Former Human Bondage drummer Ramesh Stotham, effortlessly blends various musical styles to give an inherently Indian sound to Jazz with his new music project, Madras Special. Excerpts from an email interview
Q. What memories do you have of the music scene in Mumbai (Bombay) of the 1970s, from your days as a drummer with Human Bondage?
A. It was a time when bands, musicians and listeners were hungry for music from the West, since it wasn’t so accessible as now. Both, records and music instruments, were hard to come by. Today, everyone can listen to any amount of music on iTunes or watch YouTube videos. Also, instruments are easily available. I think audiences in the 1970s were more into live performances.
Q. Tell us about your impressions of Pandit Ravi Shankar. How did it impact your music career?
A. Pandit Ravi Shankar and his music inspired us. Indian music began to influence our compositions and we created a genre known at the time as Raga Rock!
Ramesh Stotham and Madras Special-New Generation
Q. How do you manage to fuse Jazz with Indian Carnatic especially? Did you face criticism from the traditionalists?
I realized early in my career that Carnatic rhythms blended quite well with Rock grooves, so I set off to South India to study the various percussion instruments, especially the temple drum Tavil, which is an integral part of my hybrid drum kit. The Carnatic melodies inspired my compositions. I’ve never faced any criticism regarding the blending of Carnatic music with Jazz, Rock and other ethnic forms of music.
Q. What is your reading of the Jazz scene in India — Mumbai at the moment?
A. Jazz has been around for decades not just in Mumbai but also in other cities like Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. There have always been talented individuals who’ve played Jazz in India but I believe there never has been a real scene where young musicians could learn and hone their musicianship on a continuous basis. For example, take Cologne, where I reside; if I had to find a drummer, bass player, guitarist, horn player, etc, I could choose from a pool of hundreds of brilliant musicians who would be able to play at a high level, read scores and improvise. I guess there are a few brilliant musicians currently in Mumbai, but the scene for Jazz is still very small.
Q. Tell us about about Madras Special: New Generation.
A. Although I work mostly as a freelance percussionist playing with a wide range of projects, I’ve always made the effort to lead formations of my own. Since the late 1980s, Madras Special has had several avatars. The original version was a trio with Charlie Mariano and Naresh Purushotham. Then, it was quartet with percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, Ara Dinkjian and Naresh. Then came a more ‘Indian’ version featuring Mumbai singer Sandhya Sanjana, Hungarian violinist Zoltan Lantos and a German bass player Christian Zuerner.
The group I’m now travelling with is the latest version, Madras Special-New Generation featuring two of the finest young musicians from Cologne, guitarist Sebastian Mueller and bassist Reza Askari. Zoltan Lantos is still there from the last line-up. As I’m dedicating this tour to the memory of Charlie Mariano, I invited the fine saxophonist Johannes Lemke, also from Cologne.
The band will conduct a Masterclass at True School of Music, Lower Parel on October 16.
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