Kolkata-based jazz fusion band, Kendraka has been working towards blurring the lines between jazz and Indian classical with their brand of crossover music for over two years. However, their debut album, Tathastu, which will be launched tonight, is a result of two days of non-stop jamming. “I was playing with a saxophonist from Denver called Aakash Mittal and I just knew I had to record these pieces,” says Mainak Nag Chowdhury, composer and contra-bass guitar player of the band.
Initially a part of Kolkata’s burgeoning rock scene, Chowdhury started off by playing with Bengali rock outfit Abhilasha. “Later I took to studying Carnatic music under vocalist R Visweswaran and learnt about the Carnatic taal (rhythm) system from mridangam player S Sekhar,” recalls Chowdhury. It was his upbringing in the jazz central of India that introduced him to the records of Otis Redding, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane early on in life and later made him form this jazz experiment outfit: “I was inspired by the similarities of improvisation and song-writing between Indian classical music and jazz. So was born Kendraka.”
The instrumental album is a collection of jazz, Indian classical and funk influences. The first track, Nuclear is a modern interpretation of the evening raga, Marwa. Then there is ‘19 wishes…’ a love ballad that Chowdhury composed for his wife, which explores Carnatic classical taal structure. “It’s a simple tune on a time cycle of nine and a half beats,” he explains.
Like many other East- West collaborations, Kendraka’s sound is no different from the fluid rhythms and cross-genre melodies of fusion bands across India, that have seen a steady rise in the last decade. “We like to call it contemporary Indian,” insists Chowdhury.
The band comprises drummer Jivraj Singh (of Pink Noise and Skinny Alley), guitarist Bodhisattwa Ghosh (ex- Insomnia, Crystal Grass) and Soumyajyoti Ghosh on the flute. Matching steps to their beats at times is Chowdhury’s wife, Arupa, a Bharatnayam dancer. “We create padams (musical counts) out of Kendraka songs sometimes,” says Chowdhury. “Indian classical music is a goldmine and we attempt to find a common ground for an acceptable crossover of western and eastern forces in music.”