Percussionist Ramesh Shotham traces his musical journey that began in Madras and took him across the globe, embracing varied genres and instruments.
Madras-born percussionist Ramesh Shotham’s music journey is the equivalent of a brave-hearted raft ride down a river with a widely meandering course. In the 1970s, Ramesh, together with his brother and lead guitarist Suresh Shotham, left Madras with its vibrant rock culture fuelled by bands such as The Mojos, The Silencers, The Voodoos and The Spartans (which the brothers were part of) and sought their musical nirvana in Bombay, Bangalore, Delhi and Goa.
“With a cheque from our father to tide over the inevitable difficulties of the initial days, we left for Bombay,” says Ramesh, who is in the city for a concert. In an environment that resonated with the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the ideals of the flower power generation, the dreams of these brothers took root quickly. The two were integral to the initiative, Human Bondage (1970), a rock band born in Bombay, but whose irrepressible talent would not allow it to be confined to the metro.
Human Bondage, inspired by the famous book by Somerset Maugham, eventually disbanded but the brothers’ journey continued, with the buoyant waters carrying them into inexplicably fabulous musical experimentations.
Ramesh was particularly overpowered by these irresistible currents. With a Ravi Shankar concert in Delhi opening his eyes to the musical richness of the country, Ramesh plunged into a mastery of Indian percussion instruments. The thavil, which he discovered in a temple, came first and still reigns supreme in his heart.
“The thavil is a central part of my set-up,” says Ramesh, who went on to master the ghatam, the mridangam, the kanjira and the morsing at the Karnataka College of Percussion.
In those days, friends who ran drum-set companies created unique percussion sets that allowed him to display his wide repertoire.
When Ramesh appeared to have found his ultimate calling, the river churned violently again, sweeping him into other musical confluences that lay beyond his wildest dreams.
“It was 1980, and I had to choose a new road to tread. My focus was New York. With Suresh and Radha (another member of Human Bondage) in that city, it was logical to go there,” says Ramesh.
But a little-expected rapid took him to Europe. As part of Jazz Yatra, he toured the continent. It marked the beginning of an era that has spanned hundreds of concerts across Europe and involves associations with the best names in European and American jazz and rock music.
Ramesh has made Cologne his home and may appear to have moved far from his hometown and country. But the spiritual link with both is still strong.
Recently, Ramesh and other members of Human Bondage had a reunion in Goa. “Freddy, Xerxes, Babu Joseph and Suresh made it to the reunion. Radha alone could not,” says Ramesh.
Also witness to this connection is the name of his group, Madras Special, which he formed with Hungarian violinist Zoltan Lantos, Sandhya Sanjana, an Indian singer living in Amsterdam, and bass guitarist Christian Zurner from Bamberg.
Proves that while travelling on the river of music, the source need never be too far away.