India’s Indie Music Outliers – Leisure News

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Indian independent music is most strongly associated with rock, pop, hip-hop and EDM, genres that have generated some of its biggest stars. But many of Indian indie’s finest acts make music that simultaneously traverses multiple styles, from jazz to progressive rock to experimental electronica. Here are recent releases by three such artists who stand out for their inventiveness.

Delhi-based drummer, composer and producer Tarun Balani is prolific. This five-track collection is the second release from his jazz ensemble Dharma in 18 months, and, in between, he put out the EP 2°, recorded under his solo electronic music avatar, Seasonal Affected Beats. Dharma, the press note says, specialises in “free jazz”, a genre that places a premium on the expression of each performing musician as opposed to that of the composer. Indeed, far from being an exercise in self-indulgence, The Shape of Things to Come has Balani laying the rhythmic foundation over which pianist Sharik Hasan, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and guitarist Olli Hirvonen get plenty of space to shine.

Hirvonen’s solo is the highlight of ‘Dr. Escher’, which pays a joint tribute to Dutch artist M.C. Escher and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, while Hasan’s piano flourishes infuse colour into ‘As We Lay Under the Trees’. Balani has said the name of the album was chosen before the onset of the pandemic but took on new meaning subsequently. It may be pure coincidence then that the title track plays like an optimistic jam, the sort that’s best enjoyed in a live concert where the studio versions of the EP’s songs will likely serve as building blocks for improvisation.

Interpretation, after all, is at the heart of Balani’s work. ‘Azaan’ is a more “minimalist” take on the Indian classical-influenced version heard in his debut album Sacred World (2012) and ‘Dr. Escher’ and ‘2°’ are the groovier original arrangements of the compositions he reworked as Seasonal Affected Beats.

The first time I heard ‘Flish’, the title track of Mumbai-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Banat Kaur Bagga’s debut EP, I thought of Kate Bush. The British “queen of art pop” is not an influence cited by Banat, but there are points of similarity. Like Bush, Banat is a soprano, her compositions blend together elements of rock and western classical music, and her lyrics are literary and fantastical (unsurprisingly, surreal is an adjective that has been used to describe the works of both).

There are, of course, points of departure too. While Bush’s earliest output incorporated glam rock, Banat counts progressive metal among her favoured genres, which is evident in the instrumental arrangements of tunes such as ‘Taabir’ and ‘Ode’ that were written on the guitar. But it’s the songs composed on the piano that best showcase her individuality: the jazzy and relatively spare ‘For the Child in You’, written about her cat, and ‘Flish’, a debate between a fly and a fish in which birdsong, echoey vocals and twinkly keys transport the listener into a magical world conjured from Banat’s imagination.

Among the rare breed of singer-songwriters who don’t care for the verse-chorus-verse form, Banat believes in trading catchiness for complexity.

Electronic music producer and classically trained pianist Sandunes aka Sanaya Ardeshir has been releasing records just as frequently as her aforementioned former tour mate Taruni Balani. Spaven x Sandunes, in which she unites with British drummer Richard Spaven, is her third in just over a year. Sandune’s new album is an all-instrumentation affair that sees Spaven, with whom she staged performances in Mumbai and New Delhi in 2019, and her seamlessly bringing together each other’s musical ideas. The resultant effort, which was started in India, developed over the internet and completed in the UK, blurs the lines between electronic music and jazz.

It’s the kind of atmospheric electro-jazz that’s more suited for headphones than dance floors. The synth swirls and drum rolls come perfectly placed, with both artists showing a keen sense of when to slow things down or speed them up without ever dominating the proceedings. In other words, Spaven x Sandunes is a series of duets.

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