Tag Archives: kolkata

Songs about Lovers: A Chat with Suyasha Sengupta

16 Feb

If you’ve been paying attention to the music coming out of Kolkata for the past few years, you’d have heard of Suyasha Sengupta. She was the lead singer for the Ganesh Talkies – a rare frontwoman / guitarist – and went on to form her own electronic solo act called Plastic Parvati.

Last month, the reputed Toto Awards chose Plastic Parvati as the winner of their Music award for 2019, from among a formidable list of upcoming musicians. Recently, we caught up with Suyasha for a long-ranging interview covering the prestigious award, new music, artistic influences, and so much more. Read on below:

Top Five Records: Hi Suyasha!

Suyasha Sengupta: Hey!

TFR: Thank you so much for doing this! Just to give you a little bit of an introduction – we are Top Five Records, an independent review website that’s been online for about six years now. You may not remember, but we actually featured one of your songs a long time ago.

SS: Oh, yeah, was it before the album or something?

TFR: Yeah, it was literally like in 2013.

SS: Oh yeah, had to be one of the first ones.

TFR: Yeah, we’re really big fans of you and Ganesh Talkies, so we’re really glad that we could take the time to speak. So let’s get started, from the beginning. When did you start to get interested in music?

SS: Well, I come from a very Bengali household, so there was always some kind of music on when I was growing up. The stereotype is, you know, that Bengalis always have Rabindra sangeet on somewhere in the background, and that was quite true. There was a lot of folk music, traditional Bengali music, and there was also a lot of Elvis, the Beatles, Nat King Cole and all of that. Even before I started playing music, I would say that since I grew up with music, it helped the process.

I think I was about 10 or 12 years old when I realized I wanted to start singing and writing music. I started taking guitar lessons when I was about 14. And then of course, I discovered Nirvana and Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots – the whole grunge scene. I think I always knew that I would pursue something in the arts, but music was always my release, my go-to. It was a very natural process.

TFR: Right. And so, do your parents like the fact that you’re a musician?

SS: (Laughs) Well, I’ve been doing this for a while, so they’ve kind of abandoned the hope of me pursuing something else. It wasn’t very smooth in the beginning, but since I’m an only child, I played that to my advantage. For Indian parents, to let their children go into a creative field, it’s a little bit scary, because the future is always uncertain, and it’s an unstable profession. It doesn’t have the comfort of a steady 9-to-5. My parents were obviously apprehensive.

I started singing professionally at 18; this was when I was still in school, playing a gig on the weekends, going back to school the next day – for pocket money. They figured out that I would pursue something in the arts, but they encouraged me to at least get a bachelor’s degree. After graduation, they were like, “If you can manage both, then go ahead”. I actually ended up quitting my Master’s program after a semester and moving back to Kolkata, and that’s when I had a more serious conversation with them. Initially, they weren’t happy but I think they’ve gotten around to it.

TFR: Yeah, especially if you’ve always had music in your home, they would be semi-okay with the idea anyway.

SS: Yeah, and they were happy that I was doing my own thing and taking care of myself. And unlike the sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll stereotype, she hasn’t turned up in a ditch somewhere yet (laughs).

TFR: Haha, right. So at what point did the whole Ganesh Talkies thing start, and when did you decide that you wanted to start the Plastic Parvati project on your own?

SS: Going back to the band when I was 18, we were primarily a covers band, and we used to play at this place in Kolkata called Someplace Else. The bass player, Roheet, and I eventually wanted to play our own music, from our own set of influences. One of the things we bonded over was ‘90s Bollywood. Not the music necessarily, but like a certain Govinda movie or some dance step. That’s how Ganesh Talkies started, and then the guitarist and drummer joined in. We came from different sets of influences, but the common love for – I wouldn’t say trashy – but the over-the-top Bollywood helped us.

TFR: Yeah, that ostentatious element.

