On the trail of a bass guitarist

March 10, 2010 07:42 pm | Updated 07:46 pm IST

STRUMMING AWAY: Thomas Eggum with Jayen Varma who has developed a new genre of funk music called ‘Indian Slap Bass’.

STRUMMING AWAY: Thomas Eggum with Jayen Varma who has developed a new genre of funk music called ‘Indian Slap Bass’.

Like many on a first visit to India, Thomas Eggum was virtually hit by a sensory overload. This young Norwegian, part of a group of communication students from Oslo, had done some homework before his trip to Fort Kochi. But nothing, he quickly realised, was preparation enough for the sights, sounds, smells one encounters here. Thomas is still reeling from the culture shock.

One thing that Thomas found exactly as he had thought, exactly like what he had seen and heard on the Net, was the subject of his documentary, bass guitarist Jayen Varma.

Inspiration

“I found Jayen on the Net and was stunned to hear him play the bass guitar at that speed. I'm a bass guitarist myself and that was an added inspiration to meet him. And when I knew I was coming to Fort Kochi I contacted Jayen,” informs Thomas.

A student at the Westerdals School of Communication, Thomas specialises in filmmaking. The other students of the group have chosen subjects in their respective field and have begun work on their films. “My film will be a fly-on-the-wall approach towards Jayen. I will not be intruding on the subject, will not instil my opinion, I will be an objective observer. We have got together for sometime, I listened to him play, watched him talk to friends and fellow musicians, canning all these moments. I will be screening a roughly edited version, possibly on March 20 at the homestay where we stay.”

For Jayen, a brilliant bass guitarist who in 2008 was declared the Fastest Bass Guitarist by the Registry of Official World Records, (Record Holders' Republic) USA and UK, this documentary is small recognition for years of hard work. “I started off as a percussionist, playing the drums and mridangam. I was not formally trained to play the guitar and so when I began my style was different from the other guitarists. It was almost like playing the mridangam on the guitar. I was discouraged in following this style. This pulled me back, I was not sure. Later, when the world of music opened through the Net, I realised that I was playing another version of the popular ‘slap and pop' style, slapping the strings with the thumb and popping the strings with the index and middle fingers.”

Own style

Jayen was now convinced that all that he had heard earlier about the bass guitar was out of place. He decided to follow his instincts, developing a style of his own. This is now a new genre funk music called ‘Indian Slap Bass.' His style has now won him fans around the globe and accolades from some of the greatest names in bass guitar like Jeff Berlin, Bootsy Collins and Marcus Miller. “My goal is to propagate my style in the country. I conduct a lot of solo demonstration performances, clinics, workshops in schools and colleges to make the young musicians aware of the immense possibilities of the bass guitar. And my dream is to play Indian classical music on the bass guitar.”

It is Jayen's dream that Thomas wants to focus on in his film. He keeps asking everyone around if they have dreams and will they be able to realise it. “Of course, the dreams are there but it is not easy to realise them ,” answers Jayen, as Thomas acknowledges with a smile from behind the camera.

Ask Thomas what else attracted him towards Jayen other than his record breaking feat. He looks straight into you, thinks for a while and says, “Indian music is popular in my country. The guitar is a western instrument and to know that someone from India can play it as well as the best was surprising. I thought, well, I must know more about this musician.”

Jayen calls himself a ‘freelance bass player' who conducts concerts with various artistes and bands. This includes recent experimentation with Aparna Panshikar, a singer whose repertoire includes pure and semi-classical and Sanjay Pandey on the tabla. “We have performed at various venues, the latest and most exciting being the annual Carnival of e-Creativity at Bhimtal, a lovely Himalayan valley in Uttarakhand. I think we can call our music explorations as RAgaZZ, as it does not adhere to pure raga or pure jazz. Here, apart from our performance, there was one where I, along with two others and around ten on laptops created music, which can be the future of things.”

Thomas' camera kept rolling all the while. Very often, when the conversation is in Malayalam, he shakes his head. He plans his next schedule with Jayen. This includes an informal talk between Jayen and his mother and a rehearsal with the now popular Dhih band. The heat has sapped Thomas, who shakes hands with everyone around, gets into Nelson's autorickshaw, “Winding your way through the huge crowds on the roads is fun. But it can get terribly bumpy at times,” he says, waving from the speeding vehicle.

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