Friday, August 19, 2005

Undiscovered treasure
Kandisa by Indian Ocean deserves to be right on top


Recently, someone handed me this album – Kandisa, by a band called Indian Ocean. Damn, I thought, another pretentious, postured, crappy offering from a wannabe rock band. The album cover and the inlay details certainly suggested it. One had come across so many such bands previously, all falling way short of what their hype had suggested. Then, wincing a bit, I played it. Well, what can I say - sometimes it’s a privilege to be wrong.

This is the freshest, most original, “ear-opening” music I’ve heard in a long time. The format sounds like rock, fusion rock, if you like– drums, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, tabla, vocals, for the most part. But, in spirit, they seem like a jazz band, or a jazz band using rock tools (like Grateful Dead live, perhaps) – their improvisational meanderings suggest that. But, as they themselves say, since their music is melody-based, rather than chord-based, they don’t see themselves as a rock band. Their improvisation happens between the take-off and return points in a song, not in a fixed chord pattern, as in most rock or jazz.

Let’s forget the technical quibbles. The most exciting thing about the band is that they take traditional Indian hymns, chants and poetry and give them these terrific contemporary treatments. Punctuated sometimes by semi-classical vocal flourishes and traditional-sounding beats and chants, but never, not once, does any of it sound gimmicky or phony. Maybe a little excessive sometimes (in terms of duration), but never phony. There is no self-consciousness whatsoever. The already-existing vibrancy and immediacy of traditional folk is considerably enhanced by their groovy arrangements and passionate performances.

Take “Ma Rewa” – an utterly beautiful track, based on a traditional hymn about the Narmada river. The guitar-work is superb, conveying the feeling of a river flowing on peacefully, not knowing what travails it’s to face (the whole sordid Sarovar Dam business). The percussion interplay in the latter part perhaps conveys its destruction. Take the title track. “Kandisa” is based on a Syrian Catholic hymn believed to be over a thousand years old, sung in the ancient language of Aramaic. It starts off like one all right, lovely ethereal harmonies and all. Then - a busy, yet unobtrusive beat builds up, the vocals continue, the acoustic guitar carries the melody forward…the magic is underway. The high point is the beautifully-delivered aalaap halfway, it just works so perfectly, so movingly.

The instrumental piece “Leaving Home” is masterful, working with a chant (rather like the Malgudi Days hum, only more upbeat) and leading on to a tastefully groovy interplay of all the instruments. The martial strains of “Kya Maloom”, the exuberance of “Hille Le” (idealistic Bihari lyrics by Gorakh Pande set to African-styled chants, rhythms and guitar; the vocal delivery is very Indian, though – it’s all quite delightful), the moody and celebratory complexities of “Khajuraho” – they all brim with vitality and innovativeness.

The interesting thing is, because often you do not know the language the lyrics are in (with only the inlay guiding you to its theme), the focus on the music is total. The vocals then become just another instrument, and a mighty fine one it is too - will make even the purists happy.

Though Indian Ocean have something of a cult following in Delhi, the city they come from, one can’t help thinking what a national treasure they would be, if people are exposed to them properly. And the tremendous significance a band like this could have on the international stage. No other band in this country uses such a universally recognisable format (identified with rock), yet produces such quintessentially Indian music. Indeed, nobody in India fuses Indian and western sensibilities so immaculately. This is a recipe for surefire mega-success, which would be very well-deserved. Forget the rest of India, for starters it would be nice if their current music label could catch on.

Gentleman
January 2001

5 Comments:

Anonymous imp said...

bingo!!

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superb

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can you covert the word in indian laguage

12:58 AM  
Blogger Shrinivas said...

thanks for the info...cool stuff..

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very informative ... thanks

7:01 PM  

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