As if juggling a career and family wasn’t enough of a challenge, these musicians have added another element into the work-play equation. Lounge profiles bands comprising busy professionals, who just can’t quit making music.
Even at 47, Rajeev Raja plays truant. The creative head of DDB Mudra (formerly executive creative director of Bates 141), is sometimes out playing his flute when he should be sitting in on a presentation. “But my employers know that I perform better at work when I’m free to play my music,” he says.
Raja has been playing the flute since 1977 and is currently a part of the Mumbai-based jazz and funk band, Junkt. His career in advertising began in 1982, when he had to choose between being a full-time musician and a more conventional career. “I was playing jazz and the music scene didn’t give me any signals that I should pursue it as a full-time career.” But Raja didn’t give up on music. Over the years he has played with several bands and between 1990 and 1992, was part of the line-up of Surya, a band that also had Shankar Mahadevan and Taufiq Qureshi as members.
Junkt: ( left to right) Paul Rodrigues, Nakul Mehta, Adi Mistry, Rajeev Raja, Neerav Gandhi and Hitesh Dhutia are part of this band.
Junkt, in Raja’s words, consists of a motley crew of professionals who have been together for two years. Furniture designer Paul Rodrigues plays the trumpet, saxophonist Nakul Mehta is the MD of Bharat Bijlee Ltd, bassist Adi Mistry is a chartered accountant who quit to play music full time, Armeet Panesar is an architect who plays the trombone, while guitarist Hitesh Dhutia and drummer Neerav Gandhi are full-time musicians. Besides Raja and Mehta, who is 49, the rest of the members are in their late 20s or early 30s.
The band tries to meet once a week and practises at a member’s house. Mehta also tries to put in a half-hour on the sax daily, but manages to do it about four to five times a week. “After a day’s work, it’s difficult to do a show or rehearsal that might go on till 2am when you know you have to be at work the next day. But the pay-off is the sheer joy of making music together,” he says.
But they reserve the sympathy for their full-time musician bandmates. “As part of a jazz band you’re not really paid for your time, you’re doing it for the love of it. It’s more of a sacrifice for the musicians who earn a living from music, because they could spend that time making money by being a sessions musician in a studio,” says Raja.
Junkt performs at live music venues in Mumbai such as Not Just Jazz By The Bay and Henry Tham, and plays for patrons during Sunday brunch at Blue Frog. “You can always make time for something you are passionate about. But I have never absolved myself of the responsibility of my job,” says Raja.
His advice to professionals passionate about music or anything else is rather simple—“just go for it before it’s too late”. He points out that most employers are fairly broad-minded and have no problems with employees pursuing a passion if it doesn’t interfere with work. “Now family life, work and recreation are all connected. People work at home and play in the office. So employers really don’t mind. In fact, many encourage it.”
Family support is also important to Raja, who has two teenage daughters. “They love that I’m a musician. I couldn’t have played music as freely as I do if I didn’t have the absolute support of my wife Meera and the kids,” he says.
Emperor Minge, New Delhi
Stefan Kaye jokes that the reason he left London and settled in New Delhi three years ago was partly because the weather was nice. “And I was fascinated by the fact that India had a seemingly underdeveloped live music scene. I wanted to contribute to developing it,” he says. He came with the intention of putting together a band and continuing his studies with the sitar; the latter fell by the wayside when Emperor Minge, the avant garde rock band Kaye is a part of, took off.
Besides Kaye, who declines to disclose his age, the band is made up of musicians in their early 20s. The line-up includes ad film-maker Nikhil Vasudevan on drums, Rohit Kulkarni, a student, on guitar and vocalist Parvati Krishnan, who worked with music magazine Rock Street Journal. The band has two bassists—Abhishek Mangla, also a student, and Clarence Gonsalves, a full-time musician, and it sometimes features a performance by contemporary dancer Anjoe Teresa Chadha.
Kaye, the keyboard player and vocalist, works as a senior project director with a global market research company. He took the job so that he would have a valid work permit and money to support himself but he admits he is “distracted that I have to do a straight job” to support his music career.
Vasudevan reveals the almost foolproof method the band has devised to ensure no one cancels rehearsals: “If a practice session is called off, the person who cancels it is responsible for calling the others and rescheduling at everyone’s convenience. That in itself is such a problem that no one cancels,” he laughs. In addition to the band’s schedule, the Greater Kailash studio at which they rehearse is always booked, so getting a slot there is also difficult.
