Mumbai-based neo-fusion rock band Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café raise glasses and spread cheers with their Kabir-infused soundscape

What happens when you put an inbred folk musician, a Carnatic violinist, a self-taught mandolin player and a freestyle drummer together - you get Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café. Here’s a band you will never get tired of listening to and when you do, go to give a listen to these guys, don’t be surprised if they give you a hug and welcome you as one of their own.

Welcome to Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café – a band and space that brings alive the poetic works of Kabir infused with rock, pop, reggae and fusion. Featuring lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Neeraj Arya, who pioneered the Kabir Rock genre, along with Raman Iyer on the mandolin, Mukund Ramaswamy on violins and Viren Solanki on percussions and drums, the band creates a 700-year-old musical dialogue between Kabir and their audience. The Mumbai-based 20-something-aged quartet performed their high-energy combo of music and lyrical beauty at BFlat recently.

“A café is where you go hang out less for coffee and more for conversation. And at Kabir Café we create a conversation with Kabir through our songs,” says Raman. Their first time in Bangalore, the boys seems a bit nervous but settled in easily to the encouraging crowd and had them grooving to their vibrant soundscape. “We are proud to take our music everywhere. This is our first time as a band in South India and the experience is awesome,” he grins.

On the name of the band, they made it obvious why it’s called Kabir Café. Raman adds: “It is Neeraj Arya’s because he pioneered the genre. We are talking about honesty, integrity and Kabir, so Neeraj deserves most of the credit since he is the backbone of the songs.”

Initially a solo artiste, Delhi-based freestyle musician Neeraj traversed the pages of Kabir’s poetry for six years playing in Mumbai before teaming up with Mukund, a mechanical engineer who has been playing the violin since he was four-years-old. The collaboration of the seasoned Carnatic musician, with years of training behind him, and the folk musician, who till date hasn’t seen the façade of a music school, brought together an unorthodox blend of passion and music – unique to the band’s soundscape. It wasn’t long before they were joined by Raman, who inspired them to form the band, and Viren, their youngest member, to give Kabir’s poetry a whole new persona.

Neeraj’s journey with music and Kabir started in 2006. “Kabir was always around. It’s his words that brought the transformation in me.” Raman pitches in: “We have so much of Kabir’s content that we can package into songs. We believe we are more performers than musicians. We don’t use guitar pedals, processors or use power chords. We create poetry and make sure the music enhances it. The poetry has a message which we feel is absolutely meaningful today.”

Neeraj says the whole coming together was magical. “For me the poetry is very important. Raman, Mukund and Viren coming in added more depth to the music and we immediately found the spark.” Neeraj was the first to take the leap of faith and quit his job followed soon by Raman and Mukund. “We connected immediately. We used to talk and discuss Kabir. More than music, we had a connection that happened when we came together and somehow we now have the same goal,” Neeraj adds.

Looking ahead, Neeraj says they will launch their first independent album soon but more than that, “We want to be together no matter what. More than success, we want to achieve the bond of togetherness and learn new things about Kabir.”

When not jamming, the band travels a lot, watches movies and talks of course, about Kabir. “Kabir’s words are very important and relevant even today. We want to spread his message especially at this time and see the change as we sing.”