Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rock and Vedas Go Hand in Hand

The progressive fusion band, Rock Veda, is making waves in India

By Shevlin Sebastian

It should have been a moment of joy for Kabul Rishi. He had completed his Airbus pilot training at the CAE school in Madrid, Spain. It was a tough course, and he was glad that he had passed. But, in the midst of his happiness, Kabul also felt empty. His heart was not in it. Instead, it was palpitating for music. He returned to Delhi and felt unsure about what to do.

But his life changed on August 26, 2010. That was when he attended a show by Pakistani singer Shafqat Amanat Ali at the Siri Fort auditorium. “I am a huge fan of Shafqat,” says Kabul. “I love his voice. And the moment I saw him perform, I knew that I wanted to do the same thing.”

Following the concert, Kabul told his parents, Dr. Prakash Chandra Rishi, a cardiologist, and Meeta, a PR professional that he wanted to become a full-time musician. And they agreed. “My father had a natural gift as a singer, and had sung in college festivals during his youth,” says Kabul. “So he has always encouraged me to become a singer. In fact, I had received training when I was a child.”   

So, Kabul began his tutelage under Ustad Ghulam Sabir Khan Saheb, who belongs to the Moradabad Gharana. While doing that, Kabul got close to Sabir Khan’s son, Fateh Ali Khan, an accomplished sitar player, who has performed with American singer Lady Gaga. Kabul and Fateh decided that they would start a band. But they had a different idea.

There are so many beautiful compositions, which are hundreds of years old,” says Kabul. “Youngsters have not heard about them, while people of the older generation were no longer hearing them. That is how the idea of a fusion band came up.”

Rock Veda was formed in 2011. It is a mix of the East and the West. At the Jose Thomas Performing Arts Centre, Kochi, the musicians looked different from each other. While lead guitarist Shubhanshu Singh and keyboard player Kamal Kharera wore torn jeans and T-shirts, and had goatee beards, the clean-shaven sitarist, Fateh, and his brother, tabla player Amaan Ali, were wearing white sherwanis, while Kabul had a black waistcoat and pointed shoes. The other band members included Vishal Mehta on the drums, Jayant Manchanda on the bass guitar, and back-up vocalist Zohaib Hassan.

They began with 'Gaiye Ganpati Jagvandan' in Raag Hamsadhwani. It was, indeed, fusion music, with the drums, sitar, tabla, and guitar all talking to each other. “This is called progressive fusion,” says Kabul. “We are experimenting with different genres. So, we do fusion, Sufi songs, and Hindustani classical.”

Some of the ragas, which were given a new treatment, included the Yaman, Mishra, Khamaj and the Sindhu Bhairavi.

The Kochi audience took some time to respond to sounds that they were hearing for the first time. But halfway into the programme, the people started clapping, and there were cries of 'Wah, wah'. Kabul impressed with his vocal range, while the chemistry between the band members was plainly evident. And the excitement reached a crescendo when Kabul launched into the popular Qawwali song, ‘Dama Dam Mast Kalandar’.

Malayalam film music composer PJ Berny was listening avidly. “I enjoyed the mix of Sufi and Western music,” he says. “It was done very well. This fusion will enable the band to reach out to a global audience. All of them are talented, and accomplished. Most importantly, today is the age of experimentation. So, they are on the right path.”

Rock Veda has played in some good places including the Jaipur Literature Festival in January, 2013, where they performed in front of celebrities like Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, and Prasoon Joshi. “They told me later that they had enjoyed our show,” says Kabul. Rock Veda also did a concert at the World Sufi Spirit Festival in Jodhpur, as well as the Amarrass Desert Music Festival and the Spring Fever Festival, both at Delhi. And everywhere, the response has been positive. “By God's grace, people like our music,” says Kabul.  

Indeed, Rock Veda's future looks promising. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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