocean has also done few songs in films like Black Friday, Peepli Live and two films (Halla and Shunya) which never got released. “Yes there is a huge presence of Bollywood so we can’t just overlook. It’s a big trend setter in Indian music industry, so we have to go along with it. But there are young directors who grew up listening to rock, ready to experiment with their music and audience who wants to listen to our originals.” After being there for more than a decade, they are just six albums old because of laziness and no future plans. Rahul elaborates, “We have no plans for coming days, it’s a good thing to have no plans. Otherwise you limit yourself, ki yahi karna hai! And if you have no plans, kuch bhi ho sakta hai, aur sayad kuch bhi na ho, wo bhi theek hai!”
“Things are much better now in comparison to ours. When we began we even lost some money just to travel for rehearsals, for five-six years we didn’t make any money but we kept playing.” Then the obvious thing that comes to our mind is how do they sustain? “People don’t buy music that’s why we put them on internet for free. They listen to them, like them and invite us to perform. And that’s where we make the money.” So the message from Rahul to all the youngsters who wants to take up music, “Be prepared to get poor. The desire should be not being like becoming a star in two-three years time because that almost never happens. And sometimes when that happens it goes up to your head and you lose it completely. I am not scaring them away, it takes time no matter how passionate you are about this.”
From here on where does Indian Ocean goes? “Now the only thing that is left for band to do is play soccer!” Susmit jokes but on a serious note he continues, “We have come a long way, it was a wonderful journey. We lost a band member also on the way, a void which will never be filled. But as they say, show must go on.” In December 2009 they lost one of the founding members, Asheem Chakarvaty, who suffered a heart seizure. “His health was improving so we thought he will come back but he didn’t. After that, sometimes I feel, does it matter to the fans or not as they are still enjoying us,” says Rahul. “I think that it is the love for the band that people came. There are people who stopped coming to our concerts, but there are some who have started listening to us after his death. For them it’s a different journey,” Susmit slowly walks into the music room. “It could have happen both ways which we don’t have control over it. People still like us and say that we inspire them, if it has, very well. Even if not, still music will keep changing with time. So it’s difficult to tell what really works but I think good music and that we are enjoying what we are doing,” Rahul bids adieu and joins the group!
(Susmit Sen is no more part of the band)