You can hear the hum rising within the walls of a darkened room and grow into a sound that reverberates like Gregorian chants. The band Artistes Unlimited (AU) is hard at work, rehearsing a track called Crude Addiction. Tonight, the group is trying an alternate version of the song. This obviously is not a band that is content to let its music fossilize.
AU describes itself as a band dedicated to alternative music. Latin jazz, hip hop, R&B, Indian folk, Hindustani and Carnatic classical, Sufi—no musical boundary is too sacred for the 200 musicians to experiment with. Now, this group is readying to tour three cities to mark the release of its album, En Route, featuring 12 tracks and a mix of sounds and lyrics.
“We do not limit ourselves to a particular sound. The only criteria is that it must be fun and challenging. The idea is to realize the collaborative power of music,” says AU’s founder Annette Philip. She cites A.R. Rahman, Nitin Sawhney, Ella Fitzgerald and Queen as her own musical inspirations.
Listen to En Route and it is easy to see the eclectic nature of their music. Des is a Rahman-esque track which uses the sarangi along with a male baritone to evoke a nostalgic and melancholic note. Fly has a strong R&B feel while Weekend Blues is a jazz number which goes into long improvisations, with a dialogue and narrative woven into the lyrics. Kanha Re is a fusion-devotional number, which uses the sarangi in combination with drums. And Ashwamedh is a Hindi rock song with the vocals mimicking the sound of the tabla. In most of the tracks, the choir is used quite prominently.
It was on a rainy July day four years ago that Philip started working tentatively on creating a voluntary group of music lovers. A sound artist with many years of experience in documentaries and the Discovery Channel, Philip had also been the lead vocalist for the now-disbanded group, Whimsy Logic.
“I had been personally active on the music scene but there was so much musical talent in Delhi that was not being utilized,” says Philip, who was not even sure that a group with no financial backing would survive for long. But, surprisingly, the news of the group’s formation generated enough buzz for 65 music lovers to land up at the first meeting. Thereafter, they met every evening for the next two months and hammered the group’s charter into shape.
Putting En Route together was a voluntary effort, with band members chipping in to finance its production. The group is bypassing traditional sales channels and making it available via the Net. It can be bought online on underscorerecords.com for Rs250. And if you choose to listen to an individual track, log on to saffronconnect.com and buy it at $0.99 (about Rs40.50).
The musicians have few illusions about making huge profits on the venture. The group only pays its members a small honorarium. “If AU could provide me with an income, I would work full-time with the band,” says Noel Braganza, a vocalist who has been with the team from the start. He works in the creative department of an advertising agency and tries to wrap up his work by 6 every evening to report for the intense practice sessions. “There is no other band which scrutinizes music as much as we do,” he says.
AU has also tied up with Naz Foundation to promote AIDS awareness. A part of the money generated by the album and the sale of concert tickets will be handed over to the foundation.
En Route,30 June, NCPA, Mumbai; 6 July, Christ College and 8 July, Good Shepherd Auditorium, Bangalore; 13 July, Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi.