Mumbai Lunchbox: Something instrumental
Musicians Shikhar Naad Qureshi and Sahil Makhija discuss Bollywood, social media, and why metal musicians aren't invited to college festivals
The dining table has turned into a drumhead. It vibrates when the fingers of 22-year-old percussionist Shikhar Naad Qureshi strike the edge, epitomising the illustrious dynasty he hails from - grandfather Ustad Allarakha Qureshi, father Taufiq Qureshi, and uncle Zakir Hussain. We've known Qureshi since we were 15 and we mull over how much has changed, other than his passion for music. When Sahil Makhija arrives at Uno Más, an instant camaraderie brews. Makhija, 36, has been a pioneering force in the Indian metal scene, as the frontman of Demonic Resurrection. But by day, he's also the frontman for Headbanger's Kitchen, a popular show on YouTube where he cooks up delicious keto recipes. So, as Qureshi finishes a quick drum roll on the menu cover, Makhija picks up the ordering process, and in a few minutes they're set - like a quick rehearsal. Edited excerpts from the conversation.
Dalreen: An Indian classical musician and a metal musician walk into a tapas bar. It's a sight slightly unfamiliar to behold.
Shikhar: Actually, in music, this happens very often…
Sahil: In India, most metal musicians who are pursuing music full-time are generally doing Bollywood gigs. So, that's the meeting point.
Shikhar: They have to, that's the bread… I recently worked on Manikarnika.
Dalreen: How would you approach each other's genre?
Sahil: Well, I'd be clueless because I don't know how much guitar is used in Indian classical music. Of course it's played, but it's a new addition.
Shikhar: There is an album called Call of the Valley (1967) with Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Brij Bhushan Kabra and they've infused the santoor, flute and guitar into the genre.
Sahil: And you have metal musicians venturing into Indian classical as well. Rishabh Seen from Delhi started doing heavy metal covers on his sitar. So, that gap is being bridged.
Shikhar: I listen to all kinds of music. I'm a huge follower of Bon Jovi, and Guns N' Roses. You have to keep an open mind. The goal is to make good music with good people.
(The food arrives - pan casero, patatas bravas, alitas pollo, croquetas de setas, paella pollo, manzana verde and watermelon juice)
Dalreen: What's the best food you've had at a gig?
Sahil: Metal bands don't get food at venues. When I played my first Hard Rock Cafe gig, we got coupons for one full starter, one main course, and two drinks. We were amazed. And we like CounterCulture in Bangalore.
Shikhar: I love the food at The Quarter, and the chicken risotto at Blue Frog was very nice.
Dalreen: Are you familiar with Sahil's food channel?
Shikhar: Yeah, I was quite confused initially.
Sahil: So, my case is actually one where the music didn't get as popular as the food.
Shikhar: So, you wouldn't say you're doing music full-time?
Sahil: No, because what's paying the bills? If you're an Indian band, you're lucky to be playing 12 shows annually, whereas all the Bollywood guys are playing 12 shows in a month.
Shikhar: Yes, some of my percussionist friends go to Switzerland and Romania to do Bollywood shows. US tours are still fine because there are so many Indians. But Romania!
Sahil: With us it's like, every five years, kids grow out of the 'I'm an angsty teenage kid, so I'm going to listen to metal' phase, or they go abroad. It's not the case with other genres because they're catering to an older audience, who have the money to spend. I feel like metal won't die because there will still be a kid who will find a shaadi hall... that's literally what we did. We found a hall called Bay View in Gorai, and we booked it for all our shows.
Dalreen: How has social media impacted you?
Sahil: Dude, you cannot survive in this world if you do not have Instagram.
Shikhar: I wasn't on any kind of social media. I made a Facebook account only recently. I got a smartphone after my grandparents did.
Sahil: ... which is good and consider yourself very lucky that you don't have that pressure yet. If I didn't have albums to promote, I'd be playing one gig after another. Today, you are one among an infinite number of bands. So, how do you stand out?
Dalreen: How did formal education play out?
Sahil: I did well in the 10th standard, and then I wanted to study computers but I had to enrol for electronics and failed the first year. So, I took up commerce and then dropped out of it in my first year of college at Jai Hind. I got a job as a sound engineer at Farhad Wadia's school.
Shikhar: I really came into my own once I left St Xavier's after the 12th standard. I pursued a correspondence degree and then in TYBA, I barely passed...
Sahil: But hadn't you already found your voice?
Shikhar: Yeah, but half the world said, 'At least complete your degree....' I remember the pasta in the college canteen though.
Dalreen: They've got a softy machine now...
Sahil: Colleges are getting hip these days.
Shikhar: This information has made me want to...
Sahil: Go back to college? They'll call you for festivals anyway. That's the difference between a classical musician and a metal musician. The latter will never get called back to college. But SIES is a metal-friendly college.
Dalreen: Has the city inspired your work?
Shikhar: Mumbai is the karmabhoomi. It's not had a direct influence on me, but the city is the base for many classical musicians.
Sahil: I'm very lucky to be living by Juhu beach. People keep telling me, 'The view from your home is so amazing! How do you write such death metal?' Every time they say that, I think of every time I see the plastic on the beach. It inspires me to write metal.
If you had a chance to play the lead role in a film based on a musician's life, who would it be and why?
Sahil: Chuck Schuldiner, the frontman of the band Death. He's one of the strongest influences I've had with respect to my guitar-playing style and singing.
Shikhar: Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, because he was the true genius behind the band, not Jon Bon Jovi.
A pre-performance ritual.
Sahil: I don't eat any food before going on stage. I feel like throwing up.
The wildest misconception you've heard about your genre of music.
Sahil: We sacrifice goats, drink their blood, and worship Satan.
Shikhar: Young people don't like classical music.
Favourite performance venue in Mumbai.
Sahil: Razzberry Rhinoceros, just how it was in the year 2000.
Shikhar: Nehru Centre.
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