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Bryan Adams of Sonepat

Sibi Arasu | Updated on August 27, 2014 Published on March 21, 2014

Game changers: The Rivers and Satellites

Game changers: Anthony Dass at a recording session

Game changers: The first album brought out by the Barmer Boys

Musicians from small towns cultivate a new fan following with a bit of the old and a bit of the new

Their inspiration reveals it all. “Bryan Adams made us pick up a guitar and play,” Mohit Masta, the 23-year-old lead guitarist and vocalist of Sonepat’s first alt-rock band, says rather sheepishly. While no punk rock or rock ‘n’ rollin’ city band would admit to this (even though every adolescent of the ’90s went through A Summer of 69 phase), the boys from Sonepat are ready to wear their loyalties on their sleeve.

Masta, along with his younger sibling Prateek, and friend Parvik Sharma, started playing together five years ago and have not stopped since. As The Rivers and Satellites, they have produced 23 original tracks, which have found an online audience on ReverbNation (a platform for independent music). They are now all set to release their first official single Nowhere Boy, which tells of the travails of depression. But the high point in their careers has been, “Playing at Delhi’s Dhyan Chand National Stadium as part of the Hockey India League’s opening ceremony,” says Prateek. They are especially thrilled that the gig was telecast live, which meant that their music boomed across drawing rooms and through the country.

The Rivers and Satellites, in many ways, epitomise a new trend in the alternative music scene in India. Over the last few years, many musicians and bands from non-metros are finding spaces to perform, play and cultivate a fan following while retaining their regional or ‘small town feel’.

The Barmer Boys, a collective of Rajasthani folk musicians, who were brought together by the Delhi-based recording label Amarass Records in 2011, Anthony Dass from Reddipalayam, near Thanjavur, who is becoming a popular name at alternative festivals and live gigs, are similar such examples.

From Harpa village in Barmer district of Rajasthan, the Barmer Boys have been musicians for almost their entire lives. Yet, it is a new experience for them to be part of a ‘band’. As Ashutosh Sharma of Amarass Record says, “It is probably the first time that traditional Rajasthani instruments such as the morchang, khartaal and bhapang are being mixed with beat-boxing and DJ sets.” The Barmer Boys, in their short career as a ‘band’ have performed with internationally acclaimed artistes like Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Toure and Bombino from Niger. “They also played a fusion gig with DJ Spincycle from Canada in Delhi last week. It’s their talent that’s taking them places,” adds Sharma.

With a rapidly expanding festival circuit, the independent music industry is proving conducive for talent from smaller towns. “The Indian audience is more open to consuming original content now,” says Vijay Barsur, co-founder OKlisten.com. The diversity of programming in festivals also provides a platform for lesser-known musicians.

Rais Khan, who plays the morchang and the Indian ‘talking drum’ bhapang, says that performing with The Barmer Boys has taken their music to an entirely new audience. “It is a regular affair for us when we perform in the villages of Rajasthan. But playing at festivals and performing in cities is completely different. People celebrate our music visibly, which is rare at home,” he says.

Anthony Dass, however, has a different opinion on his shows in big cities. “In cities, we are seen as a ‘showpiece’. In small towns and villages, they see us as one of them,” says Dass, who performed with indie-band La Pongal, and who now has his own group Anthonyin Party. A performer since the age of 10, Dass says he still plays at nearly 300 shows across Tamil Nadu every year, either singing solo or as part of a kargattam (Tamil folk dance) troupe. In the last few years, he has performed at The Blue Lotus Festival, performed at The Dewarists and has recorded a session at Coke Studio. Sonya Mazumdar, director of the record label Earthsync, witnessed Dass’s rise to stardom and says it was not an easy journey. “Anthony has a lot of charisma and he puts in a lot of work to promote his music. For many artists, the transition from small towns to bigger scenes doesn’t really happen, but he has made that leap.”

Television shows such as The Coke Studio and The Dewarists have also proven to be good catalysts for making artists from small towns popular. “National TV takes your band’s reach to a different level. After performing in these shows, the number of doors that open up increases tremendously,” says Sharma. Both Anthony Dass and The Barmer Boys are testimony to this.

Atul Churamani, a veteran in the music industry, sees these developments as the democratisation of the indie music scene. “There are many consumers today who are willing to pay good money to get away from the Bollywood repertoire,” he says. “There are venues across the major metros now which invite artists to perform original music. And then there’s the ever-growing festival circuit.” Overall, Churamani says, there are more opportunities available for independent musicians than there were before.

These musicians, who come from different schools of music and perform to different audiences, are appreciated by music aficionados today for their talent and their roots. At their maiden gig at TLR Café in Delhi, The Rivers and Satellites announced they were from Sonepat. “People were really surprised,” says Prateek. “You don’t expect people from Haryana to play this kind of music. But where we are from, we are never going to hide.”

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Published on March 21, 2014
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