Why experienced Chennai musicians are turning to Bollywood covers

With the nascent band Akaash, Chennai’s established indie musicans are now creating covers of old Bollywood songs. Here’s why

What do alternative rock bands Junkyard Groove and Tails on Fire and hard rock band Wacx have in common?

The first is a prominent name in India’s (and not just Chennai’s) indie scene for the last 15 years, the second has built a steady following over the past nine while the third is a fledgling at just three years. Yet, despite the age gap, each of these three Chennai-bred indie acts have created a sound they can call their own. More recently, they have also been sharing a bassist and a drummer between them — Jitesh and Ritesh Dharmaraj respectively.

The two have been in the music circuit since 2000, and have helped create popular English, Tamil and Malayalam tracks like Junkyard Groove’s ‘Folk you’ and Tails on Fire’s ‘Happiness Is A Headshot’. But after creating original music for nearly 20 years, their work has now branched out in an unexpected direction — towards Hindi language and towards covers. Since late last year, their new band Akaash focusses on belting out creative takes on popular Bollywood songs. We ask Jitesh why and his answer is sobering.

Expanding horizons

To put it simply, the duo have woken up to the massive market there is for Hindi film songs around the country. “It is at least twice that of English songs. From the industry to private and corporate shows, everyone wants to hear Hindi songs,” he says, adding, “Things have gone full circle as far as English [music in India] is concerned. There is a massive requirement for Hindi music. When we first started playing in 2000-2001, before there was access to broadband and streaming platforms, our market was extremely narrow — just the indie music scene. That was what we catered to; that was who we played to.”

Now, there is a slightly different kind of catering to do, and the band of four seem to be doing it well. In a sharp contrast to the energetic, electric riffs of Tails on Fire and the deep yet laidback tunes of Junkyard, Akaash produces music that is light, bluesy, and very pop. Vocalist Akash Kumar, who looks like someone straight out of an Indian boyband from the 1990s, is at the forefront as the dapper lead vocalist. Vijay Krishnan does backup vocals in addition to playing the lead guitar. Jitesh retains his role as bassist while Ritesh trades in the drumkit for the cajón. The covers they bring out are soothing, to say the least; sometimes even more so than the originally soothing numbers like ‘Jab koi baat bigar jaye’. Each of their renditions are calm and understated, even those of party songs like ‘Sooraj dooba hai’.

It seems to work in their favour: videos are raking in views by the hundreds per week. Which is exactly what they are supposed to do, thus creating a foothold for the band’s originals to gradually make their way up. Released last December, ‘Kahani’ is soft but with a comparatively heavy riff. It is your regular song of aspirations and the journey of life complete with a millennial whoop but manages to make itself felt. The story behind it is interesting. Though it is a Hindi song, it was written in Tamil, says Jitesh. “My Hindi is not great. So I wrote it my own way and Akash translated it with the help of a friend. Ritesh set it to music. Abin Pushpakaran of BLU Academy does our audio mixes and mastering,” he adds.

The song’s success level seems to be in keeping with Akaash’s covers — no more, no less. There are more to come, says Jitesh, and the band is waiting for the right moment to drop them. “You realise that people from across the world have access to you. You realise that there are many more languages that you could play in that there is a massive requirement for.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:25:41 PM |

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