The nation’s oldest fusion rock band Indian Ocean, that has recently composed an anthem for ‘Bharat ke Mahaveer’, discusses its upcoming collaborations
When Himanshu Joshi and his family caught COVID-19, he was overwhelmed by how kind humanity can be. “Every meal, groceries we needed… everything came from our neighbours,” recalls the vocalist of one of India’s oldest and pioneer rock bands, Indian Ocean.
The 32-year-old band behind songs such as ‘Desert Rain’, ‘Bandeh’ and ‘Mann Kasturi’, recently paid its tribute to other such selfless COVID-19 heroes with an anthem to the show, Bharat Ke Mahaveer, airing in November on Discovery India. Starring Dia Mirza and Sonu Sood as hosts, it will showcase 12 stories about India’s spirit of solidarity through the pandemic.
While the anthem video honours those who have shown kindness during these troubled times, over a Zoom call, Indian Ocean members Himanshu, Rahul Ram and Amit Kilam recall the people they have personally witnessed in the act of building a more empathetic India.
“I have seen Amit Kilam and his wife go around distributing food packets to migrant workers when the great migration started in April. My wife, who is part of an organisation that works with street dogs, saw how people spontaneously came forward to help,” says Rahul Ram.
Acknowledging that there was an initial stigma against people who tested positive, Amit says, “The same housing society group chat where I could see rash unreasonable behaviour, has now evolved to be more kind. As we see how inevitable it is, people are learning to be less scared.”
Incidentally, Amit, who plays the drums and has also lent his vocals for the anthem, “crossed the Covid speed bump” (as the band members call it), right before they recorded the song. “I didn’t notice it then, but looking back, I do get out of breath while singing longer sections. There are some long-term side effects that need to be monitored, but breathing exercises should help,” he shrugs.
“So the two members who live the healthiest lifestyles caught Covid, whereas Nikhil [Rao] and I did not. Looks like our vices have paid off,” jokes Ram, lightening the mood.
Apart from recording this song in August, the band has not been able to meet very often, despite all of them living in Delhi. “Maybe we will when Himanshu-ji gets better and I come back from Manali,” says Ram, who has temporarily taken to the hills. “Oh yes, right before you called, he was showing us the valleys outside his window. You could call that a random act of unkindness,” Amit says, side-eying his long-time collaborator.
What’s next for the ocean
The inside jokes point to almost half a lifetime of performing together. Known for giving fusion rock a voice, the band stood out for its strong vocals and the incorporation of Indian musical instruments in a formerly westernised genre. In the past few years, however, their live concerts were proving more popular.
They are now doing the same online, something that they think will continue even after live performances return. “We can reach fans in cities we have never played at,” says Ram, explaining the advantages of online concerts with this analogy: “It is like watching cricket on your TV — you get to watch the spin and the strike closely. You are watching better cricket but you miss the energy of 30,0000 people cheering with you. So both are valid experiences and will continue.”
Before the pandemic hit, the band had composed and recorded five songs, ready to be released. Two of them are collaborations — one with ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram and the other, with American saxophonist George Brooks.
“But then we realised that nowadays people watch music, rather than listen to it. Half of them watch on their phones, so the bass player wants to kill himself,” laughs Ram, who is the bassist for the band. The band was halfway through recording the videos, when the country went into lockdown.
“And then there are eight more songs, which are imploring, banao mujhko, banao! The batter is ready, it just hasn’t been fried yet,” says Ram. As of now, the band has not decided when the new originals will be released. Prod Amit for a tentative date and he says, “Whenever the vaccine is made.”