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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Sitar solos to electric guitar riffs: The epic journey of Indian fusion rock music

Indian rock bands have undergone significant evolution over the decades, giving rise to diverse styles, notably fusion rock. Drawing from the contributions of artists from bands like Indian Ocean, Parikrama, and others, let us explore their illustrious journey.

In Short

  • The legacy of rock music in India began in the late 20th century
  • Indian Rock has evolved with bands such as Parikrama, Bombay Vikings and Indian Ocean, among others
  • The genre has continued to thrive with new bands and diverse styles over the years

Rock ‘n’ roll may have been born in the United States, but it didn’t take long for its electrifying energy to find a home in the heart of India.

Picture this: the iconic sitar strumming alongside a blistering electric guitar solo, the tabla grooving to the beat of a powerful drum kit, and lyrics that blend the poetic beauty of Hindi with the raw edge of English, or as we popularly call it today – Hinglish.

In the 1960s and 1970s, rock music began to seep into the Indian consciousness, largely influenced by the global success of English bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. India’s urban crowd, back then, particularly in cities like Mumbai (then Bombay), Delhi, and Kolkata (then Calcutta), were drawn to this new and exciting sound. They were characterised by innovative melodies and rebellious themes, which struck a chord primarily with the rising generation.

Enter, Indian rock bands—a musical extravaganza that began in the late 20th century and that continues to reverberate through the airwaves today. From Pink Floyd, Green Day to Agnee and The Local Train, the Indian rock audience has slowly transitioned to a more desi version of their favourite genre of music.

Indian rock bands are the perfect amalgamation of the spirit of rebellion and the soul of tradition, like a samosa dipped in spicy salsa.

While Indian rock initially resembled Western rock music, it gradually evolved by incorporating elements from Indian music, leading to the emergence of fusion rock.

Fusion rock has always been about blending the old with the new, creating a sound that’s both familiar and foreign. It’s like chai with a shot of espresso—unexpected but utterly delightful. Credit to the trailblazers who carved out a unique space for rock music in India: Parikrama, Indian Ocean, and Bombay Vikings.

Parikrama’s lead keyboardist, Subir Malik, shed light on how the older rock bands served as an inspiration. He said, “We were playing classic rock metal blues, covering a lot of bands that were very hot in those days. You would hear college students blasting Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in full volume. The whole country was listening to a lot of bands that they had grown up listening to those times.”

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Local bands started to form, covering popular Western rock songs and slowly experimenting with their own music. This era laid the groundwork for what was to come, with bands like The Mustangs and The Combustibles becoming pioneers of the Indian rock scene. Not just that, this was reflected in fashion, with young Indians adopting the styles of their Western idols, including long hair, bell-bottoms, and psychedelic patterns.

However, before Parikrama came into mainstream rock music, we had the Indian Ocean. The band’s ability to merge traditional Indian sounds with rock music created a new genre often referred to as “fusion rock.”

Indian Ocean’s bassist, Rahul Ram, said, “We have never felt that we need to be like someone or play exactly like someone.”

He continued, “Our music doesn’t sound like anything familiar. This is what a band searches for – a uniqueness that stands out. And we acquired it without trying.”

Bombay Vikings’ frontman Neeraj Shridhar talked about fusion music and its importance, and said, “Fusion is always a very interesting form of music and the way you use different cultures together.”

Listen to India Ocean’s rendition of their iconic track, ‘Tu Kisi Rail Si’ here:

Vani Nair, who is a primary school teacher, described her experience of listening to Indian Ocean live. “I was in college when the band performed during one of the fests. I remember how everyone, including me, was sort of in a trance. It was nothing, but the charm of their music,” said Vani, getting lost in the good ol’ days.

It was the 1980s-90s that saw the actual rise of Indian rock bands that had listeners. “I would say the 90s and 2000s were the peak time of rock and roll in India. Today’s kids, I would say, don’t really necessarily listen to too much rock and roll,” Subir said.

