So all of a sudden there has been flurry of shows on MTV and other channels focusing on the Indie scene. The responses have been mixed, but one thing that has definitely been good about all this is the increased public exposure of some instrumentalists who were hitherto non-existent to the public eye despite their talent. Yes, the advent of Rahman in the 90s did turn around the fortunes of some like Sivamani and Keith Peters and Naveen Kumar to name a few, but quite a few still remain in obscurity. And for this reason I have been particularly happy about the latest initiatives regardless of the fate of the shows as such. One such artist who really caught my attention was this flautist Ashwin Srinivasan, who has been exhibiting some fabulous performances on MTV Unplugged India. Turns out that the man has been around for over twelve years now, playing for people like Nitin Sawhney, Imogen Heap, Hariharan et al. The band he heads with drummer Darshan Doshi (also part of the inhouse band for Unplugged and Coke Studio India), keyboardist Santosh Mulekar, guitarist Abhilash Phukan and bassist Manas Chowdhary – Ashwin and the Bombay Project – came out with their debut self-titled album early this year. I had the fortune of hearing it, and thought of jotting down my thoughts of it.
I could not find much of a connect between the opening track and its title Chennai Central. But Ashwin’s neat rendition of the sprightly semiclassical tune makes it a good listen. Saajna Baalma has Ashwin display his singing skills to a light music-ish template. And it works like the general easy listening songs do. It is with BD that the artists get into full-blown fusion mode – Ashwin’s sedate classical rendition giving way to Santosh’s jazz phrases , giving way to more flute from Ashwin. The composer gives an imaginative makeover to the Bade Ghulam Ali Khan thumri Ka Karun Sajni, throwing in a mild whodunit flavour in places. Fix Off Six is the pick of the album, the artists engaged in a frenetic cross-raga sparring with an increased incidence of something that sounded like Hamsanandi or Kamavardhini. The highlight is of course Ashwin’s flute which acquires epic proportions in between. Rangile Balma is the high point of Ashwin Srinivasan the vocalist as he expertly and beautifully executes the classical inflections. The bluesy background melds quite well with the base tune. In the North East-based Bihu tune the composer cleverly adds elements from further east to add to the mystic feel. And even in the folk piece Ashwin infuses some classical phrases that work beautifully. The soundtrack ends with a composition in one of my fave ragas, Jog, Jog Sargam. The song is pretty much what the title says – Ashwin rendering an almost four minute long sargam in Jog. Now here the composer stumbles slightly in his singing, evidently struggling in the soaring portions. Nevertheless the charm of the raga and the lively arrangement work well enough to mitigate those foibles.
A truly impressive debut from Ashwin and the Bombay Project. And I thank MTV Unplugged for leading me to this album. Below are the videos of the band performing the songs at the launch (in order of my preference). Do have a look, you will not be disappointed. It is quite saddening to see his seven songs get a combined viewership of some 2000 while the Shraddha Sharmas of the world get some 4-5 lac views for each upload. The world truly is an unfair place.