Exactly 10 years ago, at a concert Delhi’s Venkateshwara College, eight young men walked in with no expectations and went back home with their calling. The boys, who called themselves Advaita, came in with an original called Light, the intricate hook of which was enough to draw everyone in. The sarangi that joined in midway was the surprise element in the band that seemed to have come from the rock side of things. This was followed by one of the finest electric guitar interludes any Indian band had played. (We shall not count the legend of Susmit Sen here.)
There weren’t any limbs pounding. But the hearts chanted along with the chorus. Everything was psychedelic and earthy at the same time. This was not just a seminal indie music evening. This was cementing the careers of Anindo Bose (keyboards), Chayan Adhikari (western vocals), Suhail Yusuf Khan (sarangi), Gaurav Chintamani (bass), Abhishek Mathur (guitar), Aman Singh (drums), Ujwal Nagar (Hindustani vocals) and Mohit Lal (tabla), three of who were to join after line-up changes in the coming years. “We didn’t know where this was headed. We were fortunate to start jamming at a time when more people were shifting towards writing original music. We were learning to like each other,” says Bose after the band’s jam session in a basement in Delhi’s Gulmohar Park. What worked was that there were no antsy eruptions of atmospherics, no plummets into craziness — all those things were for jam sessions. Advaita was distinctly Indian and distinctly suburban, a reason that made them a very likable band. The band performed at Zorba on Sunday to mark their decade of music.
The development of the band has been fascinating, even heartening. Here were eight men trying to find a common identity through a variety of styles, of which Indian classical music was an important element — something not really included by most rock bands. “As Indian classical musicians, some of us are known to improvise but here I was playing according to what others were doing. It helped me develop my own style and learn how to be minimalistic and expressive at the same time,” says Khan.
Despite performing for years, their first album, Grounded in Space came out only in 2009, followed by The Silent Sea in 2012. In between, the band’s Coke Studio and MTV Unplugged outings had them find audience that enjoyed mainstream music.
Then, there was the big break. English record producer John Leckie, who is known for his work with John Lennon and George Harrison, selected Advaita as one of the four bands for a compilation album to record two songs with him. “We weren’t just a Delhi band anymore. Gigs all over the world followed,” says Nagar.
The line up changes, four in all, were amicable. “Arpan Guha was on bass before Gaurav came in. Tarun and Aditya Balani wanted to go to Berklee College of Music,” says Bose.
The band was also bringing together many sensibilities. “In the initial years, there was no reference point. Everything sounded fresh. Even magic. The challenge was to break out of the mould and still keep it as fresh with different perspectives,” says Bose. “It’s the delivery, the methodology of using gear, the sound, the conviction which has massively evolved,” says Nagar. “The core has remained the same. One thing we have tried to do is reinvent our sound. Suhail now has a laptop with his sarangi and Ujwal tells us about the reverb he wants,” says Adhikari. The others agree.
“They made me audition,” says Adhikari, suddenly, out of nowhere, the complaining tone in place. It takes two seconds for everyone to wrap their heads around this and they all burst into laughter. Just like that, all eight sensibilities come together to form one tone, the one that promises to entertain for another decade and more.