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Ruel Barretto, Levin Mendes, Dj Major C and MC Bobkat (left to right ) make up Bombay Bassment.
Ruel Barretto, Levin Mendes, Dj Major C and MC Bobkat (left to right ) make up Bombay Bassment.

Meet Bombay Bassment —the first Indian hip-hop act to play at Glastonbury

This is a dream that arrived much earlier than we ever imagined, they say

The members of Bombay Bassment, a four piece band that met through a mutual friend are truly a motley crew of musicians. With two Goans, one Mumbaiker, and one Kenyan, Bombay Bassment’s diversity also shines through in their genre-bending music. Together, Levin Mendes (on the drums), Ruel Barretto (with the bass), Chandrashekhar Kunder- aka Dj Major C (on production/sampling), and Bob Omulo aka MC Bobkat (who spits raps over the music) make tunes that brings together hip hop, drum ‘n’ bass, and elements of funk and reggae. Some songs are romantic, some have a social message, and many are a combination of the three.

On 17 June, the band concluded their five-city tour to promote their second album, Bombay Bassment X FUNC- VIP, an electronic reimagination of their first Self Titled. It is a radical collaborative project with Randolph Correia, guitarist and ‘Func’ of Mumbai-based electronic duo Shaa’ir and Func.

Bombay Bassment recently made history by becoming the first Indian hip-hop act to be selected to play at the Glastonbury Music festival, which starts on 22 June in the United Kingdom. The six year old band will play alongside singers from all over the world like Coldplay, Earth Wind and Fire, Muse and Tame Impala. Edited excerpts of an interview with Bob Omulo who spoke to Mint about Glastonbury, their influences, and more.

Judging by your name and the song “Bombay Blues", Mumbai is what brings your diverse personalities and sounds together. How has the city shaped your lives and music?

We’ve all been influenced by music we’ve grown up listening to, and so what we heard of the international genres, we adapted in our own local, Bombay way. You will feel the rhythms and percussions reminiscent of the city, or you will hear storyline based in Mumbai when you listen to a Bassment album. We’re not trying to do a New York hip-hop sound or a bass line like Marcus Miller, we hear what we like and adopt it in our own context.

Tell us about the band’s first performance: when was it? Where was it? How big was the audience?

Our first gig was at Bonobo in Mumbai five years ago. It wasn’t a big audience, less than a 100 people, but it was a nervous baptism by fire as we fumbled our way through the set, still figuring how to balance the sound and to get each other’s cues. But the crowd showed love so we definitely have gratitude for that, thanks Bonobo.

Your favourite city to perform in?

So far, Mumbai always feels at ease because its home I guess, but Pune shows us mad love. Delhi and Bangalore have awesome crowds too but we haven’t performed there nearly as much as we’d love to. Maybe our list will change soon as we do more gigs...

The Glastonbury music festival is arguably as big a world stage as it gets. How did you feel when you found out you’re playing there?

Glastonbury is a fantasy that we’ll believe when we see the buildings roll back beneath us as the flight takes off from Mumbai. We were in total disbelief when we were told we’d been picked up for the festival. This is a dream that arrived much earlier than we ever imagined in our wildest fantasies.

Ruell and Levin, you bring alternative rock to the table, while DJ Major C has a more reggae/dub feel. And Bob, you do old-school style rap. Tell us about your influences— which artists, Indian and international, have influenced your respective sounds?

Bob: Personally, I’d say a long cast of artists have influenced me. Bob Marley with the consciousness,KRS1, BIG, Rakim, and 2Pac with the lyricism and stage performance.

Ruell: For me it’s been Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jamiroquai, Jaco Pastorius, Bob Marley, and Boney M.

DJ Major C: Arrested Development and Damian Marley are two artists who have had a huge influence.

Levin: It’s a wide range of sounds, from Tame Impala to Die Antwoord, and from Azealia Banks to Panda Bear. Domestically, I really love what Peter Cat Recording Co. is doing

In today’s thriving Indie music scene in India, many new musicians with unique sounds such as yours have emerged. Which contemporaries of yours do you enjoy listening to?

In the local scene, we are spoilt for choices. I enjoy watching some Sidd Coutto. I love the emcees too,Enkore, Divine, Swadesi just to name a few.

Your live rap style of performance was initially perceived as a push back to the increasing popularity of EDM. How does ‘Bombay Bassment X FUNC VIP’ change that? How did the band initially perceive the changes that Randolph Correia made to your sound?

To be honest, we never felt a comparison or contrast vis-à-vis EDM. We were just doing what we loved and felt could make people move. Initially, we were taken aback by Randolf’s radical surgery of our sound and that’s why it took us two years to figure what to do with it. But we’re nevertheless happy that we took the leap of faith.

Which bands are you looking forward to experiencing during the Glastonbury festival?

There are many...DJ Premier, Protoje, Soom T, A Guy Called Gerald, Earth Wind & Fire, Coldplay, Adele…(we) might just mention the whole festival line-up!

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