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Advaita – The Silent Sea and more   Leave a comment

When you hear a band like Advaita, you feel inspired; especially if you have grown up listening to or learning Hindustani classical. Advaita is that essential dip in that ocean.

 

It was raining and I was stuck in a traffic jam that took an hour to clear. I was in a bus and it was hot, sweaty. “Mere yaar” started playing on my IPod. I drifted away. The harmonies spun layers of memory and I suddenly missed someone. A man in a temple. Steady, unmoving, all-gazing. As I searched his face he said nothing, but spoke everything. I wanted to go near him, be affectionate. But I couldn’t. He was stone. A decked up Krishna standing amid a sea of devotees. Mere yaar, was all I wanted to sing.

 

My first tryst with Advaita was in a compilation album that had artists from world over. “Mere Yaar” is a song from their first album.

When I saw the band for the first time in Coke Studio, I was intrigued by their humility. It echoed the old-Delhi hospitality which is so rare these days, especially among a young bunch of rockers. The name of their first album is actually the hallmark of their character – grounded in space. They seemed both of the ground and the wind. They had their sails up alright! They were also the first act shot on the sets of Coke Studio. And it was a one-take all okay sound-wise. Of course there were improvisations and customizations to be made. But they stood, listened and experimented and refined. All done with an air of regal patience. Ujwal effortlessly belted out note after note of the harkats with the sophisticated nonchalance of a businessman coolly negotiating deals at the counter. But it was Suhail who entered the song conquering the sound with the sharp evocativeness of the sarangi, an instrument symbolic of Mughal splendour. I felt like I was thrown into a haveli with Persian jaali windows looking out to the Yamuna meandering quietly across the landscape. Such is the elegance that is so definitive of Advaita. Everytime Suhail wields his wand over the sarangi, passed down to him over generations of legendary artists, one feels like there is love being made behind the purdahs. Going the extra mile in sustaining a note after the initial gusto adds a different signature to the entire composition and there is an exchange of wordless dancing between him and the rest of the sound.

Through their new album, The Silent Sea, I feel like he takes the sound to an ecstatic breathlessness and just as it is about to collapse, gently sets it down, starting it back from a scratch. There is more restraint and passion held strongly. Together in this sea Chayan swims like a fish, carving out intricacies with his English vocals. The beauty in his singing is that he sings without trying to be a Led Zeppelin (though he sounds like him) or the idols most Indian male singers have grown up emulating. In a setting that seems to be driving full speed into the roots of Hindustani he sets the gears spinning into a zone that is refreshingly meditative cutting across the classical intensity.

Some of my favorite tracks in their new album are Gorakh, Mandirva, Spinning and Mo Funk.

Words has a dark, brooding side to it, like the clash of the ocean against itself, stirring up a storm,

Ga Ma Pa Ni Pa, so titled because of these opening notes played in dhrut gat on the sarangi, is a rendition by Suhail,

Spinning, by far my favorite, feels like it was written on an empty beach with tears falling on the sand towards the end,

Mo Funk is a techno rap of bols that gets twisted into a mantra sung in the Carnatic style…a good bit of experimentation from Ujwal!

Mandirva lingers and is a spinoff of the original sung by Pt.Jasraj in Raga Bheempalasi with coaxing vocals by Ujwal. The guitar riffs and bols in the background seem to color it more strongly with anger though.

The Silent Sea, the title track, placed last, ends with a note of disturbed incompleteness, and a yearning.

Their album is truly international style with artwork for every song in the inlay booklet, and notes of gratitude to the people who shaped their journey.  Overall there is integrity to the band that sets it apart for me.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, playing these tracks over and over again.

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Posted March 6, 2012 by Deepti G Gujar in music

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La Dolce Vita   Leave a comment

