Enthusiasts who closely followed the Mumbai rock scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s would remember guitarist Ravi Iyer from his metal band Witchhammer. As part of the outfit, the bandana-sporting, leather-jacket-wearing 20-something played at major festivals, living it up in the city that was home to some of the earliest metal acts in the country. With his newest project, VRavi Guitar Fusion, the musician has come full circle. In fact, fans who know him for his rock music might even be surprised to see him in a new avatar now.
Raga to rock and back
“Although I was formally trained in the tabla as a kid, I lost interest in it while growing up. Back then, playing Indian instruments wasn’t considered hep. I was heavily influenced by the disco era and was inspired by (guitarist) Ritchie Blackmore,” says Iyer, who gave up performing with his band in 1993 to pursue a corporate career. “For five years, I worked at an ad agency. I don’t know why!” says Iyer. It was in 1997 when he went for the I-Rock concert at the city’s erstwhile music mecca, Rang Bhawan, that Iyer realised music was his calling. Soon, he got back on the stage with his newly formed band, Vayu. A few years down the line, he founded another outfit, Para Vayu, that broadened the sound of the former act. And now, with VRavi Fusion, the artiste is going back to his roots.
“Our compositions are based on Indian ragas and we like to keep the sound earthy. We are essentially a trio and the core line-up comprises guitar, tabla and bass. That gives us enough room to add another melody instrument or percussions whenever we want to,” says Iyer, who has teamed up with bassist Crosby Fernandes and tabla player Rupak Dhamankar for the same.
Wanting to experiment with ragas and his western arrangements, Iyer shares his early challenge. “When I play the ragas on guitar, the instrument is tuned according to the Indian classical system. Many times I’ve wanted to play western chords but have been unable to do it. So I wanted an instrument on which I could play both,” he says. Since no such instrument existed, Iyer decided to get one specially made. His unique double-necked guitar — that consolidates both Indian classical and western sonics — is a handcrafted and customised piece, created by city-based guitar luthier Sunil Shinde. Needless to say, the instrument and its distinctive tone has given the band its USP. “I wanted to play the guitar but not sound like it,” explains Iyer.
V Ravi Guitar Fusion Project recently released their debut album, titled Bends. The name, in a way, identifies where the band stands - in the intriguing, democratic and vast sonic scape that lies between Indian classical and western music. An experimental offering featuring nine tracks, the album was recorded live during the band’s concerts at Blue Frog in 2011 and 2012. Besides the trio, it features Clio Karabelias from Greece (harp), Jake Bloch from the US (drums), Sridar Parthasarathy (mridangam), Rahul Phophali (tabla), Pelle Kruse (blues harp) and Sonu Sangameswaran (bass).