Music

Ragas and riffs in Oxford

Rushil Ranjan of The Fusion Project on the team’s brand of music and collaborations with artistes

Rushil Ranjan was born in Mumbai, grew up in scenic Cyprus and went to study at Oxford. He grew up in a home where his father wanted him to be raised a European. The cultural rooting came from his mother; he caught snatches of Indian music when she watched television. He was a regular Indian kid growing up in a foreign land. Ranjan was far removed from anything classical, especially Indian music, during this time. He was into blues, played the saxophone, indulged in pop music, and even brought out a bestselling record, Oscillations. But, somewhere, he felt a gnawing gap. Music no longer gave him the joy it once did.

It was during Ranjan’s stay in London, where he went to study law, that he realised what the yearning was, and went about remedying it. It was a serendipitous meeting with Praveen Prathapan, fellow student and flautist. “It was the winter of 2013. When we jammed, I saw the emotional value in his music. My head was buzzing with ideas. And, all we did was fuse some Western chord sequences with swaras,” recalls Ranjan, 22, of The Fusion Project.

The Fusion Project has since grown exponentially. From informal jamming gigs and sessions in Oxford’s parks to sold-out shows across the U.K., the team, whose average age is 25, is now working on a single with Pakistani singer Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and collaborating with Carnatic musician Sudha Ragunathan.

Ranjan says that though their music is rousing, the path towards it was not very simple. For starters, his family did not understand why he turned down corporate jobs to pursue music. “But now, the communication with my parents is getting restored. They are realising why I opted for this,” he says.

Classifying the music of The Fusion Project is a difficult task, and Ranjan explains it thus: “Our creations fuse Western technique and the emotions of Indian music traditions.”

Though Ranjan never learnt Indian music, swaras spring forth effortlessly from him — “possibly, the snatches of music I heard in my childhood seeped into me”, he says. His teachers are his bandmates, especially Krishnaprasad K.V. “We performed more than 160 gigs last year, and each one of them has been a learning experience,” says Ranjan. “We aspire to to give listeners a sublime experience.”

The Fusion Project has a simple guiding principle — making music that is accessible to both Western and Eastern audiences. “The musicality of Indian traditions has enamoured many Western musicians. For, our music is created in the heart, not the mind,” he says. Western chords form the base for their music, because “that’s a familiarity you hold on to while exploring other forms”.

What Ranjan cherishes most about his India trip is the opportunity to imbibe new sounds and Carnatic music in a way he has not before. “It’s a wonderful process of discovery. Every new day brings with it a new sense of amazement.”

Soul and the sub-continent

The Fusion Project, which officially took shape in 2015, collaborates with Sudha Ragunathan for a series in London featuring her, in October 2017. The team has recorded with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who’s been a mentor-collaborator. “There’s so much to learn. He improvises beautifully, is so humble…” The single will release in May. Ranjan has been going around with a laptop and microphone, recording Carnatic music on the violin, the sarangi in Mumbai, sarod in Delhi, vocals by Krishnaprasad K.V., and classical piano by Anil Srinivasan.

What is The Fusion Project?

The initiative brings together Hindustani and Carnatic vocals, the tabla, and the classical flute with Western vocals, the cello, bass, guitar and clarinet. The aim is to build on revered traditions to create music that is fresh yet rooted. The Fusion Project is known for its original works such as ‘Helpless’ as well as covers and a mash-up of Eddie Vedder’s ‘Hard Sun’ with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Allah Hoo’.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 4:02:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/Ragas-and-riffs-in-Oxford/article17295810.ece

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