Yes, I got jammed. Between, a game of the Indian Premiere League, a storytelling session for kids from the Bangalore Storytelling Society and a musical explosion! But let me first get to some piping hot news.
My writing got noticed and I was asked if I could collaborate for articles/ interviews on professionals/ artists from the #Fashion&Entertainment Industry in India and Bangalore in particular. The collaboration is with a local fortnightly that is circulated in two of the city’s uptown neighborhood and I certainly lapped up the opportunity. This way I get to meet more people, which as a photographer/filmmaker is totally up my alley, and also be able to connect for possible business opportunities as well.
And yes, these are the Wild Weedz that I’m constantly in search of! Let’s begin gathering.
#Photography opens up a lot of opportunities. you meet different people from different walks of life…and for my second issue contribution I was privileged to meet and have a quick chat with the very versatile #singer, #songwriter, #actor Ms. Vasundhara Das.
Here’s the extended version of the interview that was published on May 16th, 2015.
A little bit about the multi-talented Ms. Das.
Vasundhara Das is an Indian singer, actress, composer, entrepreneur, speaker, songwriter and environmental activist. Vasundhara has worked with composers such as A. R. Rahman, Vishal-Shekhar, Pritam and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy to name a few. Vasundhara’s current focus is on music composition at her Bangalore based studio called THE ACTIVE. She has also been involved in several independent projects such as Channel V Jammin’, BBC‘s HIV awareness anthem for India ‘Har Kadam’, Mission Ustaad, Arya, Global Rhythms, Nylon Soundz and most recently, The Shah Hussain Project, a collaborative album withSufi singer Mir Mukhtiyar Ali. Some of her films include Hey Ram (Tamil / Hindi)), Monsoon Wedding (English), Citizen (Tamil/Telugu), Ravana Prabhu (Malayalam), Lankesh Patrike (Kannada) among several others.
(source courtsey: Wikipedia)
When did you start out? What got you into this field?
Straight out of my bachelor’s degree is when i decided to spend a little time to figure whether music was going to be a possibility for me or not. So that’s what i think is when i really started out in the real world and started with auditions. These led me to pretty consequential occurrences in my professional graph. Within 3 months of completing my final year exams, I was auditioning for record labels, music composers. I had my first record deal, my first movie and my first playback opportunity pretty much in the same space on a trip to Chennai (Tamil Nadu, India) and what was overwhelming for me was that I was gunning for one career and suddenly there were three (laughs out loud).
What are your roots, where are you from?
My roots are very much in Malleshwaram. I’m a Bangalore girl through and through. Grew up and went to school in Malleshwaram. Went to college at Mount Carmel, so all in all a proper Bangalorean. But for some reason, our upbringing has been very different. I feel like parents of our kind, who came from this kind of neighborhood, were pretty grounded in how they brought us up, so family and upbringing are your best friends throughout the whole process of becoming a celebrity. The thing about show business is that it can get your head a lot quicker so in that sense upbringing plays a very important and big role in keeping you grounded and keeping you real. If you lose that sense of reality then you don’t know who you are anymore.
Do you follow someone’s work specifically to hone your own talent?
Not really. From an early age there’s been music in the family. My paternal grandmother was into Hindustani classical music and my maternal grandmother was into Carnatic music. Every occasion, be it a birth, a death, or any event is celebrated or marked with music. I grew up listening to music from an early age within the household itself. Either my grandmother will be practicing or my Aunts will be in a Bhajane and since we all stay quite close by, there would be these congregations quite regularly. My Dad was the only non-singer in the family but he played the harmonica really well. Among my generation of cousins, I somehow took to singing more professionally even though a few of the others sing. Somehow, there is an artistic streak in most of us, in some way or the other. I believe it has everything to do with how our parents conditions us while we are growing up. The neighborhood also played a big part of who I’ve become.
When did you start writing songs?
Song writing began even before any of the singing and acting did. I was writing songs when in college and that’s what I liked about Mount Carmel, that it gives a girl the freedom to be herself and although I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics it gave me the time to explore my musical capabilities. It also helped that my parents had a broad view on my considering such avenues. This further led me to be exposed to different kinds of music, different kinds of musicians in the city and outside, which eventually shaped the kind of musician I am today. This then played a crucial part in figuring out what I wanted to do as a career. My primary aim was to be a singer/ songwriter and as a result of interacting with many people, I started getting offers to act in films and to do playback singing. I went with the flow for awhile but when you are from the creative perspective, there comes a time when you want your own voice heard at some point. You want to come back to the roots to be who you truly are, search for your inner child. Songwriting is that for me.
