Singing the Bambaiyya tune
There's been a burst of foreign musicians on the Mumbai gig scene. And, the cultural exchange is a two-way street
Lydia Hendrikje sits on her keyboards, dressed in blue denims and a white vest, with bright red lipstick. Her one-room-kitchen Bandra home seems to be an extension of her aesthetic, with a white desk next to French windows, the monsoon breeze flowing in, fairy lights, and a table in the kitchen. "That's how the Germans do it. We need a table in the kitchen!" she says, as she freshens up her make-up in the mirror. In October this year, Hendrikje, a jazz vocalist, would have been in India for four years. She left Rotterdam to come here and teach vocal music at Lower Parel's True School of Music (TSM). However, within three years, she started performing, and is now a regular at DJing and performing jazz with her band across city venues such as Raasta and Bonobo.
A year ago, Hendrikje released her first single here called Bombay Aaram Se, with friend and German musician Dario Brandt, which talked about what living in Maximum City (traffic and all) feels like. "Most people don't like India as soon as they get here, but Dario and I were fascinated by it. The job was just the right opportunity to come live here. The thing about Mumbai is, if you have a talent or want to do something, it's the one place where it can happen. There is so much variety in people, but it has equal opportunity for everyone," she says, as she poses for photographs in her Mount Mary neighbourhood. "The people who live around here have seen me doing some mad shoots, just prancing around. I have made my peace with the fact that this is my home now."
Hendrikje is just one of the many expat musicians who are choosing to make India their home, because as she says, the cultural scene in Mumbai is flourishing right now. The nightlife of the city now includes regular jazz and blues nights, and plenty of opportunity for new age musicians, DJs and experimental and collaborative projects. And though it's not the main draw anymore, Bollywood also is an option.
"It's exciting to be part of a movement where everything is not saturated. People are open to things, with audiences listening to different kinds of music. Also things move fast here. Everyone wants things done right here, right now. So you have to be flexible. There is more external interference, like the monsoons and traffic, but the social infrastructure is great—it's normal to talk to people, call them over for lunch, and just get work done. It's okay to say, 'Can you do this for me, and I can do that for you.' That's the real reason I am here. It would be inorganic for me to move away now," says Hendrikje, who along with teaching students at home, plans to keep DJing and composing music individually, and with her band, Gold, which was formed in May, and has released two songs since.
Her partner in crime in Gold is singer and pianist Elena Friedrich, who came to India from Rome a year ago. The artist, with an Italian mother and a German father, says that India is now a permanent part of her base. She says it's Mumbai's musical variety that has helped her make this decision. "The richness of the music is exciting, and, of course, the diversity. It has helped me expand my palette," says the musician who describes her sound as contemporary, modern and a fusion of genres like Latin and American. "The music community is usually a tight-knit one, and I have found so many people to work with, like Lydia, with whom I am working on Gold. The aim is to just keep working. Mumbai has taught me that one has to develop an acumen to choose better projects."
If Mumbai has given Friedrich and Hendrikje a few lessons on culture, it has taught guitarist Anthony Cammarota, aka AC, the charm of Indian classical music. The Los Angeles musician is guitar faculty at TSM, and is also working with indie singer-songwriter Aditi Ramesh. He is at present floored by Carnatic music, and is trying use it to create a sort of jazz fusion.
"I haven't learnt it, but I play by ear. Both jazz and Carnatic music come from the same point: improvisation. It's not superficial and I feel a deep connection with it," says the musician. The guitarist thinks that the indie music scene in the city right now is young, and growing, and that music is now seen as a legitimate career choice. "It's not just the clubs who want different kinds of music, but also audiences are getting used to listening to different kinds of music," says AC, who is planning to release his first album in the next year, which will be recorded in India.
But as an educator, he also wants to stick around to see the fruits of his labour. "I am putting in a personal effort in educating India's future, so I want to be around to see how the scene grows. At this point in time, I really don't see myself leaving at all."
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