Tandanu – Indian Ocean (Fusion Album): Music Review

You can download the album from iTunes.

Tandanu. Indian Ocean’s seventh album, marking their 25th year of existence. An album made even more special by the band’s involving seven acclaimed musicians to collaborate on the album, one per song. Artists from various musical genres, and of diverse vocations.  Anyway, these are things you would know already if you have been following the Behind the Scenes videos aired on Pepsi MTV Indies every week. If you haven’t, watch them at the end of this review. There are some nice moments you don’t want to miss. You can also click on the song titles in the review to listen to the songs on Gaana.

The title song is based on a Kannada lullaby that Rahul Ram apparently knew from his childhood. A video of the band jamming on the song as early as 2012 can be found on youtube. Last year they found Shankar Mahadevan to collaborate with them on this song at the Storm Festival. In the album version too, Tandanu features Shankar – the reason this was one of the songs I looked forward to the most. And the man delivers like only he can – there is a bit of konnakol, a lot of energy, and that three minute segment from 4:42 (ahir bhairav, I think) is just gold! Beyond all of Shankar’s awesomeness though, one can easily make out the guitar-led sound as carrying the distinctive Indian Ocean flavour. Good to hear Nikhil Rao play the way he does, he does indeed make up for Susmit Sen quite commendably. The album’s longest track Charkha is built around a poignant Santhali folk piece that the band themselves sing. Joining the band here is Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt with his mohan veena, and as expected the man rules it. The closing segment is especially brilliant, one where the maestro builds up to a rousing crescendo with Rahul’s bass and Amit Kilam’s percussion prominent in the background.

Gar Ho Sake brings in another vocal powerhouse, Shubha Mudgal. And in a choice that goes perfectly with her style of rendition, Indian Ocean don their Black Friday avatar here – dark song high on rock elements, and lyrics signifying rebellion. And this is one of the oldest songs on the album, having been performed by Rahul, Amit and Asheem Chakraborty at Sahmat way back in 1997. Here it is Shubha’s show as she carries off the soaring, nuanced rendition with finesse, but there is also Nikhil who produces some spectacular solos on the electric guitar. I do hope India Ocean ends up making that Kabir doha that the band dropped in favour of this song, at some point in future (watch the BTS video for a short preview of that piece). The album’s only instrumental track (if you discount the humming by the band members), Longing, features Kumaresh Rajagopalan of the violinist sibling duo Ganesh Kumaresh. And starts on a note totally befitting the title, a serene violin solo (kalyaani raaga, I am guessing) which leads into sedate melody with some lovely contribution from the entire band (particularly liked the tabla playing by Tuheen Chakravarty at one point). Then the song takes a trippy turn which is still fun to listen to, but then it takes one more shift towards a darker mood, Kumaresh going crazy with his improvs. Which is awesome when you take it as a stand-alone piece, but sounds at odds with the first half of the song.

Karsh Kale’s percussionist skills are evident in the changing time signatures of Behney Do, which is instrumental for a large part, letting Karsh jam with the band on multiple instruments. Where it isn’t instrumental, the band renders their favorite lyricist Sanjeev Sharma’s full-of-spirit words, even as Himanshu Joshi shines above the rest with his classical improvisations. Indian Ocean’s tribute to the tribal warrior Cheetu too features a percussionist-composer, Selvaganesh Vinayakram. The song works only occasionally despite its folk base, but when it works it does so very well. The highlight is of course Selvaganesh’s konnakol and kanjira that touches madly complicated levels at times. The last song of the album talks about Indian diaspora in five different languages – Bhili, Hindi, Sindhi, Persian and Kashmiri – the Sindhi bit written by guest artist Vishal Dadlani. And the Pentagram frontman’s rock sensibilities combine with those of the band to make Roday the grooviest track of the album!

So Indian Ocean’s Dewarist-style collaboration idea pays big time dividends, with seven songs that while reflective of the guest artists’ characteristic styles (often in a dominant fashion), are also unmistakably Indian Ocean. And that makes Tandanu one of the career-best works from the band!

Top Recos: The whole album. 🙂

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