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America grooves to NRI band

Goldspot frontman Siddhartha Khosla's dream is to return to India and become a playback singer, reports Riddhi Shah.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2007 03:05 IST
Riddhi Shah

They’ve finally got the zing thing. It’s taken eight years coming, but the journey from ‘terrible fusion’ to ‘the best band to come out of America in years’ is now complete. And oh, how well the name fits. Their music is sweet, fizzy, light and suddenly, incredibly popular, just like Goldspot, the drink they borrow their name from.

Front man, and the band’s founder, Siddhartha Khosla says that he “still doesn’t understand just how big they’ve gotten”, but if reviews from their recent UK debut are to be believed, they might just be India’s first major musical export to the west — not counting Freddie Mercury, but he denied his Indian roots anyway.

Khosla, on the other hand, has wholeheartedly embraced them — his New Jersey childhood was typical of the Indian-American experience: little access to television, lots of Bollywood oldies on the record player and learning bhajans on the harmonium. Today, those influences have silently seeped into his music: it’s mostly indie pop/rock but ever so slightly, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Mohammed Rafi. “That was the finest music ever created,” says the 30-year-old Khosla of the music of his youth.

Goldspot’s latest album, Tally of the Yes Men, even has a few songs in which the string arrangements were composed by the AR Rahman’s Bollywood orchestra, including the hit singles Rewind and Friday. Khosla, a one-time Ivy Leaguer and wannabe-lawyer says that he wants the Indian influence to be “present without being overbearing”.

The formula certainly seems to have worked: Friday debuted at No. 22 on the UK airplay charts, the Hindi version reached No. 4 on the BBC Asian Network charts and BBC’s Radio 2 named it its record of the week. Goldspot even fronted Bon Jovi in London’s O2 arena in June this year. Back home in the US they’re being heavily promoted by influential DJ Nic Harcourt.

While Khosla’s experimentation with singing started way back when he was a little boy performing at his parents’ friends’ homes, reaching thus far hasn’t been easy. There was the inevitable high school band — The Hip-Hop Hindus and the Jumping Jews (“I don’t know why we called ourselves that, we did one hip-hop song”); there was Penn Masala, the world’s first Hindi a cappella group, born at the University of Pennsylvania, that Khosla was the musical director of. But making it happen in real life was hardly that simple.

“I’ve been thrown out of a producer’s office because he thought that music was that bad. A record label told me that they thought the band was great but couldn’t market someone with my ethnicity,” says Khosla, who is currently back in Los Angeles, recuperating from the heavy touring.

All the while, his doctor and professor parents couldn’t quite understand why he was doing something that didn’t guarantee him any stability. “But now they’re beginning to see that we’re successful. After the Sunday Times featured me, relatives called up yelling down the phone. We thought someone had died, but it turns out that they’d read the article and couldn’t believe it was me,” he says with a laugh.

Surprisingly, Goldspot’s primary following isn’t desi (as Indian-Americans are wont to be known); it’s mostly mainstream American or English. But that isn’t stopping him from wanting to make an Indian debut in the near future.

“We’re just waiting for the right opportunity,” he says. In any case, his one big dream is to return to India and become a playback singer. But what of the fact that he thinks that the current crop of Bollywood films have pretty awful soundtracks? “I’ll just make them love my kind of music,” he shoots back. Thumbs up, we say.