Who are The Dewarists? Independent music fans in India may remember the video of British electronica act Dub FX spontaneously jamming in a fishing village in Mumbai that went viral a couple of years ago, or one of the concert stages at last year’s NH7 Weekender festival in Pune called The Dewarists Stage (pronounced “Do-er-ists”, as in Dewar’s Whiskey, which sponsors these projects). They now include a bunch of local and international musicians taking part in what may be the most visible platform for the Indian independent scene yet.
In the spirit of the YouTube videos and the concert stage, a new show of the same name goes on air on Sunday. The first episode, shot at the Samode Palace near Jaipur, unfolds with a glimpse of film music composer and rock idol Vishal Dadlani singing his early Hindi smash hit (in partnership with Shekhar Ravjiani, as the composer duo Vishal-Shekhar), Allah Ke Bande from the movie Waisa Bhi Hota Hai: Part II. The moment seems like it’s caught off-the-cuff, quietly reflective, and the dreaminess lingers in the dizzyingly beautiful alto of British singer-songwriter Imogen Heap, who travelled down to collaborate with Dadlani on an original song.
The episode follows them through the process of that songwriting, and how their individual stories and musical styles come together in collaboration. In the following episode, Pakistani musicians Zeb and Haniya will jam with Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire—on a BEST bus, among other locations—to produce their own song.
Mobile music: Zeb and Shantanu Moitra (on left), and Swanand Kirkire and Haniya (on right). Photo Kunal Kakodkar
Each part of The Dewarists is a sort of documentary-travelogue. Musicians like Heap and Dadlani (with Ravjiani, who couldn’t travel to Rajasthan and contributes to the episode remotely), or Parikrama and Shilpa Rao, who retreat to Panshet and Pune in a future episode, are asked to break out of their comfort zones, taken away from their home base and “everyday” sound, and their process documented.
The result is a crisp, vibrant series, attractively filmed and perfectly pitched, which mixes the excitement of the “making of” videos with some interesting original music. Perhaps the best thing about it is its minimalistic focus on a single end point—not a set or a mix of tracks, but just one song, worked on by musicians who come from diverse genres to find common ground.
Produced and directed by people who have worked for years with independent music—director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy is himself the lead singer of metal band Scribe—the feeling on the eve of The Dewarists’ debut is that this is a show which finally gets it.
“For the musicians, there was a sense of a ‘fellow scene person’, creating something legitimate,” Krishnamoorthy says. “Everyone on the crew has been involved with indie movements in some way before.”
Monica Dogra, who collaborates with British electronic artiste Shri and the folk group Rajasthan Roots in Jaisalmer on a later episode, is also the show’s anchor. “I joined the show quite late in June,” she explains. “I don’t consider myself a ‘host’, but I was excited about being a part of something that is just so—elegantly beautiful.” As with Krishnamoorthy behind the camera, Dogra in front of it gives most musicians a chance to feel like they are in a familiar environment, working on their own terms, and not towards delivering a product that has already been designed.
“We wouldn’t know where to begin if we were telling them what to do,” Arvind Krishnan, director, marketing, Bacardi India (Dewars’ distributors in the country), says about Dewars’ hands-off approach to their “movement”. “We just wanted to bring these musicians together because we thought, ‘This seems to be a connection point—storytelling, and musicians’ stories’. We weren’t looking for a particular genre of music at all, just for a story worth telling.”
Dadlani and Heap’s collaboration culminates in them marching through the lanes of Jaipur, singing their song. Zeb and Haniya, together with Moitra and Kirkire, perform their own collaboration—the stunning Kya Khayal Hai—in an empty auditorium in Mumbai’s historic Capitol Theatre. Future episodes will take musicians to Goa, Delhi and Jaisalmer.
But in spite of this diversity, the feel of The Dewarists doesn’t seem like patchwork. “Every collaboration is different, but each creative decision on the show has the same simplicity,” Krishnamoorthy says. “Visually, each episode has a serenity; everyone working on it has the same sort of aesthetic conscience.”
The emphasis on the final output being “one complete song” also keeps the show’s aural palette clean. Dedicating their whole collaboration to just one song frees up room on the series for musicians to talk about themselves, explore each other’s music—and discover their surroundings. Heap and Dadlani’s song, a Hindi-English jam called Mind Without Fear in which Heap’s dream-pop musical sensibilities permeate Dadlani and co-composer Ravjiani’s bright, sharp folk-‘n’-bass, features a 200-year-old harmonium which Heap found in a Jaipur antique shop.
Dogra sums up the sense of singularity that characterizes the show. “It offers us a chance to completely step away from our lives, and immerse ourselves in our music,” she says. “No distractions; I am isolated here in my being as a musician.”
The Dewarists airs on Star World India starting 16 October, every Sunday at 8pm.