Indian Ocean fused styles and stories to create an array of experiences and emotions at its November Fest performance

In a world where fusion has come to acquire many connotations — and not all flattering — it’s heart-warming to witness a performance of fusion that is pristine and unpretentious. Pioneers in their own space, and having retained their reputation of being among the country’s first and most iconic folk-rock bands for 23 years now, every song by Indian Ocean is almost like a prayer. Over several years of its journeys across India and the world, the band has rendered, re-rendered and re-visited each of the creations that are part of its musical oeuvre. And recently, with the entry of Nikhil Rao on lead guitar, the sounds and songs have acquired a new-found sanctity.

Taking the stage on Day 2 of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest 2013, the band — Amit Kilam, Himanshu Joshi, Nikhil Rao, Rahul Ram and Tuheen Chakravarty — took the audience on a two-hour-long whirlwind tour of music that offered a multitude of experiences. ‘From the Ruins’, the opening song, layered with deep, mystical sounds including the rendering of the famous Sahana Vavatu (by Himanshu Joshi), was essentially spiritual in quality and tone; ‘Jhini Re Jhini’, a celebrated Kabir poem that the band has made its own, sparkled with philosophy; ‘Des Mera Rangrez Ye Babu’, a track that gained popularity when it found a place in the celebrated film Peepli Live, was as energetic and engaging in the live show as it was in the film; ‘Bhor’, a haunting song based on the story of a “bird that has a Sufi-like experience”, had a quality of mysticism about it; ‘After the War’, an ode written in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, came alive in three languages — English, Punjabi and Sanskrit — and had the audience literally feel the futility of communal violence; ‘Hille Le’, a lusty folk song from Bihar, shimmered with rural-ness and finally, ‘Kandisa’, the song based on a Syrian Christian hymn that the band is most famous for, culminated the evening.

In a way, shraddha (literally meaning earnestness in English), a word that Rahul Ram, who was the band’s bass guitarist, vocalist and narrator, used to describe the rendition of ‘Kandisa’, is at the core of everything Indian Ocean creates and presents. The band is engagingly multi-faceted. Amit Kilam, the curly-haired drummer with a voice like magic, also plays the clarinet and the gabgubi (the tension drum used by Baul singers). In ‘Leaving Home’, a song with vocals but without lyrics, that comprised syllables, tum tum ta na na na, there was an interlude where Kilam engaged in a dialogue of sorts; only the guitars and the gabgubi conversed, and beautifully.

The band’s presentation was as impressive as the poetry and philosophy that its music is loaded with. And despite the complexity of varied styles, Indian Ocean is primarily a simple and minimalist sound that attempts to tell a story that is rooted in India.

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