SS: Exactly. Unreal, gaudy. So that’s how we started Ganesh Talkies. We focused on making our own music rather than covers. When I was in the band, I started experimented with production. I was the primary songwriter for the band, and sometimes I’d have a keyboard or drum idea in my head, but I couldn’t always explain it to them. So I was like, okay, if I could map it out on a software, then maybe they can understand.

At the same time, I also realized that some of the stuff that I was writing was a little bit too intimate for the band. It was just my stuff and my moods. So Plastic Parvati started off as a passion project – and a learning project. I would use it to learn how to produce and how to write music personally.

TFR: For sure. Earlier on, you were mentioning that Nirvana and grunge is a very big influence for you. Does that carry on to Plastic Parvati?

SS: Nirvana for sure, that’s going to have an influence on everything I do. I think grunge in general has had a huge impact too. Apart from Nirvana, I was discovering a lot of female artists – musicians, directors, poets. I stumbled upon Hole, Garbage and Bikini Kill. These women have left a deep influence on me – because of their music, I don’t feel inhibited to say how I feel with Plastic Parvati. I’ve always been attracted to the fringes, the left-of-center artists.

TFR: That actually reminds me of this VH1 show called Left-of-Center.

SS: Exactly! I remember watching Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson videos, and I thought it was so cool. I’m a sucker for commercial pop too, but I really related to that. And that was the only good thing on TV around that time, and I feel privileged because they actually used to play music on TV back then. Now it’s just reality shows.

TFR: Yeah, now it’s just trash.

SS: Yeah. I don’t even own a TV anymore.

TFR: Same here. Going back to your album [Songs About Lovers, 2017], what was going on through your mind when you were putting that together?

SS: So with the album, we – by we, I mean me and my mentor Miti Adhikari [noted Kolkata-based producer] – we were putting together these snippets when the Ganesh Talkies was having an off-season period. I played him a bunch of unfinished scratches, about 20 of them, because I had all of these clips but I didn’t know what to do with it. There were some that we rejected outright and some that we picked out to work on more. That’s when the idea for the album came about. Miti is someone that I feel extremely comfortable with, so it was a very collaborative process. While I was songwriting, he gave me all of these ideas in terms of instrumentation or production. We’d worked together on Ganesh Talkies but that was as a producer; this was a more intimate process. I’d share the ideas and record the vocals at his place.

I didn’t initially plan on releasing it – it was originally for my mental health, that I could finish the project, because I was trying to tell these stories through my songs. The theme in my head was essentially a chronicle of my experiences as a woman in India, and an exploration of my sexuality.

TFR: Right. We’ve heard great things about Miti from Nischay Parekh as well, about how he was instrumental in developing his sound, too.

SS: Yeah, he’s really one of the key figures in the music that comes out of Kolkata. It’s a small city, and we’re all friends with each other.

TFR: Yeah. So I wanted to ask you about your experiences as a female Indian musician. What kind of changes would you like to see as a performer, for indie musicians to really get the recognition they deserve?

SS: It’s still a tiny bubble. For Indian musicians to get the recognition they deserve, we have to break out of the bubble. We all play gigs in the major metros or the tier-2 cities, but it’s not enough. How many people actually hear anything indie? Firstly, we need a scene which is not just, like, 10 people from Bombay; more inclusive of other people, other voices. And we need more female, trans, LGBTQ voices – moving away from the straight, upper-caste Hindu, male thing. We just need more involvement.

In fact, I was recently looking at some of the American festivals – there’s always one or two women headliners, but we don’t have that here. Like, last year, there was this festival on Women’s Day, that had an all-women lineup, but it was organized by men! The point is not to have an all-women line-up. The point is to normalize the role of women or other communities amongst what exists now.

TFR: Exactly. They essentially didn’t do much except filter by gender.

SS: Yeah, like there’s a “genre” called “girl-band”. For other bands, there’s genres like rock, hip-hop, whatever, but for these girls, there’s a genre called “girl-band”. That doesn’t make sense! The conditioning needs to change, basically.

And another aspect is that I’m basically in the black-hole of the country [musically]; we in Kolkata don’t always get the push we deserve. But I love Kolkata, it’s very comfortable.

