Interview | Music

‘Masala Coffee family growing stronger and breaching language barriers’: Varun Sunil

Varun Sunil

Varun Sunil   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Just as in any relationship, it takes a lot of time and energy to grow a band from the ground up.

Varun Sunil knows all about it. It has taken Masala Coffee, of which he is the founding member, time to gain a foothold in the mainstream music business. “It is a slow process,” says Varun, over phone from Kochi in Kerala. COVID-19 made the percussionist/vocalist of Masala Coffee drive down from his home in Mumbai to his hometown and be with his parents.

It was the Tamil film Uriyadi (2016) that brought mainstream recognition for the band. The band’s last project was the Dulquer Salmaan-starrer Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal.

Whilst so, the band continues to develop their presence in the indie music circuit; their latest Tamil single, ‘Manitham’, is proof. Penned by Ku Karthik, the song reflects on a period of survival for humankind and urges the listener to look for positives in these distressing times, says Varun.

“That is also because without applying humanity in our hearts, there won’t be an end to these problems. It is better to live in peace than to lead a life of brutality towards others,” he adds.

Folk fusion

Part of Masala Coffee’s charm is their use of folk sounds in the music they compose.

With ‘Kaantha’ — probably the band’s most popular song — they used esraj, the stringed instrument prominently used in Hindustani Classical music. Masala Coffee is, by all means, an alternative rock fusion band, but the violin holds a crucial place in their instrument ensemble.

“Masala Coffee’s music has always had folk elements. We have musicians who come from all different genres of music and everyone has their own signature. So fusion is our thing, and with the folk sounds dropped in the mix, we continue to experiment,” says Varun.

In ‘Manitham’, the band has used the nadaswaram. “It was the difference maker to the song. It was played by a phenomenal musician, OK Gopi,” says Varun, adding that he had to come down to Kochi to record the song (before lockdown).

“You won’t find nadaswaram artistes in Mumbai. It is easier to find someone who can play a shehnai there,” he laughs.

Late last year, the band announced that vocalist Sooraj Santhosh was parting ways to pursue a solo career. Masala Coffee brought in vocalists Aslam and Crishna to replace Sooraj besides adding the young Steve Kottoor on keyboard (someone whom Varun calls a “prodigy”). “The family is becoming stronger and more closer now,” he remarks.

Going solo
  • Varun Sunil is also developing his solo career on the parallel while continuing to fulfill his commitments with Masala Coffee. He is signed to Sony Music label and has produced independent singles like ‘Paakura Ponnu’. He made his debut as film composer with the Telugu film Rajdooth (2019). Now, he has his debut Malayalam feature, Valatty, to look forward to. Produced by Friday Film House and directed by debutant Devan, the film’s lead cast are all canines. “It was a different concept. We have these dogs acting and prominent artistes will then dub for them,” he says.
  • Varun also has two Tamil films and a Telugu project in hand. One of the Tamil films is produced by Sameer Bharat Ram under his Super Talkies production banner. “It is called Poda Mundam. It is a fantasy-comedy subject,” he adds.

The newer members, he believes, will also help the band break past language barriers. “Aslam sings in Arabic, Punjabi and Hindi besides Marathi,” says Varun.

Whilst their live performances already attract audience by the numbers up North, being able to make an identity beyond the South Indian music scene is what Varun hopes Masala Coffee can achieve in the coming years.

“Even with corporate clients who place enquiries, there won’t be a question of what language are we going to perform in. In two years, I think we will cover majority of languages,” he says, adding that the band is in the process of composing tracks in Arabic, Punjabi and Hindi.

Like most of us, Varun, too, cannot wait to put on a show for their admirers.

“Every musician is looking forward to the day when they can go back out there and do a live performance. I think I will shed tears the next time I go live. For us, the stage is like a temple. We feel blessed standing atop one and performing. The first concert we do after the pandemic blows over, we will make sure that it will be a night to remember for everyone who turns up,” he adds.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 1:40:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/masala-coffee-family-growing-stronger-and-breaching-language-barriers-varun-sunil/article32353492.ece

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