High Bandwidth

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers is not a risqué video uploaded on YouTube by a Bengali bombshell and in immediate danger of being blocked.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Published:March 29, 2009 2:09 am

She is the new voice on MySpace. The Bengali in New York Shilpa Ray adds harmonium to blues and grubby jazz

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers is not a risqué video uploaded on YouTube by a Bengali bombshell and in immediate danger of being blocked. For one,it is on MySpace. Two,the “happy hookers” are all male. And three,they are not hookers. Shilpa Ray,though,is real,and we will soon find out about the “happy” part of it.

“Well,I welcome all the present and possible misconceptions,” says Ray,with a hint of amusement from New York,over a telephone conversation. The Indian-origin girl is the lead vocalist of the band with that quirky,suggestive name and whose music,a mix of blues,grubby jazz and unsettling rock with some punk thrown in,is getting hits on the Net and crowds in gigs in New York. “People seemed to have forgotten how to have fun. I wanted a name that was all about having a good time,” says Ray,28,who formed the band a year ago.

If the name is not intriguing enough,here is more. Ray sings to the harmonium. She lets it rip with her growls and lyrics that go “We fought in streets of our neighborhood,Like drunk tornados tearing plains,we fell,till our skulls shattered the concrete of St. Louis,Who knows who’s been keeping tabs,Who struck the first blow,A bitter boxing Bukowski won’t save us now.” Harmonium hasn’t had such wild company.

“When I was six I started learning Indian classical music the way it is done in most Bengali households and harmonium was a part of it. Later I came across the great underground music scene,but was never allowed to play the guitar at home as my parents felt it wasn’t a lady-like-thing to do,” laughs Ray. Some conservatism at home has led to a fascinating new sound,although in certain songs the harmonium becomes more like a sidekick. “It creates these drones which are more powerful than a guitar’s and so one can layer other sounds on them,” she says.

As far as her bunch of happy hookers is concerned,they are five friends who left bands such as The Creaky Boards,Soft Black and Negatones to play with her,no pun intended here. “I wasn’t happy with my previous band Beat the Devil. I was tired of regularity and so were these guys,and here we are,” says Ray. Ask her about her songs,and she is acerbic: “I write the way I throw up. Like feeling woozy for a long time and then vomiting violently.” She then explains in non-vomit terms,“Which means I am not prolific but when I write I focus.”

Ray’s site has got over 51,000 hits in 10 months,but is still unsigned for an album and works at a retail store to support herself. “I’ve been working since my teens. Being a shop girl is my trade and a huge part of my music,” she says. She’ll have to take a break since she has gigs lined up in Ohio,Michigan and Illinois. And although 10,000 miles away from Bollywood,she isn’t untouched by it. “I have always loved music by Hemant Kumar,and the Burmans. I don’t know if I can do the weird kind of music that is produced today but would love to find out.”

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