Over the years, the music scene changed, but the bands did not. They stayed true to their sound, something that helped them stay together for a long period of time. “We are the longest running Indian band. It is our 35th year. We have performed in over 30 countries and 5 continents,” Rahul said, proudly.

As time passed, the genre started thriving with diverse styles and a growing audience, reflecting India’s dynamic cultural landscape. “A lot more bands today sing in their own languages. Earlier, it was only English songs. Today we have bands that sing English songs, but the number is less. And that I think is a very big deal. The minute you start singing in your own language – something about that language will definitely creep into the music. Plus, it will appeal to a much larger bunch of people,” said Indian Ocean’s bassist.

Bombay Vikings’ vocalist Neeraj Shridhar further clarified how rock music has diversified in itself. “Rock music has a lot of different genres within itself. I love rock ballads – they are heart touching and very interesting. I think we should do whatever we can to revive it,” said the ‘Hawa Mein Udti Jayein’ singer.

Rahul Ram did not shy away from mentioning how technology also played an equally big part in their growth. He said, “Today, we have access to good equipment – guitars, etc. Earlier, the options and the choices we had were so limited. We never had easy access to even the strings or sometimes all we got was those of poor quality.”

The new millennium saw a diversification of the rock scene in India. Bands like Pentagram, Motherjane, and Euphoria explored various sub-genres, from electronic rock to progressive and alternative rock. While the other bands merged different genres with rock, Bombay Vikings brought home a completely different flavour of music – Swedish music.

It’s safe to say that a band like the Bombay Vikings were more or less trendsetters when it came to rock music. The band originated in Sweden and when they came to India, they brought their Swedish music along.

“I didn’t look for any trends, instead I set the trend for people to enjoy this form of music where you blend two different styles of music. Mine was purely Swedish dance music and to blend it with old Indian film songs was very very interesting,” said Neeraj Shridhar of the Bombay Vikings.

Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram did not forget to mention that the influence of Indian rock also permeated Bollywood with the Metro Band, with rock elements increasingly featuring in mainstream film soundtracks.

He said, “Let’s say rock has become relatively more democratised. Today, even Hindi films have rock songs/music. This wasn’t the case earlier.”

Shankhadeep Banerjee, who works with Microsoft as a software engineer, talked about his love for the ‘Life in a Metro’ album. “The music of ‘Life in a Metro’ was one of my first exposures to rock music, overall.”

He added, “I was too young to tell the difference between genres back then, but now when I look back, ‘Gangster’ and ‘Life in a Metro’ played a big role in shaping my musical taste during childhood.

Listen to ‘Alvida’ from ‘Life In a Metro’ here:

Dr Palash Sen, who became a household name because of his band Euphoria, believes that it’s the fans who have, in a way, helped rock music stay alive. “Euphorians (the fandom name) are a huge family; they have carried us forward. It is the audience that has never let us go down or go away,” said Palash.

Additionally, Dr Sen remarked how it was the audience that helped Euphoria become what it is today. He added, “The evolution of our relationship has always been rock steady. It is the steadiest relationship I have ever had in my life.”

Shankhadeep works at Microsoft, but that does not stop him from being a full-time music junkie. “As I matured more, my music taste has somewhat changed, but those songs will always have a special place in my heart. I keep going back to them whenever I can.”

Today, the Indian rock scene is thriving with bands like The Local Train, Peter Cat Recording Co, and Agnee that continue to push the boundaries of what rock music can be.

While you would think that the rock music scene in India is fading away, Parikrama’s Subir Malik believes otherwise. He said, “Rock is making a comeback, not only in India, but in a huge way. It’s making a comeback all over the world.”

And so, whether it’s a sitar solo or an electric guitar riff, the spirit of Indian rock continues to soar, like an old-school vinyl spinning under the neon lights of modernity.

As the echoes of Euphoria, Parikrama, Indian Ocean, Bombay Vikings, and various other bands blend with the new wave of rockers, the journey feels like rediscovering a forgotten mixtape — timeless, unexpected, and utterly magical.

I am the CEO founder of Page3news worldwide & Page3news foundation. Believe in simple living & high thinking.
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Mr King (Parvinder Singh)
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