At another of his countless performances, Rhys Sebastian steps onto the stage, his saxophone bright gold in the spotlight. As always, he dresses sharply in crisp black and white, his shoes gleaming. Even if a listener is swayed by his music, Sebastian knows that the memory they will take back home will be a visual of him on stage. So whether he’s performing, or just giving a talk, Sebastian always gives his 100 per cent.
“I want to have a conversation with my music,” says the 27-year-old Mumbai-based musician. “I want to let my personality shine through”. The message he wants to deliver to the audience: Leave your worries somewhere else. Join me on this journey.
Sebastian has experimented with a variety of genres on his first album, Rhywind, which is to be released in April this year. The album comprises old Bollywood songs that he’s rearranged, with the choice of songs having been determined by the legacy of his grandfather, the eminent music arranger, Sebastian D’Souza, who passed away in 1996. D’Souza was credited with having changed the harmonic structure of the Hindi film song by fusing Indian and Western classical music styles, and had worked on some of the greatest songs in Hindi film music, including Mera naam chin chin chu (Howrah Bridge), Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh (Dil Apne Aur Preet Parai), and Aaiye meherbaan (Howrah Bridge). Many of these songs will find a place in Sebastian’s album, which also includes collaborations with flautist Ninad Mulaokar, jazz guitarist Sanjay Divecha, drummer Jehangir Jehangir and bassist Saurabh Suman.
But it is jazz that will always be dearest to his soul. “It educated me about music,” he says, “It made me understand that the more you listen, the more you will learn. It also taught me how to improvise and feed off the energy of other musicians I’m playing with, while keeping in mind the audience the whole time”.
Sebastian has been performing for 10 years, although his love affair with jazz goes back to when he was just a toddler. Both his parents are pianists; his mother, Merlin D’Souza, is a renowned jazz composer and part of Merlin and the All Stars Big Band. With the best musicians in the city rehearsing in his living room in Bandra, Sebastian ate, slept, dreamed, and played jazz. He started singing at three, and, as a teenager, began learning the saxophone from the late “Jazzy Joe” Pereira, one of the seminal figures of Mumbai’s jazz age.
Sebastian’s performance at the NCPA will feature yet another side of his repertoire. He will take some of the most popular tunes across the genres and add some of his own flavour. The familiar strains of Für Elise or Amazing Grace will have a little bit of blues and a pinch of ragtime, and typical jazz songs like Spain by Chick Corea, will include the sitar. “It’s going to be a bit more risky, playing all these songs that the audience already knows,” says Sebastian, “But a whole lot more fun, and anyway, we’re risk-takers”.
Rhys Sebastian will be performing at the NCPA, Mumbai, on February 20