The clock reads “01:01”. I lie in my bed where all sorts of things lie scattered. I finally bought an electronic tanpura – rather my dad bought it for me. Today it reached me and I feel I have just earned my right to become a singer once more. The connection between me and my dad feels restored. I am musing wordlessly looking at the ceiling decorated in a cluster of fluorescent stars that shine for me exclusively every night above my bed. Stars stuck by me. They are here because I am here. I finally found lingerie that fit me – a satisfaction long overdue after my month-long exhaustive sickness where I lost weight and life urge. But it seems to be coming back to me. Like a bitten child now shy in its return. He is coming around. Life is a he. Ah! the sweet pleasure of wearing underwear that fits snugly on all the curves without mystery or hedonism. Like the sourness of the grapes in my mouth engendering summer that is rushing in through our east-facing kitchen window every morning. It seems to shoo us away from our own escapist nature. A month back I had put down my favorite author’s book, “Bella Tuscany” with tears. Tears of joy at having reached that part of my  mother which had dragged my dad down to the remotest and shabbiest of streets to find that man who could spray-polish our wrought-iron furniture, and turn the rusty whites into matte-kissed sober black. That gusty woman who drew plans incessantly for half a year which none of us had the vocabulary to understand, and got just enough furnishing done to soothe her appetite for rest half of the year speaking to men who didn’t speak her mother-tongue, communicating to them through my dad in his tongue. A cross of figures, a confusion of materials, a tornado left over when they had finished, them cleaning it up like wizards, except that they were not. A side of hers that dumbfounded me through childhood until I started reading “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes. With her second book, my mother was restored again to me – infinitely. If I could love something like her, surely I must have loved her through the madness that made me feel much too estranged. Today I received the third book of Frances Mayes. The promise of restoration buries its roots deep in my sacre coeur. “Prima le radici, poi le ali“…she says here (First the roots, then the wings). “Si signora Mayes…si…“, you *know* me. Mille grazie. A day before I stumble upon an Anoushka Shankar-Norah Jones collaboration, titled “Easy“. I feel how strange it would have felt if my dad had birthed another “me” with as much pleasure, as much love and as much desire and I had never known that other me. Like an ice wall behind which you see people but cannot hear them. And then I saw the photo of the 2 of them together with similar tattoos of the sun on their back. Another connection restored. The wind-chime finds its place in the wind, not in an air-conditioned corridor. Discovering another Norah Jones song made me feel back at home. She was mine again. New and yet the same. Bluesy and yet so verdant. Like steady, green alpines by the lake. A steady stream of peace meandering and yet being always at home. Summer is back. Soon mangoes will be too. And between now and then will be a wait of the gentle mother radiant with expectation. The playlist ends with “fields of gold” – an eternal joie de vivre of “now”-ness. There is no deeper joy, whispers my heart. The man at the counter charges me Rs.50/- per hair clip when I expected him to charge that much for three. I hear the laughter of a child thoroughly enjoying the idiocy. I see me drop the colorful clips on his counter, too ludicrous to negotiate. I buy the same set down a line of shops with a total price of Rs.60/- My faith is restored. There is something for everyone. Nay. There is everything for everyone. Even if it is just a little bit. I buy me a perfume. I had gone to a high profile meeting where someone was wearing a perfume that smelt like it had sandalwood bursting into effusions of a top note. Marks and Spencer gives me a fragrance which has sandalwood and vanilla – the “salt” of fragrances – as the base notes – at a discount price. Olfactory restored. They have a last pair of soft acrylic black gloves hanging at the same price. “Caro mio…“, I call out to this sweet life. I come home and have a delicious aloo-mutter made by mom which is simple and has a mysterious taste to it, which I later find out is due to the saunf and ketchup combination she added to it to compensate for the lack of chillies. The simple, fetching dish reveals to me layers prancing around my tongue. I feel like I am kissing with my tongue and experiencing a life that wants to reveal its mystery to me with the promise of something more after every discovery. A promise of succulence. I book tickets for my parents for a black and white silent film nominated for the Oscars this year. My love for films is restored, silence is back in action, a canvas so pure and intense, pouring down my throat like raw honey, claiming the void with its alacrity. I open my cupboard and find that I have all that I need. I look at my bedside table and it has stacks of books worth all their weight in gold. I find my musical companion again – dad sits down with me and explains to me how to tune the tanpura. He plays the recording of his latest fascination – the jaltarang. He plays an old Hindi film song with pristine tuning. He shares my horror at the discovery of Auto-Tune. We agree with fierce gusto that art deserves to be made for the sake of art, not as just another means to make money. I lose further respect for Bollywood and my menial IT job gains greater credibility.I inwardly vow to make art for art and do the best I can to improve myself as a channel for so many art-forms life has handed me, with the grim conviction of an esteemed treasurer. I touch my electronic tanpura with both my hands and then touch them together to my forehead and ask it for its blessings. Music is restored at home. I find a song by Adele which I really like. Non-pop. I pray secretly she didn’t use Auto Tune, thank God for sending me yet another artist who sends the blood gushing through my arteries, and makes me want to sing. I feel like I am part of a huge wave once more. I am one with the flow. It has taken me with it. And as Frances says, that which takes you away from you restores you to yourself. Merci. I am falling asleep, feeling drenched in a white light. Maybe I am just dreaming in this semi-conscious state at an hour when birth seems near. The force of life pulling me closer to itself. Me being the life and the movement. A single word rests placated on wrought iron gates which are being opened as I lose consciousness – “Agape

Posted February 27, 2012 by Deepti G Gujar in articles, music

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Love Half Here   1 comment

[stanza 1]
I wait at the café

my hands are folded
and you stare like I
must have something to say

but don’t you know I’m done
…was all this time
from being the other one

[chorus]
You can’t love half here
while your wife’s looking out
the door
we’ve been doing this the wrong way
you gotta get back home

[stanza 2]
I quietly strum my guitar

gazing out the window afar
a couple walk by the car
hand in hand like childhood sweethearts

maybe they could be you…
and her when yall were younger
Shouldn’t I have been just a stranger…?

