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It Took Us 28 Years to Reach Shillong : An Exclusive Interview with Indian Ocean Band

India’s happiest music festival is here! Music fans across the country have been eagerly waiting for Bacardi NH7 Weekender. And this time around, the festival is back with more exciting artists that promise action-packed performances. The multi-city music festival, which has previously played host to stellar performers like AR Rahman, Mark Ronson, Vishal Dadlani and Nucleya among others will be starting off at Shillong (27 to 28 October) again this year and will have its final showdown at Pune (8 to 10 December).

As the marvelous musical weekend nears, Shweta from Roots & Leisure sat down to speak with members of Indian Ocean, a band that has been a staple at NH7 Weekender for a few years now and is a phenomenon in itself. Amit Kilam (drums, percussions and vocals) and Nikhil Rao (lead guitarist) tell us about what’s in store for their fans in the 2017 edition of one of India’s largest music festival.

RootsandLeisure_Indian OceanPhoto : Indian Ocean

What are you looking forward to the most about performing at NH7 Weekender this year?


Amit Kilam (AK): This is the first time we’re playing at Shillong. It’s taken us 28 years to get here. We’ve been very sad that we haven’t really had the opportunity to perform more often in the Northeastern part of our country. We’ve barely managed to be at Guwahati a few times. I hope this changes things and we get to play in more cities over there. We love the people and the culture of the Northeast of our country. Apart from playing for the beautiful audience, we look forward to the food which we’re sure will be great!

Are there any bands from the North East region that you like?

Nikhil Rao (NR): I really like the band Soulmate. In fact all of us really enjoy their music. I guess Rahul Ram had also performed with Purple Fusion at NagaFest last year. I’ve also heard Purple Fusion’s album and it was really great. We also love Bipul Chhetri’s work in the Himalayan folk genre.

What are some of your most favorite songs to perform on stage?

NR: In fact, we all like certain parts of certain songs. Some parts feel really nice when you play it live on stage, and certain songs sound great while on tape. But, I do have a personal favourite song called Bhor.

And right now I’m loving performing ‘Mann Kasturi’ on stage. I also really like performing the newer songs that we make. For example, I like this one song for which we’ve collaborated with Pandit Vikku Vinayakram. We haven’t released it yet but we’ve started playing a version of it on stage.

AK: Actually, since the time the band had started to now, I’ve always been a big fan of playing newer songs for a certain amount of time before we commit to tape. Now it’s not possible to play only the new songs during live performances because the duration of every show has unfortunately come down from 2.5 hours to 1.5 hour gigs. So, one has to choose between performing some of the older crowd favourites and some new stuff. We all really enjoy playing new material because it’s one of the best ways for us to refine any song and make it better.

For two decades you have created songs with elements of philosophy, folklore, prayers and social commentary. If you were  to create a song about present day India, what would it be about?

Nikhil: One thing about Indian Ocean’s creative process is that we very rarely sit around and say that let’s make a sound about this particular topic. In fact, none of us in the band write any of the lyrics.We are grateful to our friends like Piyush Mishra and Varun Grover who write some fantastic lyrics. One is never short of topics to speak out about in India. But, it’s always been our endeavor to not force the flow and so we don’t give ourselves a brief. We do diverge from the protocol sometimes.

An example for one such song would be ‘Roday’ from the album Tandanu. This is when we decided that we wanted to write a song addressing the issue of the displacement of indigenous people from their homeland. That’s why ‘Roday’ had lyrics in Kashmiri that narrates displacement of Indians from Kashmir and Sindhi lyrics that narrates the displacement of Sindhis from their homeland.

We also recently created a song for the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation that does some phenomenal work in rehabilitating children who are victims of abuse. Kailash Satyarthi approached us to create a song for the lyrics that he had written himself and we had a great time working on it. So, these are some tangents we take from our general creative process.

From launching as a band from the 90’s which was essentially the Doordarshan era to platforms like NH7 that strive to promote budding indie artists, how, according to you, has the gig scene changed for musicians?

Indian Ocean definitely began at a time when there was absolutely no push for indie music. Compared to that, India now has a very vibrant gig scene. Earlier, we were only dependent on some college festivals to showcase our music.

Today, musicians have the opportunity to test their music out at venues in almost every big city where music enthusiasts flock to listen to live bands. That’s a big change! There are also a lot of people who have decided to take up music as a career. That’s also very encouraging. Today’s youth don’t only restrict themselves to become doctors and engineers. They’re finally beginning to look at music as a viable source of income.

One doesn’t have to play at one boring venue in a five star hotel for seven days a week to make money as a musician. Young bands are given a chance to prove themselves and we’re really happy to see many young musicians actually giving it a shot.  

We at Roots & Leisure, passionately promote local artists, entrepreneurs and creators. What is your message to inspire your fans in our community?

The one quality that musicians need to always develop before thinking of making it in the music industry is the will to dedicate and persevere to continue on their path. Also, have a little bit of self-realization. You should know how good you are and whether your work really stands any chance. If you think you have realized that about yourself, then you should pull up your socks and give it your all! Never be at that place ten years down the line where you’re regretting about not giving music a shot.

Indian Ocean will be performing live on 27th Oct – at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Meghalaya.

RootsandLeisure_Indian Ocean

Photo courtesy nh7. in

Shweta from R&L Interviews Indian Ocean – Listen to the interview on Soundcloud

More Details on Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2017, Meghalaya – artist line up and venue details HERE

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