The London Olympics has been creating a buzz for various reasons, and primarily among the British population considering it’s coinciding with their Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration. However, on the Indian sub-continent, things are also getting more interesting not just among sporting circles.
A 15-member band from Chennai has been invited to perform at the International Cultural fest that takes place on the sidelines of the Games.
Called Staccato, the troupe is the first Indian band ever to be invited by an Olympic Committee to perform at the event. And besides being the only Indians, they are also the only other music group from the Asian continent to be invited, including a band from China. And to think that for the longest time most of the band believed that this was a prank.
Says Aishvarrya Suresh, a vocalist with the band, “Kaashif, who plays the keys and is also the youngest member in the band found out that the committee was scouting. So he went ahead and sent two of our original compositions without informing any of us. Four months later, out of thousands of songs, ours were picked and next thing we know, we’re on our way to London.”
And on there way how. Apparently, the band was picked by none other that Danny Boyle. “We were told that it was Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire, who actually liked our music and selected us. He is currently the head of the Committee,” she informs.
So what makes the band Staccato stick out from the milieu?
Aishvarrya explains, “Staccato is a contemporary classical ensemble that keeps blending all kinds of music. We’re literally a troupe as the number suggest. With so many of us bringing so many elements, there is a lot happening. We have Vandana who sings hindustani and classical. I sing more of the Western tunes. In between this there’s the keys, the tabla, the violin, the flute, a rhythm pad, a bass guitar and percussions.”
The band’s line-up has quite a few indie musicians who’ve been doing illustriously well for themselves at the country’s capital of music and culture.
Besides Vandana, a London School of Economics alumni who’s turned to becoming a full-time singer with a few films and jingles to her name (she also hails from a family of musicians besides quite a few others in the band), Aishvarrya who sings, models and hosts a show on a local television channel, there is Kaashif Rafiq, who plays the keys and began his training under none other than the maestro himself, A R Rahman, who is also his uncle. Sruthi Sagar, the flautist, is actually a mechanical engineer who’s been giving his time to music all through college. Balasubramanian (tabla), a free lance rhythm programmer who has toured with Dr S P Balasubrahmanyam, is the band’s percussionist along with Tapas (drums) a familiar face in the rock scene of Chennai and Ajay (percussions). Karthik Iyyer, the violinist, is a face one might recognise from Coke Studio, having played with Kay Kay and was also a part of the Raghu Dixit Project. Rohit Krishnamurthy who plays the guitar, rounds off the core team members of band. Other members come and go as per convenience and requirement.
With so many names in the mix, its a natural question that comes up: don’t too many cooks spoil the broth?
Says Balasubramanian, also known as Bala, “That is true, that so many of us could actually work to our disadvantage. But most of us know each other from school and have been playing together since then. In fact, that’s where Staccato began, as a band in school. So that has turned out to be a plus instead.”
With heavy influences from Ilaiyaraaja and Rahman, the band welcomes the trip to London as chance to showcase their real diversity.
Explains Bala, “We cover a lot of songs done by these music composers and people in Chennai expect to hear the same sound, though we do end up experimenting and trying to give it out turn in the music. But for the London Olympics we’re trying a more global approach, choosing music that is Indian but with a more global sound.”
Agreeing Aishvarrya says, “The committee didn’t give us any guide lines and we’re not expected to follow any norm. We have full artistic liberty to perform which ever kind of music we want. And though we will be judged for it, that’s ok. If you look at the songs that were sent, Salsa and Sounds of Air, they were both heavy instrumental pieces with no vocals at all. So we do have different kinds of songs that we can bring to the stage.” The band is also working in a special song to perform at the Olympic Park, working on the theme of World Peace. “Its still in the works but we’re trying to incorporate all our sounds into it.” So didn’t anybody ever feel that perhaps Kaashif’s uncle being A R Rahman had something to do with Danny Boyle liking their music? “Honestly, Kaashif hadn’t informed anybody about sending the songs. He told his uncle a week after the mail came back saying we had been selected,” informs Bala.
Besides trying to figure their music out, the band is also trying to arrange for sponsorship to get to the Games in the first place. “The invitation only extends till giving us a slot. But the rest of the expenditure including travel, stay and food, is ours. So we’re trying to find sponsors who can fund our trip,” explains Aishvarrya. Staccato will be performing at the Olympic Park in London on July 30 and August 2, playing two slots of 40 minutes a day. And that’s not all. Impressed by their sound, the Olympic committee has organised for the band to play at the Aberdeen Music Festival on August 3 and 4.