By releasing a rendition of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Akhiyan Udeek Diyan’, Indian Ocean has attempted to do what few attempt to do – well, at least.
Up on most streaming platforms, the Indian Ocean sound – of fusion rock n’ roll, a genre the band pioneered in India – shines on from the very first notes, ever so slightly reminiscent of one of the band’s most famous songs, ‘Bandeh‘, from their Black Friday album.
Until the riff drops, that is. From where the song takes off with the familiar words of Khan’s classic to eventually end with a now considered unfashionable guitar solo by Nikhil Rao – who replaced founder-guitarist Susmit Sen in 2013 – but one which is full of musical mojo. The band – Amit Kilam on drums and Tuheen Chakravorty on the tabla – join Himanshu Joshi and Rahul Ram for the vocals.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has his own slice of rock n’ roll history as well. The qawwali icon collaborated with Eddie Vedder for two songs for the soundtrack for the movie Dead Man Walking – ‘Face of Love’ and ‘The Long Road’. Starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking (1995) was a gripping and impactful drama about an inmate on death row.
With a legacy of almost 125 albums, the ‘Shahenshah-e-Qawwali‘ (the king of qawwali), as he’s popularly known, Khan is widely credited with introducing qawwali music to international audiences.
Many of Khan’s most famous songs, which include ‘Tere Bin Nahin Lagda’, ‘Afreen Afreen’ and ‘Piya Re Piya Re’ – are still popular and relevant despite it having been over two decades since the Pakistani vocalist died in London in 1997. His songs also found their position in various Bollywood films – including this much beloved version of ‘Tere Bin Nahin Lagda’ from Bend it Like Beckham – and they’re favourites of participants at Coke Studio, both in India and in Pakistan.
According to Ram, the band’s bassist and also one of the founding members, ‘Akhiyan Udeek Diyan’ came about when Times Music (which released the song) asked a few artists, including Midival Punditz, Karsh Kale and Shilpa Rao, to take one song each of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and do their own version of it. The eventual goal was to bring out an album.
“So we recorded it and have been playing the song live for two years now,” say Ram, who is at home with his nine dogs during the national lockdown. But even as the album took time, Indian Ocean came up with more songs. “We had got about six songs ready and we were going to launch them one after the other when COVID-19 hit. The plan was to play it live, and get a video, We all said forget it, let’s just release it.”
The release marks the first song of the band’s eighth album. “Depending on how this plays out, we could be looking to release the next song of the album over the next few weeks,” he added.
On the impact of the lockdown on musicians and their earning capabilities, Ram spoke of the possibility of doing live shows online. Members of the band have recently taken to Facebook Live during the lockdown.
“This is a good stage to experiment for musicians. We will not be performing live for at least six months. So how do we live? There has to be a way to monetise live shows – we had 60,000 people viewers recently. Now imagine if we asked people to pay just Rs 5 for a half an hour show?” says Ram.
“A lot of people haven’t attended our live shows ever – neither are they going to,” he says, speaking of how this would give people a chance to watch their live shows in different ways. “This could work well with Aisi Taisi Democracy as well,” he adds, “since most of the shows are in big metros even though there are requests from small towns asking for shows”.
“This is a possibility that musicians are going to start exploring. I think platforms will come up to do this,” Ram says.