[chorus]
You can’t love half here

while I’m looking down at
the floor
we’ve been all along the wrong way
I gotta go where I’m the only one

[bridge]
Now I’m tearing up these curtains
recovering the right side of me
letting in the sunlight
to bring you back to reality

You can’t love half here
while your daughter’s looking out
the door
we’ve been doing this the wrong way
you gotta give her back her home

Posted September 23, 2011 by Deepti G Gujar in lyrics, music

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Coke Studio Moments   1 comment

Being on Coke Studio India’s sets was a pure manifestation of magic for me. About 6 months earlier I was casually talking to the director who happens to be a dear friend. He was doing Zee’s Sa Re Ga Ma Singing Superstars and so I happened to mention Coke Studio Pakistan to him. I was thrilled by the music of CS-P to the extent that my heart soared everytime I heard it. Having studied singing since a very young age, I would dream of being a singer until I auditioned for a TV show in my teens that led to a lot of heartbreak resulting into me giving up music. Until that fateful day when my dear friend called up from Lesle Lewis’s studio saying that he was doing the Indian version of Coke Studio. I was thrilled! When he mentioned about auditions happening for the backing vocals, I spontaneously volunteered. He asked me to send the Red Chillies crew a tape of my vocals for which I sang one of my Coke Studio Pakistan favorite – Meesha Shafi’s Chori Chori, sung originally by the legend Reshma. I mailed across my audition tape to the Red Chillies crew and let go. Having not done my riyaz for over 4 years I knew I had little hope. However, ignoring my inner critic, I just kept my fingers crossed, praying dearly that I get to atleast watch Coke Studio recordings for a day.

For several days nothing happened. I thought that it wasn’t meant to be and left it at that. Either ways I would get to be on the sets over a weekend I thought. However, a couple of days later I got a call from one of the Red Chillies crew asking me to drop in that evening at the recording studio in Mumbai from Pune. It was a short call and I was on my way to work with a colleague of mine. She dropped me off midway and I rushed to my salon to get my makeup done for the audition in another city in the evening. After a total rush of couple of hours of having gulped down my lunch, apprehensive about reaching Mumbai on time, I finally boarded a shared cab that would take me to the aspired destination in a few hours. Hopefully with the makeup on intact, I told myself. I arrived well before the time at the beautiful recording studio and I was incredibly nervous. I thought the makeup had melted! After about 45 mintues of waiting in the chilled studio’s lounge area, the Red Chillies crew alongwith my dear friend arrived. Though I was so nervous, that it didn’t reassure me in the least bit! Candles were being lit by the studio’s manager. A group of three Mumbai girls also arrived and their bubbly nature made me even more nervous. I was back to my 15-year old self! 🙂 Soon Lesle arrived. I was struck by his simplicity and warmth as he greeted each of us with his ever-lovely smile. He went into the recording room and so did my friend and the crew members. I was called in. I went in and was struck by how lovely it really was. Though I was nervous to bits and Lesle could clearly see it! He asked me to breathe deeply and sing something that I was comfortable singing. I sang him the same song, Chori Chori. He asked me to sing something in English afterward, and instead I sang a song in Spanish, for I could think of nothing in English! He said nothing, and I was asked to pose for a photograph. A photographer took one with my friend sitting next to me, and that was it. I went back to the lounge area, pulled out a box of fruits and began to eat. I was famished with the proceedings! The other three girls went in, and as I heard them from outside, I knew they’d be selected as they were clearly rocking! About half an hour later I was called in again, and asked to sing harmonies with them. Since this was something I hadn’t done since my schooldays, it took me quite some time to pick up my part. We rehearsed for a few minutes and sung them. That was it and we were informed that one of the crew would get back to us. I went back to the lounge area and waited for my friend to get done so that I could go back to his place to stay the night since it was too late for me to catch a bus back to Pune. However, after the girls had left and the crew members were about to leave, my friend invited me back to the recording room to just be part of what was going on. Soon I was listening to cue tracks made by Lezz (as I fondly like to call him) and the discussions about the tracks by different singers. Soon Lezz picked up his guitar and started playing his original melodies. That was a defining moment in my life! Memory of how I had stood years back in the front row of a screaming crowd at a Colonial Cousins’ show in IIT Mumbai’s cultural fest – “Mood Indigo” – flashed in front of my eyes. I remember seeing him quietly playing the guitar behind Hariharan and being awestruck. Had I known then that I would be sitting across him listening to him play with his signature sensuous style I would have simply scoffed with disbelief! The room was filled by the sounds of his guitar being softly played, as we all just sat still, listening to his incredible fingers making honey from the nylon strings. It was the sweetest memory of music I had encountered after what seemed like another lifetime ago. As I left that day, I was in a state of worship, grateful to simply have the musical ear that could receive beauty in that inexplicable way.

