The vivacious Arati Rao-Shetty believes Bangalore will lend an ear to all forms of good music. She talks about how people understand the music they hear

Branded unanimously as a jazz artiste over the years, she's proved her mettle in the genre. Arati Rao-Shetty has no qualms admitting that she isn't technically a singer because she has received no formal training or education in that genre.

Seated on the spacious porch overlooking her pretty garden, Arati, who co-owns BFlat, one of Bangalore's newest music lounges, Arati recalls her beginnings. “I moved to Bangalore 20 years ago from Mumbai, without giving a thought to what life would be like here and how my singing career would pan out. I hadn't planned anything, but the way life unfolded for me here is something I still marvel at,” says Arati.

The music connoisseur was first an advertising professional before she took to making music her primary area of concentration. “Initially, I did everything from singing jingles for ads and lending my speaking voice to doing small gigs in the neighbourhood with my band.”

Stating that she's come a long way since, Arati automatically lights up when asked about BFlat and how it was conceptualised. “BFlat provides the perfect platform for musicians to showcase their talent for an audience that is musically cultured.

“There are a host of reasons why Bflat was the ideal plan, one being that there are some bands that can afford to stage a show at a place like Chowdaiah Memorial Hall while there are others who are small and have no more exposure than at college gigs. The gap had to be filled and BFlat has done just that!”

Cutting a lifeline

Recalling the time when there was a ban on live music in the city and when people in the industry were literally thrown out of employment overnight, Arati says: “This really got me thinking how fortunate I was that music wasn't my only occupation unlike many of my friends whose bread and butter was live music. It was as if a pair of scissors just snapped a major vein. I decided that live music must be kept alive and with my husband, Sunil, and his business partner James, accompanied by the undying support of the rest of the family and our friends, BFlat and High Note came into being.”

Owning a pub or a restaurant is one thing but running it effectively is another. It was Arati's personal interest in the project that has added to the finesse of the place. The singing sensation spent hours on end getting BFlat to look like a personal space, where intimacy between the performers and the audience is cashed in upon.

Arati states that most of their time was spent planning the acoustics. “Also, being a singer myself, I know what it's like when we're not taken care of well by our hosts. I never wanted to give a chance for complaint by any artiste. Giving a musician the respect he deserves in whatever way possible must come naturally to people and at BFlat is our prime responsibility. This is probably what makes them want to come back again from the other side of the globe just to play here.”

Arati is one person who has never limited her musical genius to one specific genre.

Her influence ranges from the Beatles and Queen to Chick Corea and Steely Dan, not to forget Phill Collins and Billy Joel. “Jazz happened quite by default,” Arati chuckles. “When I had settled in Bangalore for a considerable amount of time and was thoroughly disillusioned that singing was limited to the confines of someone's living room only with friends as an audience, I received a call from Gerard Machado, one of the most accomplished jazz guitarists. He was keen on roping me as the vocalist and that's how jazz happened and stuck on!”

Ask her what she thinks of the music scene in the city and she replies: “This is the best place to be in terms of music in the country. There is room for all. Whether one is a part of a heavy metal band or of a modern jazz quartet, one can be sure that Bangalore, which has an ample number of clubs, restaurants and cafes, will give them an ear. Also, the crowd here is musically intelligent and educated. They know what they want and they understand what they get.”

In terms of how drastically this scene might change over the next few years, Arati asserts: “Bangalore is already on the map. International bands know they will be accepted here. Bangalore is evolving into a migrant metropolis and it is this changing milieu that will affect our sense of music for the better.” Arati's creative mastermind is not limited only to music. She paints, and completing her glass mosaic garden wall is her next project. Claiming to be a foodie, Arati also enjoys cooking.

“I actually make at least 25 kilograms of avakkai every summer and send it to my friends. I've been doing this for 12 years now and I don't believe in retailing it because the passion for something like this then loses all meaning,” Arati explains.

From time to time, she exhibits some of her creations that include coffee tables, glass paintings, crotchet work. Arati learns German on weekends and most of her time is spent being mommy to her nine-year-old daughter, penning lyrics and composing music, which she hopes to perform live soon.