TFR: Yeah, this is what we hear from the Chennai bands, too: “No one really cares what we do in Chennai, so we just have a lot of fun by ourselves”.

SS: Exactly. If you look at the music that’s coming out of these two cities, it’s extremely different and diverse. We have to work harder, and we don’t get the kind of recognition in other cities, so we have to focus on our craft more. We have no infrastructure, just us musicians. We have to travel to Bombay or Bangalore just to play a gig.

TFR: Speaking of gigs – what’s on the radar for Plastic Parvati?

SS: The next gig I’m playing is Control Alt Delete. It’s actually my first as Plastic Parvati in Bombay. I’ve consciously stayed away from club gigs because I’ve done that extensively with Ganesh Talkies. I also want to put out some music by the end of the year, because there’s been a change in my musicality. I want to see how that works, in the context of an EP.

TFR: Nice! So do you have anything down already?

SS: I’m still writing, so it’ll take some time. I don’t like giving myself a deadline, because I feel pressured, but I have some scratches down.

TFR: Cool! So the last thing we wanted to ask you is about the Toto Award, which you won recently for Music. That’s a great achievement, congratulations! What does the award mean to you?

SS: Honestly I didn’t expect it at all! Although I’ve been playing music for a while, Plastic Parvati has just been a year of me seriously trying to do something. In terms of independent arts in India, this has been one of the groups that has been supporting artists for a long time. And the previous winners are all artists I deeply admire – it’s great to be one of them now! Toto has always been great at selecting the non-mainstream, slightly underdog artists – there’s some pressure on me now to live up to their support. It’s also encouraging to know that there’s an organization like that that appreciates artists like me. I’m hoping that it’s a message to younger girls, too: there’s people out there who do support you.

TFR: Well, that’s all the longer questions we had. We just want to do a quickfire round now, cool?

SS: Sure, yeah!

TFR: Who would be your favorite Indian artist, apart from yourself and Ganesh Talkies?

SS: Fuck. This is hard. I can’t pick one! I’ll go with Parekh & Singh, and Peter Cat (and LIFAFA and Begum).

TFR: Awesome! I guess our tastes match exactly, because the last two interviews we had were with Parekh & Singh and LIFAFA.

SS: Nice! Yeah, I feel like they’re very representative of Indian indie. They’re not trying to do like weird raga type things with Western instruments, but they are writing their amazing songs, and their sound is incredible.

TFR: It’s very desi.

SS: Desi, but perfectly balanced. Oh, I actually really like Disco Puppet as well. But that’s a personal bias! And… can I name one more? I’ll say Pulpy Shilpy [Gowri Jayakumar’s solo project]. Spoken-word, hip-hop, R&B. And she’s doing everything by herself, so I’m a deep admirer of that aspect.

TFR: Right, ties in with who you are as well. So moving on, which musician, dead or alive, would you most love to work with?

SS: Definitely Sandunes. I love everything that she does, her music, who she is as a person. Her music is very calm, thoughtful. I’m the opposite, like a hurricane – would be very interesting to see what a collaboration would be like.

TFR: Third question. What’s your drink of choice?

SS: Royal Stag, with water.

TFR: Nice. Classic. What’s one track or album on constant rotation lately?

SS: An LP that I found recently – Yellow Magic Orchestra. It’s these three Japanese dudes who made weird stuff in the ‘70s. All analog stuff.

TFR: Very left-of-center, as we were talking about. Final question – what’s been your favorite gig so far as Plastic Parvati?

SS: This is also a little difficult, all gigs are so different. I did this one REProduce session in Varanasi. We were on the roof of a hostel overlooking the Ganges, full-moon night. The crowd was an interesting mix of foreigner tourists and some locals, who were listening to non-Bollywood Indian music for probably the first time in their lives. It was super interesting, and the lineup was great, too. Fun gig.

TFR: Absolutely. So, that’s all from our side. Thank you so much for speaking with us! We’ll keep an eye out for the new EP, and it was a blast speaking with you!

SS: You, too. This was so fun.

