Talented musicians find new independence

Indie music continues its comeback!

Independent music has its niche and, kicking starting the activities for the last year quarter of 2021, is the extraordinarily talented, Kolkata-based guitarist Amyt Datta, who initially garnered attention during the ‘80s with popular rock band Shiva, and now with his soon to be released solo album, ‘Red Plant’.

Red Plant’ is an acoustic album with seven pieces of improvisational music. Stylistically, it is an amalgamation of different musical journeys and experiences and, sound-wise, Datta essentially plays his compositions with virtuosity, which would augur well for a live performance that belongs more in a concert hall rather than in traditional settings. The album was conceptualised, recorded, and mixed during 2018-2021, and the musicians featured on it are: Amyt Datta – acoustic guitar, Arinjoy Sarkar – acoustic guitar, Aakash Ganguly – bass, and Jivraj Singh – drums. While all the songs were composed and mixed by Datta, the cover art for the album is created by Yashasvi Mathis.

In renewing contact with Datta in 2018, when he played at Mumbai’s The Quarter, Royal Opera House, he led a quartet – consisting of Arinjoy Sarkar on guitar, Aakash Ganguly on bass, and Dwaipayan Saha on percussion – as a contemporary improvisational quartet that explored the depths of instrumental rhythms through original Datta selections that can be broadly described as eclectic jazz tunes for want of a better categorisation. After all, Datta is well conversed with the music of jazz legends through the decades, including – in no particular order – Miles Davis, Charlie “Bird” Parker, and John Coltrane.

However, Datta really came into his own with an earlier musical association when, in the late ‘70s, he met Jayashree and Gyan Singh at Beatstock, La Martiniere’s band competition. They soon became friends and long-time collaborators, all of whom I first met in 1996 when I was part of the international music vertical of The Gramophone Company Of India [popularly identified as HMV, and now known as Saregama], which had plans to record them in London through then licensor EMI International. However, those plans fell through with a change in top level management but, as luck would have it, the trio floated Skinny Alley as the then latest incarnation of a continuum of Kolkata-based bands helmed by Gyan and Jayashree Singh. In 2003, the pioneering indie band released ‘Escape The Roar’, the first English language album by an Indian band on a major label, EMI India. For the trivia-minded, in his forthcoming ‘Red Plant’ album, Datta features the son of Jayashree and Gyan Singh, Jivraj, on drums.

Although a far cry from what he looked like in the past, Datta now wears short-cropped hair and thin-rimmed dark glasses but, fortunately, there is no change in his guitar playing talent as, during his live performance in Mumbai then, he indulged in songs from his solo albums: ‘Ambiance de Danse’ [2013], and ‘Pietra Dura’ and ‘Amino Acid’, both released in 2016, which showcased effective influences from the Middle East to the Mediterranean. Rolling Stone magazine appropriately refers to Amyt Datta as the country’s “true live guitar god”!

Meanwhile, New Delhi-based musician Hitesh Rikki Madan, who completed 25 years as a professional musician this year, having started as the lead guitarist for Euphoria at age 17 in 1996, is presently working on his debut album as a solo singer-songwriter-composer-producer. As another teaser from it, Madan released a new song “Aao Naa”, on October 21, which also marks the musical debut of his sons,  Ariv and Advay.

“This song is close to my heart,” says Madan, “because both my kids have sung and played on it. Ariv is 13 years old and has played bass, whereas Advay, who is 12, has played percussion. Out of my recent compositions, “Aao Naa”, is their favourite song and I’m happy they could be a part of it.”

“Aao Naa” is driven by acoustic guitars, and features three distinctive voices across the family members. As in the past, Madan continues to take a minimal musical approach that focuses attention on voices, sung to the lyrics written by Madan along with Manish Dhawan, which alternates between the trio who, expectedly, register effective tonalities more so because the literary works are so personal. With acoustic guitars, ukulele, keyboards, and programming handled by Madan, his simple arrangements remain welcoming.

The genesis of the song occurred during the second wave of the pandemic while Madan had taken his family to their Keanna Village Home, a heaven on earth for them that his wife, Payal, created in a small Himalayan hamlet, also known as an ideal place for bird-watching, trekking, and experiencing village life.

“Aao Naa” also resulted in Madan’s sons generating various firsts: Ariv creating his first bass solo, with Advay creating a new percussion sound by sampling his drum pad with a wooden block, while Madan recorded the song in a makeshift studio at his holiday home and, subsequently, with a little added help from the ARIA Studio in New Delhi. Mastered by multi-Grammy award-winning audio engineer Andres Mayo (who has been mastering products since 1992) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the cover art is created by Parry Bedi.

Both Hitesh Madan’s “Aao Naa” and Amyt Datta’s ‘Red Planet’ go to show that their respective efforts are effective boosters to keep the independent music scenario in good health…

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