How Indian Ocean is crafting music for eternity

Indian Ocean has come back with an album – Tu Hai – after almost a decade

68-Members-of-the-fusion-rock-band-Indian-Ocean Back with a bang: Members of the fusion rock band Indian Ocean.

It would be a disservice to Indian Ocean to separate its music from the larger socio-economic and political issues embedded in it. Renowned for its eclectic live performances, the rock band has, over three decades, carved out a niche for itself by blending classical music with rock, jazz, and fusion. The band’s line-up―Rahul Ram, Amit Kilam, Himanshu Joshi, Nikhil Rao and Tuheen Chakravorty―include both atheists and theists, resulting in a unique mix of perspectives. And, this is evident in their latest track, ‘Tu Hai’, from the album by the same name, where the band explores the process of questioning a supreme being.

Indian Ocean refuses to sacrifice their musicality to conform to the reel-obsessed trends of the contemporary world.

The philosophical dimensions of the track encapsulate the album as it raises serious questions on a range of interconnected issues―from environmental sustainability to spiritual solace.

“You can put a question mark or three dots after the words tu hai [and both would bring different meanings and perspectives],” said Joshi, vocalist of the band. The song was released in two parts on streaming platforms. “In one, it questions the existence of a supreme being, citing the problems that the world faces, and in the other, it takes a more philosophical route to accept the concept of God in different forms,” said Joshi.

Indian Ocean refuses to sacrifice their musicality to conform to the reel-obsessed trends of the contemporary world. In fact, the tracks in Tu Hai uplift the spirit in us. The band is crafting music for eternity, with the hope that future generations will one day rediscover the magic concealed within their tracks.

Indian Ocean has come back with an album almost after a decade. But the six tracks of Tu Hai are already familiar to the band’s loyal followers. “We were playing them much before we were thinking about an album,” said Joshi. “Initially, we did not have a specific theme in mind. We had already recorded the songs when the pandemic struck, resulting in a significant time gap before its release. We noticed a coherence between the songs and a structural theme that was emerging. The album began to take shape as a collection of songs, addressing pertinent issues that we face today, including environmental degradation and the dominance of materialism in society.”

The band’s last album, Tandanu, had seven songs, with different artistic geniuses. In Tu Hai, too, one could witness some exciting collaborations. The opening track of the album, ‘Jaadu Maya’, was written by acclaimed poet and filmmaker Varun Grover. The band praises Grover’s lyrics as multi-layered and leaves them open for interpretation by their audience.

The band’s reflection on the environment is loud and clear in the track. “It talks about the black clouds around us and [insignificant] fights that we are engaged in, when there is a much bigger story that is unfolding,” said Joshi. In an animated video from the album, the band members could be seen in the avatars of news anchors and reporters, singing their segments. However, it does not mean that they are playing the heralds of doom. Because ‘Jaadu Maya’ is also about hope, as it announces that it is never too late to take meaningful action towards a more sustainable future.

The song ‘Iss Tan Dhan’ is a modern take on a poem by the legendary poet Sant Kabir Das; it muses on the futility of earthly possessions. Bass guitarist and vocalist Ram had the idea of using the poem in a track. “His father used to sing the poem, so he picked it up and created an instrumental part to go with it,” said Joshi.

Another collaboration in Tu Hai is with acclaimed American saxophonist George Brooks―a long-term friend of the band―for the track, ‘Jungle’. Brooks’s prolific style of combining jazz with classical music elevates the track, which underscores the magnitude and vastness of nature, and, thereby, the insignificance of human beings.

The band calls the last track in the album, ‘Rebirth’, the ‘baby’ of guitarist Rao. ‘Rebirth’ was born out of Rao’s love for Carnatic music. “We started playing this track in 2016,” said Rao. “It was a major hit among loyal followers. They would come and listen to the instrumental. But, we struggled to find a name for the track for many years. Once, on the stage, we asked our followers to come up with a good name for the track.

Frankly, we never got a name that we liked.” But then the name ‘Rebirth’ emerged. Rao said the ideas of renewal, regeneration and starting afresh were all going through the collective mind of Indian Ocean. “And the track fit beautifully into the album’s theme,” said Rao. “We start the album complaining about the world, but we finally settle down to a place where we feel rebirth or renewal.”