Progressive fusion, a melange of Hindustani strains, tabla and sitar, with drums, guitar, bass and keyboard, is ‘Rock Veda’s signature music

‘Rock Veda’s debut track, ‘Naina’, instantly tells you who they are. It opens with gentle Hindustani sung strains, breaks into a strong electric guitar riff backed by a tabla, heads to an instrumental section lead by a sitar, and builds to a magnificent coming together of these instruments alongside the drums, bass and keyboard. It’s this signature sound as a “progressive fusion” band that has given the Delhi-based troupe material enough for their first album, and taken them across India’s music festival circuit, says lead singer and co-founder of the band, Kabul.

In Kochi to perform at JTPac, ‘Rock Veda’ says they began as an initiative to draw youth toward Indian classical music by bridging it with Western music. The roots of their Indian classical influence stem from Kabul’s training under Ustad Ghulam Sabir Khan Saheb, who is also the father of ‘Rock Veda’s sitar player Fateh Ali Khan and tabla player Amaan Ali Khan.

The band

“In 2010, Fateh and I decided to begin ‘Rock Veda’ with Amaan since we were all from the same school of music. We wanted some strong Western music instrumentalists to accompany us and that’s how we found drummer Vishal Mehta, bassist Jayant Manchanda, keyboardist Kamal and lead guitarist Shubhanshu. “Naina was the first composition we created,” says Kabul. It was released only in 2013, but the band has created several other compositions in the meantime.

Most of ‘Rock Veda’s music is inspired by ancient Sufi poetry, and classical bandish compositions blended with old thumris, says Fateh. “We try and take pieces that are hundreds of years old and rework them into the progressive fusion genre,” says Kabul. For instance, their song ‘Aye Ri Aali’ is based on a piece sung by Ustad Rashid Khan in raag Yaman, but their version features a distinctly Western touch.

Often, the structure of a composition is created by the Indian classical artistes of ‘Rock Veda’, and the Western musicians build upon it during their sessions in the jam room, says Vishal. All the members of the band freelance with other groups in Delhi and their influences are quite different from each other.

“Because we listen to so many different artistes individually, we’re able to bring a wide variety to the table when we come together on stage,” says Vishal.

‘Rock Veda’ has taken the stage at many music festivals in the recent past. Important among these was the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2013. “Playing there was just amazing. We sang before people such as Javed Ali, Shabana Azmi and Prasoon Joshi. When we were done Javed Ali told us that he would like to hear a lot more of us in the future. That was a big honour,” says Kabul.

Many plans

‘Rock Veda’ has also performed at the Amarrass Desert Festival, the World Sufi Spirit Festival in Jodhpur and the Spring Fever Fest at India Habitat Centre, besides several others. “I’ve also shared the stage with singer Shafqat Amanat Ali who is a great inspiration,” says Kabul.

For the immediate future ‘Rock Veda’ is focussing on their debut album scheduled for release in the close of 2013. “We have completed about seven or eight tracks and are looking to do a few more before we call the album done. Currently, that album goes under the name of our debut song, ‘Naina’,” says Kabul. The band also harbours some Bollywood dreams and Kabul says their hopes are not entirely unfounded.

He says, “Many of our listeners have suggested we shift our base to Mumbai and start singing for films. On a personal level, I would like to try playback singing as well but for now, as a band, we’d like to focus on exploring our chosen genre further.

We will move to Mumbai when the time is ripe. God has been good to us thus far!”