Guitarist and composer Baiju Dharmajan on why he stays away from labelling his style
Guitarist Baiju Dharmajan was best known as the lead guitarist of Motherjane, one of India’s most successful rock acts. But that was until two years ago when he took a detour to launch the next leg of his musical journey with The Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate. The versatile musician sat down with us for a chat a few hours before the performance in the city last week.
With one critically acclaimed album on the stands and another one in the works, Baiju Dharmajan’s music has become known for its unique mix of both Carnatic and rock elements. Baiju, however, shies away from these labels. Ask him how he developed his unique style and he first denies the existence of one before revealing it is something that came to him naturally.
“Firstly, I am not a trained musician but a self-taught one,” he says. “Music was a part of life at home because my grandfather was a Carnatic musician and my father played the Hawaiian guitar and I grew up with film music – Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi – because my father had a very large collection of audio cassettes. So for me, playing an Ilayaraja song is much easier than playing a Led Zeppelin cover.”
How did he then become a member of one of the country’s biggest rock bands? Baiju was in college when he first listened to Led Zepellin and was instantly interested. “A friend gave me a cassette and I became obsessed with it. ‘Stairway to heaven’ was the first song I learnt to play,” he tells us.
With The Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate, Baiju goes closer to his roots. “I am trying to connect that will elements of classical music,” says the musician. “But it is very difficult to categorise the music, I hate doing that. The seven notes are the same whether it is CDEFGAB or Sa re ga ma pa da ni, it is just the execution that it different. The foundation is the same to me. I prefer to let the audience decide what category they are listening to.”
The performance at Hard Rock Café on Thursday night involved a few tracks from their album ‘The Crossover’ and a couple of new compositions as well. Baiju, who is based in Kochi, is also working on a new project involving some “progressive stuff. It will be similar music but more aggressive. And I will also be adding a keyboard player and percussionist to the line-up,” he concludes.