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Influence from the outside: a mixture of indie and India with Jaipur Junction.
Some bands breathe the atmosphere of a specific landscape or city where the songs have been created. How does this inspiration from the outside find its way into the music.
In these series we study the influence of a specific location on the creative process of artists. For today: Jaipur Junction.
Text: Lisanne Lentink
Photo’s: Lisanne Lentink (NL) & Vishal Nair (IND)
Indie and India, it’s not a very common combination. But Jaipur Junction is doing it. Avoiding the common rules. No boundaries. Interesting, or perhaps this cultural crossover might scare some people off. Sometimes the band is being labeled as “world music”, although the band doesn’t like to carry this label. With their new ideas they’re currently growing more towards indie music.
Their first album was released in October and at the moment they’re working on a second album, although the members live thousands of kilometers apart of each other.
Singer Sarita Rav and drummer Otto de Jong met in the summer of 2018 in Sarita’s hometown Jaipur, capital city of the Indian state of Rajasthan. Sarita teaches music at a cultural centre to locals and tourists, Otto was doing some small jobs at this centre and took a few classes from Sarita. It didn’t take long before the two decided to start making music together. Jaipur Junction was born.
Different business as usual
We meet Otto in his studio, just outside of Utrecht, the dim light of winter is coming thru the windows. A part of the interview is being done by a video call with Sarita in India. In Sarita’s room on the other side of the telephone we see an old, small harmonium and a tanpura. An instrument that looks like a mixture of a sitar and a lute. Sarita plays a little for us. The extended sounds of the tanpura make their way to The Netherlands. She apologizes for the instruments being slightly out of tune, the sound of the telephone doesn’t make it any better either, but her catchy laugh makes up for everything. It feels quiet special that at this moment somebody in a village in Northern India is playing these instruments for us. “I don’t use the harmonium for concerts, only for writing music and to come up with new melodies. The tanpura is originally for (Indian) classical music, but I like to use it for songs too. I can’t do it without, luckily there’s also a tanpura app for smartphone, that’s more practical for concerts.” Sarita conforms her voice to the pitch of the tanpura.
Indie and India
Otto has been active in the indie-scene for about 15 years, playing with Litzberg, Ode to the Quiet, Lorrainville, Knalland and Amber Arcades. And suddenly you work together with a musician who never heard of Lady Gaga or the Foo Fighters, let alone the lesser known artists I listen to myself. “Sarita more or less had never listened to Western music, maybe only Michael Jackson. She didn’t know The Beatles. It’s the arrogance of people in the West to think that the whole world is listening to music from the West. On the other side, if you ask any Western person if they ever heard of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, it’s pretty likely that he or she wouldn’t know him, while he’s a very famous Sufi singer who’s being celebrated by millions of people, from Morocco to East-Asia. He also worked together Peter Gabriel for example.
Both of them are interested in connecting and embracing the cultural differences. For Sarita the language of music helps to connect with other people, especially in Europe: “When I was in The Netherlands for the first time, we had a concert on the second day.
We rehearsed on the first day and that was pretty disappointing and we thought: how are we going to do this tomorrow? The day after we got up early to rehearse some more and to learn to understand each other better. It’s so important for artists to understand each other. Music doesn’t need a language. You need two souls and the power of your voice.”
The transition from traditionals to originals.
Their debut album Kyon Nahin, which was released in October, consists of traditional folk songs and mantra’s that are being played and sung all over Northern India. “I arranged them the way I wanted,” Otto explains. “I translated the basic rhythms to drumset. It’s not my goal to fully copy tabla rhythms to my drumset, you’d better just play tabla.” He’s taking classes for this Hindustani percussion instrument now for a few years.
In 2019 Jaipur Junction toured in The Netherlands and France with only drums and vocals. “Those traditional folk songs were a great start. We added some subtle sound effects to the background, a little extra percussion, a few extra vocal melodies by Sarita, there’s not much production going on. It’s something you can do just once, tracking a second record the same way again isn’t very appealing to us. We’d like to have a bit more arrangement, that’s what we’re working on at the moment. That’s pretty new for Sarita.” She studied classical music, but she never wrote her own music. We’re transforming Sarita’s own poems in Hindi to songs for the new record.
Otto plays some of the new music. He was recently practicing a folk rhythm on tabla and made a loop out of it: “Yes, I’ll play it for five minutes and it’s never really that tight. It’s so difficult!” Next he adds an electronic beat to it with a drumcomputer. “After that, I’ll add a bass line, a deep synth bass with a dubby sound, it’s a nice distance to her voice, because she has a different intonation. Sarita takes a lot of freedom in intonation between two notes. You can hear it when she travels towards a note, she moves around it before she hits the note. Her voice moves in a kind of curly shaped figures. For us that can be pretty confronting, we have to get used to it. Dutch music is pretty blunt.” He plays the loop again. “There are not many chords. The more chords I use, the less freedom she has to use her natural intonation. The distance to her voice is big. It creates a kind of triphop vibe and I added a subtle guitar to it, not Indian at all.”
What music are the band members influenced by? Both of them choose a song and we take pictures while listening to the music together.
Sarita Rav listens to Raag Bhupali by Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia
“Hariprasad Chaurasia creates a very deep tone with his flute. He’s a real maestro.” Sarita often plays and sings along while listening to his music. Last year Otto and Sarita went to see him perform in New Delhi, after they played there on the same day.
Otto de Jong listens to the album The Noise You Make Is Silent by Klangstof.
“I was writing a review on this album for Musicmaker when I was in India last year. I was staying in an apartment on a nameless dirt road. In the morning I’d drink a cup of coffee on the roof of the apartment and often I would listen to this album.” He’s playing a couple of parts from different songs while air drumming along with them. In this context it’s not too hard to mix Indian melodies and instruments with Klangstof. “These vocals are much more introvert. That’s rare in Indian music, the music is more expressive, when the music is sad it gets way more dramatic, not modest at all.”
Everything fell into place when Otto was listening to Klangstof on that roof in the morning and the rest of the day he was surrounded by Indian musicians and gypsies in a cultural centre. “I knew: for the new record we should add more of this into the music, a bit more of me. Easier said than done. Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood did something similar with the Junun record”, actually in the same region as where Sarita lives. “I recently send her a couple of videos of Luwten, she thought it was pretty cool too.” An interesting journey for Jaipur Junction, which is far from over, but this interview is. Sarita is ending the video call by placing her hands together: “Namaste and doei-doei!”