You can listen to Plastic Parvati on SoundCloud, Spotify, and iTunes. And keep an eye out for her new music!

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Dreams of the Cosmos: A Chat with Parekh & Singh

6 Feb
Image credits: Parizad D

Sound the alarms: everyone’s favorite dream pop duo is back!

Parekh & Singh, comprising of Nischay Parekh and Jivraj Singh, is a Kolkata-based indie / dream-pop duo. In 2016, they released a well-received debut album, Ocean, followed by a couple of wildly-popular, high-aesthetic music videos. Recently, the band has released two songs ahead of their second album Science City.

As eagle-eyed readers no doubt know, we spoke with Nischay Parekh back in 2013 when his solo career was just getting started. Even all those years ago, Nischay blew us away with his beautiful melodies and intricate pop sensibilities (see: “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll”). Since that time, he has teamed up with Kolkata-based drummer Jivraj Singh to form Parekh & Singh, an indie pop mainstay in Kolkata and beyond.

The first two singles from Science City are a wonderful sign of the music yet to come. “Summer Skin” is a stripped-back mix of delicate chords, Singh’s understated percussion, and Parekh’s classic vocals. “Hello”, crisp as a spring morning, is a take on a meet-cute-gone-wrong, where two would-be lovers never quite strike up the courage to say, well, hello.

Top Five Records recently caught up with the duo for a short interview. Read on below:

Top Five Records: How did the two of you meet? When did you start working together?

Parekh & Singh: We bumped into each other at a birthday party, and started working together in earnest in 2012.

TFR: Tell us a little bit about your musical process. How do you lay down the foundation of a track? At what point do you start penciling in the lyrics?

P&S: Most songs begin with the lyrics, and a foundation of melody & harmony. Rhythmic content in the form of percussion and electronics is usually added next, and then a back-and-forth process of exploration and editing begins until the arrangement and instrumentation are locked and the song feels finished.

TFR: Last time we spoke to you, Nischay, you mentioned that your musical influences range from Rod Stewart to Nat King Cole. We’re curious to know more about Jivraj’s influences. When did you first get into music? What did you grow up listening to?

P&S: (Jivraj) My primary influences are my parents (who were both musicians) and the music they were listening to – pop music in all its forms along with jazz and fusion from the 1940s to the 70s. I’ve been into music from the time I was a toddler, but I began the pursuit of music-making at the age of 18.

Image credits: Parizad D

TFR: You describe your new album, Science City, as a shift to the cosmos; we read it as a dream pop band’s take on science fiction, almost. What’s the inspiration – musical and otherwise – behind this rather specific theme?

P&S: We are avid fans of science: fiction and fact! The cosmos inspires us to study it with the scientific approach, while simultaneously inspiring us to react to it with our emotions and study ourselves. To us, music seems to function in a very similar way: an outward story-telling symbiotically coexisting with an inward story-search.

TFR: Your music videos are usually packed with specific details and distinctive imagery, whether it’s the rural greenery on “Ghost” and “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll”, or the precise primary-color palette on “Summer Skin”. Tell us more about your creative process behind the music videos?

P&S: A lot of visualization and discussion goes into building a context for each album. We have a comprehensive and detailed set of guiding documents in place long before we even begin to think of a music video. Once there is a rigorous foundation in place we can have a bit of fun without getting too lost!

TFR: In our opinion, your videos and fashion sense have an unmistakable Wes Anderson vibe to them. What are your non-musical influences in shaping the band’s image?

P&S: We enjoy the feeling of “balance”. This concept and sensation is important in countless realms – health, art, relationships, science. The organization of colour, material and form – which results in the band’s image – is closely linked to our deeper desire to create and maintain balance in our lives.

TFR: Your new album releases on April 26th. What’s on the radar in terms of an album tour or other appearances?

P&S: We’re keen to play live, on TV and on the radio in as many countries as possible in support of the new album. It’s all work in progress at this stage but we will share information about our plans as soon as possible.

