Get ready to rock and roll as Ashram, a band that fuses the best of music from the East and the West plays at Nishagandi this Saturday night. The band consists of vocalists Manuel Seidl (Austria) and Saju Nivas (India), tabla artiste Hari Kumar (India), tavil artiste Ajayan Gopi (India), guitar and sitar player Judy Sepan (Austria), bass player Sebastian Obermaier (Germany) and drum player German Schwarz (Austria). Excerpts from an interview with the band with Manuel and Judy doing most of the talking.
Judy, German, Sebastian and Manuel are part of a rock band called Fur Balloon in Austria. The ball for the formation of Ashram started rolling when Judy came down on a holiday to the city where he met Ajayan. They discovered that they shared a love for music and held various jamming sessions. “Judy learnt to play the sitar and even took a sitar with him back home. He showed the rest of us the kind of music he played there and we were hooked. That was when we decided to fuse the East with the West,” says Manuel.
East meets West
“We call our genre of music Oriental Rock. It is rock and roll with an Indian touch. While merging the music from Western instruments with Indian instruments is difficult, we have managed to overcome that. Sometimes, we might tune a stream of music from the Indian section to make it all jazzy only to realise that it is against traditional Indian music norms. Then we rework them,” says Judy.
As they live in different continents, meeting for practice sessions is tough. Skype plays a major role in their lives. They do meet up one in a while to practise for a week or two. “All of us are professional musicians. We practise our part of the music individually and so, when we meet, it is easier,” say Ajayan and Hari.
Their songs are mostly in English with Malayalam and Sanskrit lyrics popping in intervals. In fact one of their songs, which is on Kerala, has ‘Thai Thai Thaka Thai Thai Thom' in it. “Some of our songs in our first album, Ashram had Sanskrit lyrics. Although Sanskrit is a lyrical language, it is tough to use them in the songs as some words can be unwieldy. It is more of Malayalam lyrics in our second album Lost in the Universe,” says Manuel.
The European team has managed to pick up a bit of Malayalam, although they say the Indian team is doing a better job learning German then they are at picking up Malayalam. Spiritualism is a recurrent topic in their songs. “We have not used German in our songs simply because a global audience would not understand German and because the rock culture is English; it somehow seems a traditional thing. Besides the producer of our second album is Grammy winning producer Thom Russo who is in Los Angeles. So, English makes sense. We have used Malayalam in our songs because Westerners are intrigued by the Orient,” says Judy.
“It is tough to get a venue and audience if you are not an established band. We started promoting our music by playing in certain venues and prisons in Europe when we began. The audience was captivated by the Indian flavour to Western rock songs. Although they had no clue of the lyrics, many were seen humming along. It was easier finding an audience the second time around” says Judy. It is the first time Ashram will be performing in India.
The band is planning to shoot one of the songs of their second album, Murderers of Sense in Kerala. The video album should be out in June. German and Sebastian: “Kerala is so panoramic. Besides I doubt a rock song will look good juxtaposed a snowy Austrian hillside. But, you may never know, we might shoot a song in the snow.”