Alys Francis talks to the fusion rock band’s lead vocalist Rahul Ram about their tour Down Under after 11 years
Cult fusion rock band Indian Ocean is coming to play in Australia after 11 years, with three new band members and a brand new chart-topping album to show off.
The Indian Sun spoke to bass guitarist and vocalist Rahul Ram about the winding path to success, crazy concerts in Hanoi and whether the band still has its original sound.
Ram has been with Indian Ocean since the band came together in the early 1990s. Back then he played alongside Susmit Sen and Asheem Chakravarty.
Their first self-titled album, Indian Ocean, sold 40,000 copies the year it was released in 1993 — the highest-selling record of any Indian band at the time. But there was no shot to stardom. Instead the band worked hard and earned little for many years, picking up new fans with each album and slowly doing more and more concerts each year.
They released Kandisa in 2000 and played abroad for the first time the following year, in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “The year 2000 was a big jump and then we filmed ‘Black Friday’. There was a song Bandeh which became really, really popular,” he said. The film Black Friday, a gritty look at the 1993 Bombay bombings, was mired in censorship and released in India three years after its premier in Switzerland. But the soundtrack came out and Indian Ocean’s song became a major hit. “Otherwise it’s been a steady increase, there’s not been anything spectacular, it’s all been gradual,” Ram said.
In September 2009 the band was struck by tragedy when Chakravarty went into a coma. He regained consciousness weeks later and looked to be recovering but passed away on Christmas day.
The band picked up two new members, vocalist Himanshu Joshi, and Tuheen Chakraborty on tabla.
In 2011 Sen began working on his own album and so the band trained an understudy, Nikhil Rao, to fill in for him. Rao went on to replace Sen when he announced he was quitting in March 2003.
Ram said the band’s current incarnation has the same core sound, a blend of contemporary rock, classical, jazz and fusion, with perhaps a wider range now.
“I think a lot of it sounds like we used to sound really, because a lot of the songs are the same. But our new guitar player has a really wide range of things that he likes doing. He’s very fond of Carnatic, he liked jazz and bits of that come into his guitar playing, so it ends up sounding, to us it sounds very fresh and different,” he said. “I’ve played about 15 odd concerts with these new guys and the audiences seem to like it,” he added.
Their new album features seven different collaborators. “They’re Indians, fantastic musicians,” Ram said. “There’s an infinite number of people that we’d like to collaborate with because there are so many good musicians… I’d love to collaborate with some West African guys because I love their rhythms,” he added.
Over the years Indian Ocean has developed a cult following that cuts across cultures, countries and generations. The band has toured five continents and played more than 800 concerts in some spectacular and unexpected places. “What I like is that even in places where nobody understands a word that your saying, like in Russia or Indonesia or Japan, people just love the music, so that makes you feel really good,” said Ram.
“One of my most favourite concerts was at a university in Hanoi in Vietnam. There were 2000 kids there and we played — they couldn’t speak English, we couldn’t speak Vietnamese — but it was one of the most unbelievable concerts… halfway through the show there was a fire in the electricals and so we had a half-hour break, but we can back and they [the students] were all there, it was fantastic,” said Ram.
The band has fond memories of Australia as well. “The best Australian concert I can remember was in a place called Albany, south of Perth. And there, it was one of the best settings I’ve ever played in — such a beautiful farm, I think it was like a historical farm, one of the first farms settled way back when white people first came to Australia I think,” Ram said.“A weird concert in Australia was Kalgoorlie. We played in Kalgoorlie and during sound check an emu walked up to the stage. Emus have these big red eyes right, and he walked up and looked at us sternly and then he turned around, said ‘nah I’m not interested’ and walked off,” he added.
Ram said the band last came to Australia in 2003 for the 50th Perth International Arts Festival; they haven’t seen the east coast since playing at the Melbourne Arts Festival 12 years ago. “It will be great to come back,” Ram said. “I think Melbourne’s an amazingly beautiful city. I’d like to see what’s changed in 11 years.”
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