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Sunday, 11 December 2011
Sonu Nigam Records Vande Mataram With Bickram Ghosh
Patriotism-driven music is a dizzying thing. It makes a musician not realise he has transformed from an artiste into a patriot, sometimes, quite contrary to his musical temperament. Like Goddess Saraswati’s own blue-eyed boy from the east, Ustad Rashid Khan. And sometimes there are artistes like Amit Kilam, the versatile percussionist singer and guitarist from the Indi-Rock band Indian Ocean who wreck your senses beautifully, transforming their artistic aggression and expression into a war cry.
His fists drawn to his shoulders, the chin taut and temples tense, his eyes gruel the core of the microphone, he yells Vande Mataram, loud and louder. He isn’t at the war front or fuelling a coup, neither is he at the Dhyanchand National Stadium on Rs 100 ticket throbbing minutes before a do-or-die hockey contest. Well, that’s where I would really like to see Kilam, but I catch him at a recording studio in south Delhi, where he was recording with co-artistes Rahul Ram and Sushmit Sen for a new version of Vande Mataram conceived and directed by world-renowned percussionist and composer Bickram Ghosh, last week. The new version, a terrific attempt which has brought 20 artistes together, will be launched around January 26, 2012 — 12 years after AR Rahman came up with his take on Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s poem.
Ghosh says, “I have tried to touch base with the real spirit in Vande Mataram. It is a soulful melody that connects us to our journey in 65 long years. The response from the musicians has been tremendous. In 10 days, I have 20 musicians turning up most happily, giving their own thought, beauty and philosophy to the pious poem. And this is when you realise as an artiste that you are doing things right. Also, I am very happy we have been given a free hand to do things our own way.”
As Kilam sings, it’s clear the situation is spilling out of Ghosh’s hands. The background track is running, and inside the recording space, Ram and Kilam are totally uncontrolled. Between themselves, they decide on their job. Kilam seethes it out in the higher octaves and Ram keeps it sustained and roaring in harmonies, in the rustic sandpaper, husky unbound, wavy renderings. Together they lash at the limits Ghosh had tried creating to be able to deliver the new version before the “deadline”. And this lack of control gives Ghosh the kick. He asks the sound arranger to “keep” every grain of improvisations. Meanwhile Sushmit Sen, the latest soloist who has to still record his piece on the guitar nods, his eyes slightly wet, he says, “Bickram, wait, they can do better than this.” Between Sen Ram and Kilam, there is no exchange of words. Yet there is a communication in a language that only musicians and brothers can understand and believe in.
At the studio, I am on an all-time high. It isn’t everyday you see Rahul Ram dodge a note to be able to sing what he has in heart. His hair tied and his soul flying and flowing, Ram sings carelessly like a free urban Baul singer. However, it is the first time I see Ghosh without a drum in his hand. It doesn’t pinch.
Ghosh adds, “Director Girish Malik is working on the video right now and that is something we have to be very careful as a team. The visuals have to touch base with India. Once this project is over, I am sure going to feel very empty. The last time I felt the same was during the performance for the Delhi Commonwealth Games. But in this venture time, I have spent more time with my co-artistes.”
The new Vande Mataram isn’t a melody that reeks of jingoism. It doesn’t provoke the slug match between the new and the old, the religious and the secular we Indians are so used to, today. It isn’t a melody made to celebrate our pretentious paeans of being a rising superpower. It isn’t the recycled melodic curio that makes you hop between socialism and Swadesh. The song curls around the calm and the chaos that reflect our love for the Motherland. Ustad Rashid Khan sculpts it devotionally, and Shankar Mahadevan, Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan electrify it. Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty and Kaushiki Desikan give it the soul while maestro Shubha Mudgal, the element of the undefeated Shakti. Roop Kumar Rathore, Shaan, and Palash Sen have given it a mass appeal. Amaan Ali Khan, Rahul Sharma Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Niladri Kumar, Ganesh and Kumaresh, Mandolin U Srinivas and Bickram Ghosh have lent it the spirit, the character and the sound.
The last time I felt the same was at a hockey stadium, where I had dialed my boss’ number to break into screams and tears, announcing an unusual victory. It’s an expression she is quite used to now every time the national sport is in news. And may be, I am one of the many million who choose to vent the emotion for this reason or that, this occasion or that, for this sport or that. At the time when my peers are busy hitting upon the “revolutionary” video of the Tamil film song Kolaveri di, where the sensational actor Dhanush, filmed singing at a recording studio crooning like an incorrigible helpless Romeo, regretting pretentiously the woman’s “murderous rage”, I am dabbling with a completely different emotion sitting on the other side of the glass window of a recording studio. I am with people who are stars in their own right. I am with the voices that can wake the nation from a slumber. I am with minds that think music not out of profession, or a choice, a venture or an opportunity, but out of a madness and habit they best can explain and not. These musicians have no formal onus or duty on them of “binding the nation together.” They are supposed to be the self sufficient, art driven, sound shaken moody mavericks who like being in their own romantic space of “performing” on certain lines and lineage, or “cultural ambassadors”. But inside the studio for pukaar of Vande Mataram, they are no less than crusaders.