Sunday, 1 February 2015

on Live Banned (Deccan Herald, 1 Feb 2015)

Rocking with laughter

Juanita Kakoty, Feb 01, 2015,
Comic relief

Satirical voices Live Banned members Amrit Rao, Sridhar Varadarjan, Siddhart Kamath, Dheerendra Doss and Raveesh Tirkey.

Live Banned, a comedy Rock band from Bengaluru, was amongst the impressive assemblage of music entertainers at the recent event, Chasing Storm, in Coorg. Formed in the autumn of 2010, Live Banned has been making news for its music that is marked by intelligent humour, as is evident in their latest album, If You Park Here Your Tyre Will Be Air Out, released in 2014. They have satirised and restructured popular songs across genres and languages. 

Speaking about the music they create, Amrit Rao, the vocalist of the band, conveys, “The first description of our music is awesome and it can also be categorised as Indo-international mass music. There’s social commentary, comedy, satire, parody and a sound that brings the class and mass together.”

The band’s music has an appeal across populations. There is something for everyone — from the corporate sector to those living with everyday middle class struggles. Their ‘The Auto Tune’, a popular track in English-Kannada, for instance, is a brilliant take on how the common man wrestles with the auto driver, the ‘khaki-wearing local fellows’, and how ‘wherever you want to go, you can’t afford an auto’, and how it is better to ‘buy yourself a car… or you buy an auto’!     

Live Banned comprises Amrit Rao (vocals), Sridhar Varadarajan (guitars), Siddhart Kamath (keyboard), Dheerendra Doss (drums) and Raveesh Tirkey (bass). Reminiscing about how the band got together, Amrit reflects, “Dheeru and I decided to do something different and out of the box. Something that entertained us and the audiences as well. We started jamming with the then guitarist, Dhruv, and finally found people who were receptive to the idea. The basic concept behind the band is entertainment and to make people laugh.”  

The performances of the band have been bold and energetic; and influences have come from South Indian music, Bollywood, disco, pop, rock and metal. “Each one of us comes from a different background of music,” Amrit says. “I listen to everything, but am predominantly influenced by Progressive metal, Carnatic classical, Ilayaraja and A R Rahman. Dheeru, the drummer, loves classic Rock and EDM. Siddhart, who plays almost everything, is a heavy metal boy. Sridhar, the guitarist, loves the blues, and Raveesh, our bass player, likes a bit of everything.”

Signing off, Amrit says, “We love every composition we have created. I think the most popular ones are ‘The Auto Tune’, ‘Roads Bloody Roads’, ‘Hey Mama’ and ‘Death Dance’. And having started the New Year by chasing the storm, we hope that the storm gets bigger. We plan to play more gigs this year; more than what we did in 2014, and explore new territories like north and east India. Hopefully, even go international this year.”

Tibetan carpet weaving in Mcleodganj (Deccan Herald, 25 Jan 2015)

Weaving a legacy in exile

Juanita Kakoty, Jan 25, 2015, DHNS
Tibetan carpets
Carpet tales Some Tibetan carpets with traditional and modern designs.

Dressed in the traditional Tibetan attire, chuba, the women sat in front of vertical looms tying knots over a rod, from which spilled threads of wool like streams of colours. 

These threads flowed into boxes, resting behind the women, where they were neatly arranged into colourful bales. In the adjacent room, a pretty store selling Tibetan artefacts, a few visitors were enquiring about the handmade carpets that these women were weaving.

Right there at Dolma Chowk in Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh, far away from Tibet, this was the scene at the Tibetan Handicraft Co-operative Society Limited centre, when I recently visited them. 

“This co-operative was started with the Dalai Lama’s blessings in 1963 to preserve the ancient craft of Tibetan carpet weaving,” told Tamding Tsering, who has been with the cooperative since 1972.

“In 1959, the year of the Tibetan Uprising, when the Chinese took control, thousands of Tibetans followed the young Dalai Lama’s flight to Dharamsala in India through the Himalayas.” He told me that his family was one amongst them and that he was still a child when he came to India.

“I grew up here and joined the co-operative as an employee, learnt carpet weaving, and in 1983, I was promoted to the position of a carpet teacher. And since 1992, I have been acting as the production manager.”

This centre and carpet weaving, he informed, have been creating jobs for refugees who arrive from Tibet as well as for those Tibetans like him who have grown up in exile. It has also been contributing to the Tibetan Government in Exile, he said, which is located a little down the road.

Art of weaving

An ancient and traditional craft, carpets have been an intrinsic part of Tibetan culture, where they have been used for a myriad of purposes: Sleeping, sitting, as horse saddles, wall hanging, flooring, etc. 

Another teacher, Dawa Dolma, sitting beside a fellow weaver, where they were working on the same carpet on a loom, told me that the technique used in their weaving was unique. “We still use the archaic vertical loom and double knots.

You won’t find any other weaving tradition using the double knot. These knots,” she said beating at them with a wooden hammer, “Are tied over a rod. When a row of knots is done, we cut the pile and slip out the rod.” When the rod is out, what remains is an emerging pattern on a flat vertical surface.

I pointed at the graphs that I saw rolled and hanging from all the looms, to which the weavers kept referring in the middle of weaving. “These graphs carry the designs of the carpets,” Dawa told me, “And they are prepared by our arts section upstairs. 

