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The new funk formula

TO A DIFFERENT BEAT (Left to right) Prakash Hariharan, Jeoraj George, Aalaap Raju and Leon James.  

Move over fusion, make way for neo-Carnatic funk.

“It’s a Carnatic melody meets Funk arrangement,” says Prakash Hariharan of city band Project Yuj, which will launch its debut album tomorrow at Museum Theatre.

Like most city bands, the story of Yuj goes back to college — the Sri Venkateshwara College of Engineering.

“I’d do live fusion gigs back then with a bunch of guys,” recalls Prakash, a classically-trained mandolin player and multi-instrumentalist. “We’d play at events and all the musicians were on call.”

It was during one wedding gig that he met singer-bassist Aalaap Raju. Soon, Yuj — a Sanskrit word that means ‘to join’ or to ‘concentrate’ — became Project Yuj.

“A band is always about the vibe,” says Aalaap Raju, singer of hit film songs like ‘Ennamo Edho’ and ‘Engeyum Kadhal’. “When we guys get together, it’s always many hours of music… and fun.”

By others, he’s referring to Leon James, their keyboardist and programmer, and Jeoraj George, who dabbles with the drums.

After two years of strumming in studios and letting loose at gigs, the four sat together to work out an album. And came up with five songs with a sound that they promise will be ‘unique’.

“The four of us are from different styles of music education and that shows in the songs,” says Prakash. The numbers include ‘Maputo’, ‘Reethigowla Blues’, ‘Swinging Bembe’ and ‘Banjo Rumble’. And their musical twist to the popular kriti ‘Mahaganapthim’.

“Thanks to Prakash’s strong Carnatic background, the ‘Indianness’ in our band is very evident,” says Raju. “Fusion these days is a confused word — a lot of people think it’s just taking an old kriti and putting a groove to it. With ‘Mahaganapthim’, for instance, we’ve tried to stay true to the original.”

The fact that they’re an instrumental band helps. “That’s the beauty,” he explains, “If sung with lyrics, we always have a mood attached to the song. It could be love, devotion or patriotism… but because of the words, the mood sets in. With instrumental, it’s entirely up to what the listener feels while hearing it.”

Their album, which has been produced by Amaranta Entertainment, features a couple of unique instruments too. One of the songs feature the prim, a Croatian instrument, while another uses the banjo quite extensively. This four-piece band is a big fan of the instrumental group, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and the young Swedish band, Dirty Loops.

For Raju, the band and their music is as important as his film recording sessions. Despite being successful as a playback singer in Kollywood, he’s keen to explore his other avatar as a bassist too. “Striking this critical balance is very important to me. They are like two different zones. With film songs, we always look to satisfy a team — of composers, directors and lyricists. But with independent music, I get to challenge myself.”

Where do they see themselves in a few years from now?

“The independent music scene in India is growing,” “We’re looking at performing at national and international gigs. With this album, we have some work to show, and that will surely put Project Yuj on the world music map.”

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 12:11:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/meet-the-members-of-project-yuj-a-chennai-band-that-promises-a-different-sound/article6538290.ece

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