Indian Ocean concert an absolute delight

IMG 2268 webLOS ALTOS, CA: “Indian Ocean”, the band from India with its distinct blend of musical styles, genres and attitudes consistently attracts huge crowds of music enthusiasts. Last weekend at Smythwick Theater at Los Altos, they belted out some new and mostly old favorites as a fundraiser for AID (Association for India’s Development) delighting an enthralled audience. AID is a non-profit organization providing underprivileged communities with equitable and sustainable development in the fields of education, agriculture, health and community empowerment through partnerships with social groups in India, arranging talks with grassroots activists and documentary screenings.

An additional treat was the opening band of young professional men and women, “The Incident”, who entertained the audience with their fusion medley of Western rock and Indian melodies, setting the stage appropriately for the headliners. Soulful guitars, violins, and impressive vocals rendering classical, folk, rock and contemporary music with the drums and keyboard keeping pace with the changing moods and rhythms was an absolute delight to listen to from both bands.

Indian Ocean’s members bring multiple musical talents on the same stage; coax their instruments to emote so they stir feelings nestled deep within, or uplift with the fast tempo. Dynamic sounds of the bass and lead guitars, with an underlay of rhythmic drumming melds to provide the perfect background for powerful vocals to come through is a hallmark. A unique partnership is evident in their on-stage chemistry and banter, highlighting their long association of singing original songs.

Strains of classical, Sufi, rock and folk all infuse the music in various ways, like a well-choreographed dance, where discrete components take turns as the dominant role. The resounding vocals of Himanshu Joshi, Rahul Ram, Nikhil Rao and Amit Kilam invoked myriad moods ranging from soulful, upbeat, playful, somber and thought provoking. Amit traded the skin and steel of his drums for a smaller drum and a xylophone-like instrument and strummed to yield sounds reminiscent of the “baul” stringed instrument of yore in Ma Rewa.

Similarly, Nikhil made his guitar mimic the sounds of an “ektara”, augmenting the folksy mood of the song, ably supported by the beats of Tuheen Chakravarty’s tabla. Other instruments that made an appearance included the bansuri, dhapli, and tambourine, emphasizing the versatility of the group. A new unrecorded, untitled number had the signature fast tempo, an impressive percussion segment and soulful guitar, although the melodious voices lacked lyrics.

Rahul, the base guitar and vocal lead engages the audience in his inimical, endearing conversational style sharing stories of the band’s journey with chutzpah. He joked that no concert is complete without the signature trio “BMK” referring to the old favorites, of Bandeh, Ma Rewa, Kandisa, which, were of course part of this evening as well. The familiar numbers brought on the foot tapping, cheering with sing-alongs by viewers generating a party-like atmosphere. The momentous crescendo of the songs was often drowned out by eager clapping.

What is a cornerstone of Indian Ocean band and a departure from mainstream rock is the anticipated, yet unexpected twists and turns in tempo, lyrics, mood, instruments, languages and jugalbandi combinations during the concert. The medley truly melds the old and new, Western and Eastern, classical and folksy, as well as up tempo with down beats to provide an unparalleled musical experience. The music of Indian Ocean defies boundaries, as if the conventional, familiar, haunting tunes from the original motherland washed ashore at our adopted one, and mingled with the conventional, jazzy percussions to result in a mesmerizing blended genre. Switching moods and juxtaposing raag-like notes and a Western cadence were delivered ably by both music bands.

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Archana Asthana

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