Although active on the live concert circuit before the coronavirus outbreak, Delhi-based fusion-rock band Indian Ocean hasn’t really recorded much over the past decade. Its last album release was Tandanu in 2014, where the group was joined by a stellar line-up of guest artistes.
It is heartening to note that Indian Ocean has recently released its own version of the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan qawwali ‘ Akhiyan Udeek Diyan ’. An instant reaction to the number, is why have the musicians chose to remake a song? But the band has given it their own spin, retaining only the main hook line.
Indie to mainstream
Unlike Nusrat’s robust qawwali, Indian Ocean opts for a progressive rock feel, complete with a steady, heady build-up and a sizzling lead guitar solo by Nikhil Rao. The vocals, led by Himanshu Joshi, are less powerful, but if one doesn't try and compare the two songs, it works. ‘ Akhiyan Udeek Diyan ’ is the first release from the proposed forthcoming Indian Ocean album, which they have already begun recording. It’s a good way to mark 30 years of the band, which was formed in 1990 and has slowly grown from an underground outfit to one of India's most-admired music groups.
Vocalist-bassist Rahul Ram, the oldest member in the current line-up, has been a part of the band rom 1991, and one of the driving forces along with guitarist Susmit Sen, drummer Amit Kilam and late vocalist-tabla player Asheem Chakravarty.
Several aspects have made Indian Ocean unique. One is its sound, which blends Indian folk and semi-classical roots with rock and jazz inflections. With its core audience growing up both on both Indian and western music, its mix of traditional and contemporary was easy to relate to.
Secondly, Indian Ocean has been a huge success on the live scene. Though its studio albums Desert Rain , Kandisa , Jhini , the Black Friday soundtrack, 16/330 Khajoor Road and Tandanu have many followers, the fact was that people sang along at concerts, which were invariably packed. ‘Kandisa’, ‘Maa Rewa’, ‘Jhini’, ‘Bhor’ and ‘Bandeh’ are perennial favourites with their audiences.
Finally, Indian Ocean could well be described as the leader of non-film Indian-language rock-based music, something which over two decades later evolved into today’s independent music scene. Acts like Advaita, Swarathma, Agam, Parvaaz, Raghu Dixit and Thaikuddam Bridge have later used the blend of Indian and western music effectively, though differently in each case.
After Chakravarty passed away in 2009 and then Sen quit four years later, there was speculation whether Indian Ocean would last long. Luckily, Joshi, Rao and tabla player Tuheen Chakravorty filled in the gap easily, and Ram and Kilam firmly held things together for the band.
The band continued to be popular live but the recordings became less frequent, barring films like Masaan and The Silence . In their fourth decade, we await more musical gems.