Sumesh Lal, who has rebranded music shows on Malayalam television, talks about the need to promote independent music. Today is World Music Day

Sumesh Lal is not a musician. Yet he is widely acknowledged as the godfather of the independent music scene in Kerala. With nothing but his music sense to fall back on, he changed the rules of the game for music programmes on the small screen. Film clippings featuring songs and music reality shows were put on pause while he conceptualised new shows that were brilliantly repackaged on channels such as Rosebowl, Yes Indiavision and Kappa TV.

His portfolio reads TV content production and packaging, event direction and management and branding. But right up there is how he revamped music shows on television, bringing in new talents and out-of-the-box collaborations that immediately stuck a chord with young listeners on account of its savvy packaging of visuals and music.

Sumesh, who has a 15-year career behind him, was always into music, “organising and producing concerts” especially during his student days in Loyola School and TKM College of Engineering, Kollam. An electronics and communication engineer, he joined Asianet as a trainee engineer when the channel and the cable network were under the same management. “After a few years I placed a proposal for a music channel. It was approved and Rosebowl was born. It was a community channel, limited to Thiruvananthapuram city,” he says.

In 2007 Rosebowl became a full-fledged channel with Sumesh in charge of the content. It was there that he gave wings to his dream, “that is promoting independent music through programmes such as Harmonize Projekt, Outcast Vocals, Complete Jam Sessions…The premiere of Avial band changed the flavour of home-grown bands; Bennet and the band was another satisfactory project; Neha Nair and Job Kurien were two of the singers who got noticed through our programmes...”

Five years later, he left Rosebowl and landed in Bangalore where he got busy with his company, Aum-i Artistes which he had formed with friend and singer Suraj Mani of Motherjane-fame. Aum-i manages top musicians and bands in South India, television anchors and film personalities, creates brand identity for products, produces content for television, and have organised over 50 events .

“We are college mates and have been wanting to do something to give a platform for fresh voices. Our music industry is dominated by film music but television is the best medium to showcase new talents and musical experiments,” Sumesh explains.

“In Kappa also, we continue to focus on music. Music Mojo is our flagship project and I’m happy that it has connected well with the viewers. The videos are a huge hit online and artistes are coming forward to associate with us. In the coming days, we would be working with composers Bijibal, Gopi Sundar and Deepak Dev,” he says.

So how easy or difficult has been the journey? “Unfortunately a set pattern is being followed on television. No mainstream channel is willing to experiment for rating is all that matters for them. From colour tone to presentation and content, there are a lot of unwritten rules. But I am not a trained mediaperson, my ideas were raw. And they clicked because what I presented was what people wanted to see,” he says.

Friends speak…

Suraj Mani: What I’ve seen and like the most in Sumesh is his almost zen-like ability to create moments of beauty using minimalistic frames and absolutely ordinary elements and situations. It probably says a lot about how he sees life and that makes him one heck of a producer, director and media artiste in my eyes. And, he does have a great smile, full of merriment…

Gayathri: I respect him a lot for his incredible creativity. In Rosebowl, I had a jamming session with Karthik and Bennet and the Band. The set was like a garage… something one has never heard or seen on Malayalam television. Sumesh gives total freedom to the artiste. For an episode on Music Mojo, I mixed an English jazz number with a thumri, which was so exciting. I’m happy that something is happening on the parallel music front. However such programmes don’t have enough sponsors.

Neha Nair: It is true that he has been able to give a unique space for independent music. The best part is he never interferes in your creative process and so artistes (read singers) can actually do what they want to do.