This Australian’s unique connection with Manali

By Indira Laisram
Peter Krohn

In 2014, Wollongong-based Peter Krohn rode a Royal Enfield 500 all through Manali, a resort town sitting at the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. It was the start of an adventure, says Krohn, a businessman for whom music is a great passion. That adventure lasted him 10 days, but he came back with a specific vision for his next adventure—Theme from Manali.

Theme from Manali is not another bike ride but a creative expression of a fleeting, beautiful memory of a town that felt “so welcoming”. It is Krohn’s extensive cross-cultural music project involving artists from Australia, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. An adventure because of the complex nature of the project, says Krohn.

Obviously, it is the Manali memories that dictate this project. An exquisite flashback is the order in the chaos. “Long line of cars, people parking anywhere to just get out and experience some snow, traffic jams, two cars coming together on a one-lane bridge—it was such a funny experience,” he recalls, adding, “But such a welcoming town!”

It was an inspiring, enjoyable trip, reflects Krohn, who wanted to then bring out a connection in his song, which unsurprisingly is a love story, “where two lovers reveal their longing for each other through the metaphorical expression of Manali and its visitor”.

Krohn’s approach to producing the music was probingly creative. He first used the Midi to record the bansuri, sitar and other Indian instruments to produce the sound that he wanted. Then he got in contact with Indian and Sri Lankan artists who did “the real thing” for him. In all, he has roped in seven artists including two India-based vocalists Hricha Debraj and Kinkini Deb.

For Krohn, who has long had a fascination for Indian musical instruments, Theme from Manali gives quite his ecstatic view. He has incorporated the tabla, bansuri, sitar, tanpura, sarangi, dilruba and guitar (which is his forte), to reach that exalted intensity and complexity of interplay.

Interestingly, Krohn, who is familiar with Hindi, wrote the lyrics but gave the liberty to his artists to change them “because I speak a little bit of Hindi but not enough to write a song”.

Initially Krohn wanted to find Indian artists in Australia for the project but was not quite successful. Eventually, he scouted around and found the artists from India and Sri Lanka. “The collaboration was not at all challenging, they were all very professional and despite the time difference everything went quite smoothly,” he says. “But getting to that initial breakthrough of finding them was difficult for me because I didn’t have any connections with music in India.”

However, with his ex-wife hailing from Assam, Krohn did learn a lot about Indian culture and he always had an interest in Indian music but prior to Theme from Manali, he hadn’t pursued it. “It wasn’t until I produced this music that I learnt about so many different instruments that I didn’t know of.”

Theme from Manali was released last month. It is a project that has taken Krohn longer than he thought. “But the reality is, it is quite one of the more complex song that I have worked on, not because it is Indian but because I had to think of a melody that would be attractive and sound nice, and then make more of that. I was engaged with it but I was struggling at times to know what to do next and there were some delays because of Covid.”

However, the pandemic did help in a way because the time he would otherwise spend travelling owing to his work, he could invest in the music.

Krohn plays the keyboard and guitar and has been a background musician for a long time while managing a business in Wollongong, NSW. It wasn’t until about a year and half ago that he decided to release his first instrumental titled Falling In which was picked up by SBS Chill Radio in late 2020.

When this first public realise shot to number 80 out of 100 in World Music Channel, he got inspired. Last year, Krohn released seven tracks. “Six were chill style, mostly instrumental with a little bit of lyrics,” he says.

Krohn’s obsession with music is also inspired by his friend and mentor Anthony Snape, who moved back from Nashville to Wollongong and who has been the opener for the world’s best acoustic guitar player Tommy Emmanuel. They met in 2016 and it has been a creative and productive collaboration.

Krohn and Anthony spend time making music, experimenting and turning a concept into reality. They have also co-written songs. “Anthony is a well-rounded musician,” says Krohn.

But Theme from Manali is Krohn’s first dive into Indian music. And while the feedback has been positive so far, he is deeply interested to know what the Indian audience think about it “because I have gone through so much work to bring all those instruments and vocalists together”.

He says he is not trying to trick anyone or make it sound like any Indian song. “It’s a hybrid of western and Indian with a very strong Indian theme.”

Some people end up forging a commercial career out of music, some do it for the love of music. Clearly, Krohn falls among the latter. “You don’t do it for the money but when you hear your track on the radio, it’s really inspiring and makes you want to do something else. I love the energy that it brings,” he sums up.

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