This is a memory I shall cherish for a long time because that was a restart of my association with music. Though I didn’t qualify as the backing vocalist, I got a chance to do the production of a musical documentary Lesle wanted shot as Coke Studio progressed. Hence, I worked at close quarters with him, spending incredibly blessed moments understanding his vision, his music, his melody, his direction. I also got a chance to interview the various artists on the show, understanding the heavy influence of Bollywood and commercialism on the Indian music today, interacting with these artists and talking about their music, their history with Lesle, and even about their spiritual interests with the people who were genuinely open and warm.

Meeting my favorite artist……

When I met Bombay Jayashri on the rehearsal day, I found it hard to believe she was the incredible singer whose profile I had read in order to interview her. She was very simple, down to earth, as if the set was one of the chores on her to-do list of the day. I was taken in by her simplicity, her charm and her alert presence. And yet, she was ever smiling, totally relaxed, attentively listening to all that Lesle Sir was telling her and the happenings around her. Even though there was a fair bit of hustle bustle around her with Richa Sharma coming in and Ustad Rashid Khanji also coming in, she was calm, patiently alert.

The next day was the shoot day. She came in post lunch, and after getting her makeup done stepped out of the vanity and greeted us all with a wide smile. Just watching her made me happy! She was to sing with Ustadji. “Kaatyaayani” was shot a couple of hours later and there was a long wait before the remaining 2 songs where she featured were to be shot. I got a chance to do a lovely interview with her where she spoke at length about her diverse background and stories of working with Lezz about 20 years back! These stories clearly reflected her dedication to music and her everlasting patience that gave her the indefinable grace that she so epitomizes. It was the best interview I had ever experienced! I felt like touching her feet for she totally looked like a Goddess in the splendid orange saree and the simple red necklace. Deep within me I wished I would study music under her someday and I could imbibe within me as much grace as she did! I could not help wondering the depth of experience this lady would have gone through to attain such a poise that very evidently is not from upbringing or a social class, but can only come through the quality of spirit, defining the soul’s powerful journey. I watched as she patiently sang take after take of a particularly song that was finally pulled together at 3am. She had a flight back to Chennai at 6am. And after the take, her eyes were completely red. Her face looked stretched with exhaustion. And yet she sang every take, weaving every note with the very fiber of her soul, as if it were the first…and the last. In between these she would sit down exhausted on a chair provided at the corner. Yet every time a crew member approached her, she would smile…a smile that lit her beautiful eyes every time. She was a Goddess in earthly presence. Out of sheer homage, I had the pleasure of serving her tea in one of those breaks, though I was supposed to only take interviews. In my child’s mind, she was already my idol, one I aspire to be in many years to come.

That night, or dawn if I may put it that way, as my director-friend and I drove back to his home, exhausted, I was lost in tears. Something about her presence and observing her had stirred me to the depths of my being. I felt incredible humility in her presence, one that I have experienced in the deepest, most profound meditations in my spiritual workshops. But to see it being imbibed was a first for me. In the wee hours of that day, I wept until I was empty to the best of my abilities. I felt like owning back the music that I had disowned for so many years in the pursuit of my spiritual healing. She gave me back that state of worship singing had brought me to although very unconsciously several years back when for hours I would rehearse with my tanpura at home as a child. I quietly made intent to sing that way, and perhaps with her too someday and drifted off to sleep. After coming back to Pune from the Coke Studio stint, I got back to resuming my classical singing classes.

A month later as I saw her episode telecasted my tears welled up all over again at the sacred experience it was just being there and experiencing music being created in the darkness of the sets. I took the courage a week later to call her up and it was a thrill to hear her lovely voice over the phone as I told her how very touched I was with her performance. She sounded just like she had the first time I met her – an image of a wind chime happily dancing in the wind flashed in front of my eyes – taking everything in its stride and retaining its grace through every sound.

This post is a dedication to this incredible woman who inspired me immensely, both musically and as a person. Thank You Ma’m for your Godliness!