How George Stanton found his garba groove

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With ambitious plans afoot to translate original songs and Western covers into Hindi, lead singer and guitarist of Electric Korma says he wants to be more than just a white guy singing Indian songs in Indian languages

The drummer was having a panic attack.

“Look!” he said hurriedly to the guitarist as they walked to the stage. “I think we’re in the wrong place. This is a terrible idea. I think they’re going to hate us!”

The 60s-inspired rock band that learned to twang riffs playing pubs in Wollongong was about to perform a rock cover of the Gujarati song Pankhida to 3,000 Indian-Australians at a Garba night in western Sydney.

Their cover version “didn’t even have the Garba beat”. Meanwhile, decked out in their festival finest, the crowd was hyped up by the fact that legendary Gujarati singer Devang Patel had flown out for the event – iPhones were raised and set to record.

“We were terrified,” George Stanton, the lead singer, recalled.

“I sang the first line, ‘Pan-khi-da, wooo,’ and just a big roar came up [from the crowd].”

“They loved it. They made us play it again immediately.”

This was how a rock band from ‘the Gong’ became Electric Korma. With George as lead singer and guitarist, Alex Masso on drums, and Oscar Gonzalez on bass, they’ve made a name for themselves in Western Sydney reinventing classic Bollywood songs as rock epics.

And yes, George sings in Hindi and Gujarati, not to mention Malayalam and Tamil.

He was first introduced to Bollywood by his then-girlfriend-now-wife Smriti soon after the couple moved in together.

“She was trying to teach me to count in Hindi and it wasn’t really going in,” George said. “And then she got Ek Do Teen playing on Youtube, and it was just such a fun riff, such a fun song.”

Liking turned into performing after George’s band was invited to play at an Indian community function at Wollongong University. Remember back then the group was, as George put it, “totally original”. “We’d never played a cover in our life, we’d only played songs that I’d written, and we played them in pubs,” he said.

“As a gesture to the Indian community,” George said the band composed rock covers of Ek Do Teen and Mehooba. And they weren’t half bad. The crowd seen cheering hands in the air-style in footage of one of their Mehooba performances can vouch for that – the YouTube clip has been watched over 11,000 times. (link for online version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wgx56b-3UrY).

Now with over 50 performances under their belt, Electric Korma has won over crowds at festivals, functions, parties, and weddings across Australia and overseas.

George even played at a Garba in Surat, Gujarat, during Navrati last October. That time his band mates were tied up with other commitments, so George performed with Indian musicians. He estimates there were “about 20,000 to 25,000 people” in the audience watching. “It was just insane,” he said.

He’s eager to perform in India again but wants to bring the rest of the band along next time. And said he would, “be a bit smarter about the kind of events I would target”.

“I think a Garba in Sydney is very different to a Garba in Gujarat, especially Surat,” he explained.

“It went over very well but, the whole rock and roll element, and transformation of the music, was pretty lost on them. They got that it was a white guy singing in their language; I’m not sure how much else came across.”

Electric Korma is more than just a white guy singing Indian songs in Indian languages.

As George explained, the band may have started out as a gesture to break the ice with an Indian audience. But after realising they were on to something good, a long-term plan was born to use the band as a platform to introduce their music to Indian listeners.

“Only now have we gotten to the point where my wife Smriti is helping me translate my own songs and also Western covers into Hindi,” George said. “Shortly we’re going to be testing an entirely new repertoire on Indian audiences. It will be completely different; infinitely more ambitious to what we’ve done before.”

You can check them out for yourself at the Starry Sari Night festival in Liverpool, western Sydney, on 27 November, where they’re scheduled to play two sets.

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