TFR: What’s on constant repetition at Parekh & Singh nowadays? (Aside from your own tracks, of course!)

P&S: 21 Savage, Angelo De Augustine, Ariana Grande, Chance the Rapper, Kacey Musgraves and Miles Davis.

TFR: And lastly, the most important question: where do you get your amazing suits from?

P&S: Barkat Ali & Brothers, Chowringhee Place, Kolkata.

You can listen to Parekh & Singh on most streaming services. Science City is out on April 26th, 2019. Keep an eye out!

Raindrops and Lullabies: A Chat with Tajdar Junaid

28 Apr

Continuing with our love affair with the Kolkata music scene, one of our favorite musicians right now is the very talented Tajdar Junaid. Taj has been around for quite a while; he’s toured with Blackstratblues, provided music for Bengali art films, and was a member of the now-defunct Cal alt rock band Cognac. He’s just finished recording his outstanding debut album What Color is Your Raindrop, and plans to release it very soon. Tajdar’s songs have a certain wide-eyed beauty that reminds us of the smell of rain on grassy grounds, and we promise you’re going to like his music, too. Read on for a short interview with this gifted singer-songwriter.

Tajdar Junaid

Top Five Records: Tell us a little bit about the musical journey that paved the path for your debut album, What Colour is Your Raindrop. When did you know that you wanted to be a musician? 

Tajdar Junaid: It’s all got to do with the Led Zep cassette that my cousin played when I was 13. I distinctly remember the song was “No Quarter” and then followed “Whole Lotta Love”. By then, I was sucked and swirling inside the speakers of my tape recorder. For two years, I kept persisting to get myself a drumkit but unfortunately we didn’t have enough space to accommodate one in the house. Those two years, I played drums on the school table and irritated my classmates by playing with pens on their back. My elder brother used to play guitars and there was a chord book around. When I turned 15, it dawned on me that my dreams of becoming John Bonham will never see the day, so I might as well learn the guitar to express myself. I started off with the chord book and the first song that I learnt was the riff to Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World”. I used to save up my “lunch money” and go and buy cassettes. Of course I’d be hungry at school but man, when you hold that Led Zep or Metallica black album in your hands, you are so satisfied!

While in high school, I started looking around for a good guitar teacher and I was glad to meet Amyt Datta. He totally opened up avenues in my head I didn’t know existed. I started practicing more and more, and music slowly became a love affair. So the decision to become a musician was not a conscious one. It has been more about sticking to and holding onto what you love because it’s a peaceful feeling.

TFR: Your album has a rather peculiar and intriguing name.  What’s the story behind it?

TJ: It’s named after a song which was written on a rainy day. It’s me asking you…”so what’s your story?”

Guess who the cute kid is?

Guess who the cute kid is?

TFR: We understand that there are eighteen different collaborators on your album – from all over the world and of all genres. How did that happen?

TJ: I feel very fortunate to have some very talented musician friends from all across the globe. Thanks to the internet, these songs travelled all across to be recorded. I heard Greg Johnson, who is a fantastic singer songwriter from NZ on a CD when I was in high school and had barely begun to play the guitar then. I wrote an email to him appreciating his music and he wrote back surprised to know he had listeners in India. We lost touch until about two years ago, when we exchanged some music again. He liked what he heard and he asked me to play guitars on one of his song. And when I started recording my album, I knew a song of mine “Mockingbird” suited his voice perfectly. I met Fred White (from the thrice Grammy Nominated UK band Acoustic Alchemy) over Soundcloud.com. We heard each other’s music and got excited about the idea of collaborating and mixing my album. Vishal Nayak , who is an old friend from Calcutta, went to study music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He played drums on a song of mine from his home studio in New York. Anusheh Anadil who is a fabulous singer from Bangladesh sang on a song too. Vache, who is from Armenia, played the traditional Armenian flute Duduk. Nitzan Sagie is a brilliant composer from Israel and I met him over Soundcloud.com. He contributed on a song of mine called “The First Year”. It’s a beautiful surprise when the universe opens up its avenues to you and you end up collaborating and making music with people who you have never met in your entire life.

