Noisy Mama’s recent performance in Kochi was an ecstatic blend of jazz, rock and Carnatic music
Through dim light, Palakkad Sreeram’s powerful Carnatic vocals pierced through, running madly up and down the scale in the opening seconds of ‘Mad Razz’. Bijo Paulose shadowed his notes on the keyboard and against Naveen Kumar’s consistent bass line, John Anthony picked up a lead guitar solo. The band’s rock-steady spine is its founder German drummer Carola Grey, better known as Noisy Mama. And ‘Mad-razz’, about the “madness of Madras”, was her first Indian-style composition born from a two-decade long association with India and its music.
At Noisy Mama’s recent performance at JTPac, presented by India Elements, the band proved that their signature ‘Indian-jazz-rock’ sound is a careful, thoughtful amalgamation of cultures. Their second track for the evening, ‘Mad Chicks Fly’ began with the shruthi petti’s hum over which a funky bass foundation was embellished by Sreeram’s flute. As Carola sang and drummed simultaneously, she explained, “When everyone thinks you’re mad, you’re free to fly.” The song’s highlight was Naveen’s solo that built up from scattered low notes, slowly climbed higher and closed off magnificently with a slap bass and strummed section. “Now you know why we call him ‘Funky Pete!’” said Carola.
It’s symbolic of global times that Noisy Mama’s next number – ‘Let’s Dance’ – was “written in Greece, sung by a German and played with an Indian band.” A piano-driven piece, it had the crowd tapping their feet to mental pictures of slow dancing by the sea under an open sky in summer.
Over the following 15 minutes of Carola’s drum solo, she showed the audience why her talent has grown world-renowned. To a sharp beat on the tom, she spoke fluent Konnakol, wove in a pounding bass drum base, changed rhythm patterns multiple times and brought the roof down to the thundering power of her drumming. Cymbals clashed, sticks flew and her drum set sat tamed into submission by the time she was done working its every inch. Silence had a sound in her wake.
The band came back on stage for ‘Road to Goa’, the title track of Noisy Mama’s most recent album of the same name. Reminiscent of a journey in its structure, Sreeram guided us over its highs and lows with his flute and singing.
After a brief interval, they performed John’s composition ‘Exorcism’. His guitar sang a haunting melody that seemed to still time in places, fasten it into a frenzy in others. They followed up with Carola’s interpretation of ‘Sangeetham’, a composition by musician Ravindran. A jazz touch backed Sreeram’s classical vocals leading in and out of Carola’s voice until they blended into one. Another collaborative vocal between Carola and Sreeram was called ‘Music has no colour’. The audience soon joined in singing “Music has no race. Music is a message without a face.”
The evening came full circle at its close with one more Chennai-referenced song, this time about being stuck in its tiring traffic. Through a piece that explored the band’s dynamic abilities — from whispered soft to deafeningly loud — the audience was taken straight to the frustrating heart of a traffic jam, racing ahead in some moments, stuck in fits and starts in others. For two hours, we had been in the presence of a band that’s managed to elevate fusion from a patchwork genre to a cohesive, endemic one.