My new project is a collaboration with a good friend and talented artist Mir Mukhtiyar Ali and it incorporates everything that is important to me as a musician as opposed to a celebrity musician. The production is a punjabi – sufi album, known as The Shah Hussain Project.
(RV: it’s a must listen.I particularly loved the opening track : Hun Nai Hatda)
How has it been working for different industries for various productions/ projects?
The sensibilities of places and people vary from each industry. The assumption that an industry process has to be standard across the board, especially in a country like India, is a gross unfair judgment that people have of that particular industry for the simple reason that we are different people. Each one has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. For example, I knew that the industry in Chennai is known to optimize it’s time professionally, but when I worked with a production unit from the Malayalam movie industry, their level of optimization of time was altogether at a different level! Sometimes movies will be shot from start to finish in about 25 days which is unheard of even for the Tamilian folks.
When it comes to content, there can be absolutely no comparison, since content as it is, is very subjective. Having said that, there has been a bit of lean towards better roles offered to women in the Malayalam movie industry even when I was there.
The audience will keep changing and what it expects also will change constantly and therefore each industry will cater to what is more marketable to get back their investments.
So tell us more about Roberto and DRUMJAM
Roberto and I have been friends for many years and we eventually got married. He is an iconic drummer from Bangalore. He is one of founding members of India’s first heavy metal bands, Millennium, that was writing original music back in the 80’s – 90’s. He is a renowned and celebrated musician himself and along with him, we started DRUMJAM about 8 years back.
We are the pioneers of the drum circle movement in India. We are trained facilitators. We have colleagues all over the world who conduct the drum circle. Both of us were lucky to have access to resources and music and musicians who empowered us and with whose support we are what we are. Not many have that accessibility. So, DRUMJAM is basically a movement of empowering people with music by giving access to facilitators and percussion instruments and letting people come together and create music using rhythm and drumming as a medium. It’s an infectious energy when a particular group of people get together and have a real experience. They might be complete strangers, but when they play and look into each other’s eyes, the interaction is something that cannot be explained in words. Especially at a time, when we are getting more and more isolated because of technology. Although, technology has helped to connect us, in a real perspective, it has actually isolated us to a far greater extent. Hence, DRUMJAM is a primal, powerful tool to bring people together. It could be people from different kind of communities. Our corporate DRUMJAMS run about 80-100 events in a year.
However, since Bangalore has been an indelible imprint on both of us and who we are, we feel we need to give back to the community of Bangalore. So one Sunday every month we have a Community DRUMJAM at the Metro on MG Road and on an average we get about 300-500 people taking part. Bangalore now has a drumming community of at least 75 people who come back regularly every single time. It’s also been featured on the TEN COOL THINGS TO DO while in Bangalore so in that sense, it has been for both of us a sense of accomplishment, especially when people who attend the DRUMJAM for the first time and they walk up to us and talk about their experience and how involved they get.
We have even started a Djembe workshop, an hour, prior to the main event. These are done by volunteers who come and invest their time and help us in reaching out to more people and get them more involved in the experience.
And what an experience it was. I hopped along on May 17th to attend the DRUMJAM and after 30 minutes into the event, I found myself, drumming a Djembe myself.
The sound, the energy of it all just takes you into a level which is completely different from when you are just a spectator. People, from all walks of life, people of nationalities passing through, stopped in awe, participated and left with such a rush that no amount of a Sunday rest could bring. They came alone, they came with families and were mesmerized. Some, even looked to be in a state of peaceful trance. The vibrations were felt far and wide. Traffic stopped. People were stumped!
In about 2 hours, I had my fingers go blue and numb but I wanted to continue. Nothing could stop me from e being engrossed in the rhythm of it all. We brought down the showers, we played on! And I’m certainly going back!!
So for those eager – beavers, who need to do it, to believe it, save the date for June 21st! A special community DRUMJAM has been organized to mark World Music Day. Don’t you miss it!
My ramblings are about life, the roads less traveled, the hurdles crossed. Let’s discover our journeys together. Let’s spread some wild weeds.