To balance work and music, Vasudevan has struck a similar deal with his boss. “I don’t make excuses when big meetings are scheduled, and he doesn’t interfere in my music .” So if the timings for a work meeting and a practice session clash, Vasudevan makes sure he’s at the meeting. But if it’s a toss-up between a live gig and a meeting, you’ll find him at the concert venue, setting up his drum kit.
Though Kaye would prefer being a full-time musician, he is also realizing how difficult it is to make a living as a musician in India, as opposed to countries that have a more established live music industry. “A smaller percentage of people support Western-style music. And everyone here wants their entertainment to be free.”
Galeej Gurus, Bangalore
The Galeej Gurus started the way most rock bands do—a bunch of boys getting together in college and jamming. The Bangalore-based rockers soon came to be known as the Christ College Rock Band, and it didn’t hurt that their members included the cute Harris twins, Nathan and Matthew. They mostly played cover versions and once in a while ventured into writing their own music. Now, less than a decade later, they have moved away from being rock stars in college to becoming a professional rock band. Three members of the original band, Nathan (vocals) and Matthew Harris (bass) and Anant Menon (guitar and vocals) have stuck together while Naveen Thomas (guitar) and Kishan Balaji, a full-time musician, came in recently. In March, they won Shamal 2008, a contest of Asian bands which led to a gig at the Dubai Desert Rock Festival 2008.
Nathan, who works as a culture and communication trainer with Microsoft, admits: “It’s a juggling act. It’s like having two jobs and that can be very trying.” Since the band members have decided to keep weekends for their personal lives, they jam every Wednesday and Friday after work and continue till late into the night.
Galeej Gurus: (left to right) Band members Naveen Thomas, Nathan Harris, Matthew Harris, Kishan Balaji and Ananth Menon.
Matthew, who runs his own event management company, Eventainment Pvt. Ltd, is also the only band member who is married. “We try our best to keep Sundays free, but when we have a performance coming up, it’s tough to say no to practice on weekends,” says the 28-year-old, who cannot see himself giving up his event management company to become a full-time musician.
Menon took a break from the band in 2004 and moved to Chennai to try his luck with the film music industry. But he is back in Bangalore, where he works as music editor with TimeOut magazine. “It’s a balance that works for me, although it can be tiring because both jobs demand a lot of energy.” Thomas joined in 2004 to make up for Menon’s absence, but stayed because their varied styles on the guitar made the band’s sound better. “While Anant has a very bluesy touch to his music, I tend to lean towards progressive and jazz,” says Thomas, who has a marketing job with Levi’s.
Balaji, 21, is the youngest member of the band. He works on advertisement jingles and voice-overs, and plays the drums with six other bands in the city. “Every band I play with has a different sound, and that’s what works for me,” says Balaji, who dropped out of engineering college to pursue music as a full-time career. Managing parallel careers can be testing, they agree unanimously, but it all falls into place when they see crowds cheering them on.
Folk rock band Swarathma was formed in 2004 in Mysore when Vasu Dixit and Pavan Kumar, classmates at the Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts in Mysore, met. “Vasu noticed that I was fairly good at what I call “table-a” (drumming on the table) and invited me to jam,” says 27-year-old Kumar, the band’s percussionist, who works as a freelance commercial photographer. Swarathma now has a line-up of six members, most of whom have parallel careers except for 19-year-old Varun, the lead guitarist who’s still in college. Dixit, the 28-year-old lyricist and lead vocalist, is a freelance film-maker. “I used to work for a production house and had a tough time juggling my job and the band. I figured that working under someone might not let me give my 100% to music, so I now freelance.”
Swarathma jams through the week at 6.30am on weekdays and in the afternoon on Saturdays. That works out pretty well for Jishnu Das Gupta and Sanjeev Nayak since they both have demanding day jobs. Das Gupta, the band’s 28-year-old bass guitarist, works as a brand manager in a leading FMCG company. “I don’t believe in making excuses about the paucity of time; if you want it bad enough, you’ll do it,” says Das Gupta who says his wife and boss support him. Nayak, 34, a software programmer with Prime Focus Technologies Pvt. Ltd, is a violinist who joined the band when a friend introduced him to Montry Manuel, 31, the group’s drummer and a graphic artist.
A few months ago, Swarathma was voted the best Hindi band in the country at a Radio City Live contest. The title got them a chance to record an album with EMI Music India; it is expected to be released in December. “As our presence in the music industry becomes more serious, we need to work harder. But we can’t neglect our careers either,” says Nayak.
Their recent success has made the band members think about taking up music full time. “We have realized that if we work together, we can feed off each other’s strengths,” says Das Gupta, adding that each of them has made peace with the fact that if a time comes when they would have to choose between music and their careers, they’ll opt for Swarathma.