New music of South Asia plays on Indian stage – in a winter fiesta

South Asia – Music 

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New Delhi, Nov 29 The national capital of India — New Delhi — has been consolidating South Asia’s regional soft power as a peace bloc with the eclectic sounds of its Generation Next musicians – inspired by global musical movements and yet distinctly indigenous  in their content and arrangements.

One of the most happening platform of new South Asian music in the country is the South Asian Bands Festival – a three day music fiesta on the sprawling lawns of the historic Purana Qila- a 16th century sandstone fortress dating back to the reign of Mughal emperors Sher Shah Suri and Humayun, both of whom occupied the fort, located in the heart of the busy megapolis.   

 The festival, for the last five years since 2007, has been melting pot of new musical experiments and cultural sideshows — of arrangements, instrumentation, attires and stage acts — by bands from the south Asian countries that belong to the south regional cooperation bloc. This year, the festival featuring 14 bands from nine countries has expanded to include a band from Korea, an observer country of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation. The organizers of the festival— the Indian Council for Cultural Relations under the ministry of external affairs and a non-profit platform SEHER— describe it as the stepping stone to spread the wings of the festival to cover even the eastern Asian power giants.                

The mellow autumn, the thousands of trees lining the old heritage venues of the capital shedding yellow leaves and the general  

The seventh edition of the festival began Nov 29 with a relay performance by five bands — Barefaced Liar (New Delhi), LRB (Bangladesh), ZnG (Bhutan), Circus (New Delhi) and Biuret (Korea). The sounds were funky, fresh, young and rooted in the classical culture in the region with western influences of hard rock and hip-hop. One of the highlights of the 2013 festival was a campus band, “What’s In the Name”.  

The south Asian music is developing a distinct signature of its own – new addresses that unearths unheard of folk sounds from the hinterland in the last 10 years — drawing without bars from the region’s 5000 year old musical heritage, improvisations and fusing rebellious western oeuvres like black metal, hard rock, hip hop, funk, soul, blues and R&B. Pop and popular Bollywood gets in between to create happy melodies that are grounded in social realities.

Bands like “Advaita”, “Parikrama”, “Band Bangla (Bangladesh)” and “District Unknown (Afghanistan)” which performed earlier at the festival (in its previous editions) best capture the fusion sounds of the “counter-cultural movement” and a “back-to-roots” wave — two disparate cultural trends — that characterize the emerging South Asia which is trying to reach out to the world with regional concerns, realities and traditional narratives.  

Seema Dahiya, Project Manager, SABF 2013, says the festival has become one of Delhi’s most eagerly awaited cultural extravaganzas showcasing some of best bands from the South Asian region. “It marks the coming together of some of the most talented musicians on one platform at the Purana Qila and can be called an authentic representation of SAARC regional integration through Culture,” she said.

 The guest band– Biuret – from South Korea — is a winner of the  Asian American Idol  module that began in 2002 and has since released two albums. They have performed at the Incheon Pentapot Rock Festival and Ssamzi Rock Festival in Korea, in UK, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and China. The band is represented by three young musicians, Hye-won Moon (vocals) and Gyo-won Lee (Guitar). They sing in English and their native tongue.

Some of the key bands at the gala   

Stigmata from Sri Lanka was formed by three young musicians, Suresh De Silva, Andrew Obeysekara and Tennyson Napoleon in 1999 at S. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, where they have been schoolmates. The name “Stigmata” traces its origin to the 1998 album Stigmata by melodic death metal band “Arch Enemy”. Stigmata plays a quaint mix of progressive, thrash & death metal with hard rock temperings, laced with nuances of classical, Latin, jazz, blues, baila and traditional Sri Lankan rhythms. Critics say the band has been the inspiration for a generation of young school bands around Sri Lanka, a country that was coping with ethnic  conflicts and bloodshed for nearly 30 years— and had virtually lost its culture.

LRB from Bangladesh is a cult name in the history of band music in Bangladesh that is barely two decades old. Ayub Bachchu, the force behind the band began his career with SOULS, one of the pioneers in the band movement of Bangladesh. In 1991, Ayub Bachchu left SOULS and formed LRB which performed live for flood victims in 1992 and released their first album in the same year. It was a double album — a new concept in Bangladeshi music. The sound was crossover — a mélange of Bangladeshi traditional folk, social awareness or progressive music and western genres. Through the years, the band shared its vision with a number of musicians. It had played earlier in Kolkata in India in 1997.

Susmit Sen Chronicles from New Delhi is like Pink Floyd gone solo. Featuring one of the country’s most versatile guitarists Susmit Sen of the cult band “Indian Ocean”— who anchors the Chronicles — the band connects to social causes, singing for awareness and missions for development and empowerment of marginalized groups and cultures. The Chronicles uses the signature folk-rock sound of the Indian Ocean. The repertoire is like a bunch of narratives – stories told through music. Susmit is travelling the country with his music.     

ZnG from Bhutan include the Zhaw and the Ngori Gyabs (ZnG)- two bands from the Himlayan kingdom which is gradually warming to American cultures with open air dance and music concerts and band shows. ZnG rocks to the influence of early metal age rock pioneers Judas Priest and The Scorpions and progressive alternative outfits like the Creed, Alter Bridge and Matchbox Twenty. The band has given new life to Bhutanese music scenario — combining traditional ethno, spiritual with gut sounds of US and Europe.

Albatross from Nepal was born in 1998 and has made a mark in the contemporary Nepali music scene. It all began when a couple of musicians came together with their rusty guitars and other old instruments to create Nepali Alternative music.  The three-man school band now has four members. Albatross has made their presence known nationally and internationally. With a huge influence among the GenX, Albatross is also popular name in the Nepali contemporary music circuit. It composes and plays “Nepali Rock” that addresses contemporary issues like underdevelopment, insurgency, gender and social backwardness  of Nepal. They love playing music to which people can relate.

Strings from Pakistan, formed 1989 by Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia, is now one of most sought after bands  in the country and South Asia, Strings have performed over 700 concerts in countries like Pakistan, India, U.A.E, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kuwait, Bahrain,  SaudiArabia, United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, South Africa,  Singapore, Maldives, USA and Canada.

Papon And The East Indian Company from Mumbai is a multi-instrumentalist band with its roots in the ethnic northeastern region of India. Led by vocalist Papon, it is semi-classical in nature. An established folk singer, Indie musician and now a popular movie playback singer in Mumbai (Bollywood), Papon is one of the most heard regional voice on the Indian “desi (indigenous) rock stage.

Barefaced Liar from New Delhi is a fusion of young talents — Akshay Chowdhry (vocal, guitar), Sumant Balakrishnan (vocals, guitar), Akshay Johar (bass) and Suyash Gabriel (drums). With a friendship tracing back to high school, the band is energetic and modern.

Circus from New Delhi has been making waves on the Indian Music Circuit since 2007 with its no-frills rock assault which is psychedelic. Since 2007, they have played over 200 live shows in the country and abroad.

 Complete list of participants

The participating bands are Barefaced Liar (New Delhi), LRB (Bangladesh), ZnG (Bhutan), Circus (New Delhi), Biuret (Korea), Stigmata (Sri Lanka), Eman’s Conspiracy (Maldives), Papon And The East Indian Company (Mumbai), Strings (Pakistan), What’s In The Name (Mumbai), Pardis (Afghanistan), Susmit Sen Chronicles (New Delhi), Albatross (Nepal) and The Raghu Dixit Project (Bengaluru).

 –Staff Writer 

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