KOCHI: Jayen Varma’s name is a familiar one in Kochi’s music circuit. He’s known for developing the ‘Indian Slap Bass’ and in 2008, The Registry of Official World Records USA and UK, declared him the fastest percussive bassist.
Jayen’s effort and entire focus in the last two decades has been to prove that the tabla/mridangam finger technique can be applied to great effect on bass guitar, an essentially Western instrument. When he started playing guitar in 1986, he played it like the tabla. It was most unconventional to those who heard it. “Everyone told me it was not the right style. But with the Internet coming, my music got international exposure and suddenly the reaction was, ‘This is great!’ That is when I decided to follow it up. I knew my style of playing the guitar would perfectly suit classical music.”
Moreover, Jayen has always believed that a bass guitar doesn’t just have to be a supporting music instrument. “It has always been considered that, but bass can very well be used as the main instrument. Even the violin was earlier thought to be a western instrument. But today it is an inseparable part of carnatic music. The guitar can go further and get you ‘swaras’ that the tabla and mridangam cannot," he says. All this strengthed his belief to mix his style with classical music. He got in touch with vocalist Aparna Panshikar through My Space in 2009. Both were excited about the experiment. But when Jayen met her in Pune, and they began practising, their styles didn’t exactly match and there were doubts if they could click. “We were approaching the same melody in different ways. She was sticking to Hindustani, and I was following carnatic and western notes,” smiles Jayen.
But when Aparna’s husband heard them jamming, he thought it sounded really different and beautiful. That is how the
couple decided to perform at the renowned Kala Ghoda festival in Mumbai, and the response was overwhelming. “Before us, there was this young band which had performed. Their music was new and foot-tapping. We wondered how our music would be accepted. When I went on stage I announced that we would be taking the audience 1000 years back in time, and that the crowd should bear with us. Jayen himself was dressed in a dhoti and was playing the guitar. But the response in that open-air ground was just fantastic,” recollects Aparna.
They played again at the fest in 2010, and since then have been a two-piece band, called Khayal Groove. “The ‘Khayal’ is me, and the ‘Groove’ is him,” says Aparna.
So how did the idea for an album come about, we ask, even as the two have come together for final mixing of their album at Kochi’s Sarangy Studio. “Everywhere after our performance, we would be asked if we’ve brought out a CD. Obviously private albums do not sell, and we do not expect this one to do well in a massy sort of way. But I think a lot of people after hearing our music on stage would like to buy our music too,” says Jayen.
Called ‘Reflections of a Purple Moon’, the album has nine songs, most of them classical- based. There is also one each in the Sufi, Bhajan and Kajri genre. There’s a story behind the album’s title also.
“Earlier, we thought of calling it ‘1221 kms’ - the distance between Pune and Kochi. But then we realised, the tone and
effect of our music is a bit introspective for such a name,” says Aparna. A collaboration such as this is a rare one, and both hope that music lovers will appreciate this unique venture.