The patterns that are used for the carpets are traditional Tibetan motifs: animal, floral and figurative representations; but the colours of these patterns can change as per orders received from our customers.” 

Tamding Tsering told me that there are about 63 weavers with the co-operative today. “We have three places here in Mcleodganj apart from this centre where these carpets are being produced.” And that most of the weavers had come from Tibet as children, and have learnt the craft here.

Dawa had learnt the craft in Nepal, where her family fled for exile. Incidentally, she told me, though carpet weaving still exists in Tibet, most of the work for its preservation has been done in India and Nepal. Over the years, in fact, these two countries have produced more Tibetan carpets than Tibet. 

A young man called Tsering, who helps Tamding Tsering look after the production of carpets, revealed, “We export 85 per cent of our carpets, which are mostly sent to the US, Canada, Belgium, France and Japan. And we have a loyal clientele. We are the only ones in Mcleodganj making these handmade Tibetan carpets since 1963.” 

Speaking about the longevity of these carpets, he said, “The best thing about Tibetan carpets is the quality: They last long. One carpet lasts for at least 40 years. For instance, the ones at my home were made by my parents about half a century ago; but they still look good. So I say Tibetan carpets last a lifetime. They are washable, but should be dried well.” 

I further learnt from him that the centre trains youngsters in this art. “We advertise in the newspapers calling for young people interested in this craft to train with us. We provide them free training, give them free accommodation, and also pay them for their work. But the response has been disappointing.” Tamding Tsering added, “With time, the weavers are becoming less in number. The new generation is not taking an interest in the art. Probably because it involves a lot of hard work.” 

As I heard him speak, I looked at the mesmerising patterns being worked out on the looms standing in front of the weavers. Two women were trimming carpets, spread out on the floor, with scissors, giving them the finishing touches. And as I left, I said a silent prayer for them, for their enchanting craft.

on Usha Uthup (Deccan Herald, 18 Jan 2015)

Musical mastery

Juanita Kakoty, Jan 18, 2015,
In conversation

captivating   Singer Usha Uthup

Usha Uthup, the grand lady of Indian pop and jazz, ushered in 2015 by regaling those present at the Chasing Storm music festival in Coorg with her renditions. The event, a compacted version of ‘The Storm Festival’, hosts camp-out musical performances in the lap of nature, with bon fires, late-night barbeques and jamming sessions. The singer said that the experience was special because it was her musical debut in Coorg, something that had not featured in her singing career of 45 years! 

Love for languages
Usha Uthup, with more than 100 albums in 17 Indian languages to her credit, recounted her musical journey, “From my school days, I have been exposed to a variety of languages. And, it’s up to an individual to soak in and make the best of what one is exposed to. That’s when my interest in music developed. Then of course, I’ve always been a people’s person. The more I observed and conversed, the more I absorbed. I love to communicate through music, and when I leave my audience with a smile on their faces, I feel wonderful.”

She has elevated lesser-used languages like Dogri and Khasi through her songs. Her vocals have gripped foreign languages like Spanish, French, German, ltalian, Zulu, Swahili, Sinhala, Russian and Ukrainian.

But her first unexpected singing experience became her chance opportunity to build up her musical career. “On one of our vacations in Madras, we were taken out to a nightclub called Nine Gems on Mount Road. On my aunt’s insistence, I sang along with a band that played there. Then came the applause. The club’s owner asked me to sing there for a whole week, and gifted me a Kanjeevaram Saree, my first one! After that, offers from several other nightclubs started to pour in. It was an experience that left me intoxicated and urged me to take on a musical career, which has been going on for over four decades now.”

And since then, she has given performances across India, addressed the youth, and defined how music can connect beyond caste, class, race and religion.

Through her vocal prowess, she has always tried to create a consciousness of love, unity, peace, tolerance and integrity. She recalled the name Harry Belafonte as her greatest musical influence. There was also one other entity that impressed her deeply during her childhood. “The Radio. It can be called my first teacher and the most serious influence, although I come from a family that appreciated different genres of music. Also, my two elder sisters, Indira and Uma, considerably influenced me back then.”

Her sisters were known as the famous singing ‘Sami Sisters’. Usha Uthup has achieved immense success as a singer and performer. And she attributes it, to a great extent, to her fans. “The support of my fans has kept me going. I never planned to become a singer, it happened by chance, and I am thankful to god for giving me that chance.”

Upcoming tunes
At the moment, she is busy with performances across the country, which, she said “were lovely as I get to be closer to my audiences.” Simultanesously, she is on to an interesting project — “I’m working with Munna and Raj on what would be a tribute to R D Burman. It is one hundred per cent original, it’s in Bangla, and is ‘Burmanesque’.” She also expressed interest to “add to her (live) repertoire.”

She has planned to render a few old and new songs like Kiss of Fire, Diamonds Are Forever, You Only Live Twice and other Bond classics after the tremendous success of her rendition of Skyfall. In an effort to justly acknowledge ‘behind-the-screen’ stars of the music industry, she has pitched for an award ceremony for technicians! “All the artistes attend award functions and get felicitated for their work. But no one spares a thought or two for technicians — the sound engineers, set decorators et al, who play a crucial role in our success.” Indeed, her music and her intentions are appreciated.

My short story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018

My short  story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018 Right in the middle of the sprawling Nakhasa Bazaa...