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TFR: You went from guitarist of an alt rock band [Kolkata’s Cognac] to a solo singer-songwriter with a seemingly endless array of instruments and influences. Did that happen organically?

TJ: At one point of time I just got bored of playing the guitar and chanced upon Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s music which completely changed my life and made me question my existence and role as a musician. I became curious and started listening to all the music I hadn’t heard before and learning new instruments with the help of the internet, such as the Ukulele, Mandolin and Charango. I realized my way to happiness is to remain curious and keep discovering my love for music in newer ways, similar to a kid in a candy store.

TFR: You have toured as a guitarist for Blackstratblues in the past. How did that situation materialize? Have you played for Blackstratblues after that?

TJ: Warren is a good friend and we have mutual respect for another’s music. Our common ground is our love for blues. He was preparing his first Blackstratblues tour in 2010 and I was visiting Bombay for a recording so it worked out well. I did play with him again recently and it was great fun.

TFR: Some Bengali friends of ours – ardent enthusiasts of the region’s cinema, of course – informed us of your role as music director/composer in noted films such as Iti, Mrinalini (about a suicidal once-famous actress) and Dui Dhuranir Golpo (about two young transgenders from Kolkata). Very impressive! Do you find that there are differences in the composition process between Taj, the music director and Taj, the solo musician?

TJ: If a scene from a film needs a simple melody, I should put aside my intellect and play a simple melody. And if a song on my album needs me to play a blues slide line,I should practice hard and learn to play that line because the song needs it. When I say “needs” I mean to say songs or any work of art has a life of its own and will tell you exactly how to shape it, only if one shuts his ego and intellect and listens quietly to the song or painting unfolding itself. It’s actually quite simple, we just love making things complex. But the bottomline of everything I do is to have fun and like what I do or else don’t get into it.

Tajdar

TFR: Our favorite song from your upcoming album is the mellow “Though I Know” [download from NH7 here], which reminds us a bit of Eddie Vedder (and occasionally Beirut). However, we think that the title-track “What Colour is Your Raindrop” has a strain of melancholic beauty that can often be found in Hindustani classical music. Tell us a bit about your undoubtedly wide spectrum of influences.

TJ: I’m in love with music and with everything it does to me. It makes me happy, brings me calmness, it excites me, makes me travel in my head. Over the years I’ve understood that all forms of music have something good to offer so absorb the good and the bad will filter itself out. I love the serenity and etherealness of Indian classical, I love Chopin and his melodies, I absolutely dig Albert Collins and all the blues greats, simply because it is very moving, And Thank you Lord for the Beatles. It’s silly not to enjoy so much goodness around you.

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TFR: “Aamna” [another track from his album] is the kind of ethereal, delicate lullaby that parents should play to their young children. Tell us a few special things about this song.

TJ: Aamna is my pride and joy. She is my little niece who is one year , four months right now. When she was born I used to keep her on my lap and play music to her and put her to sleep. I am a musician and the truest part of myself that I can offer is my music. I wanted to gift her something that could put her to sleep even when I wasn’t around.

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TFR: We’re very intrigued by the instrument that you play on “Dastaan”. What is it? How many instruments do you play on this album?

TJ: It’s a 10 string folk guitar from South America called the Charango. I first heard it in the Ost for Motorcycle diaries and fell in love with the sound. I have played the guitar,charango,mandolin,ukulele,glockenspiel and sang on the album. I would like to learn the piano. It’s a beautiful instrument !

TFR: Finally, on a lighter note. Who is that cute kid on the cover of What Colour is your Raindrop? [see above]

TJ: It’s me when I was 4 years old . Calcutta used to have a lot of strikes then and the roads would go completely empty. I used to be amazed by the traffic police and delighted to see huge cars and trucks stop with simply one wave of their cane. So I was filled with pride holding that cane and posing on the empty road. Perhaps I was grinning and thinking I brought the entire road on a standstill.

You can listen to Tajdar’s amazing work on his SoundCloud or visit his website here.

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