After shaping Indian rock and contemporary folk/fusion since the 90s, Indian Ocean needs no introduction.
A streaming platform like Spotify might connect listeners with the band’s film soundtracks, new singles, and their 2000 album Kandisa. However, to truly get an understanding of their musical prowess in their nascent stages, one can head out to YouTube to find their first two albums.
This includes their self-titled debut, and Desert Rain. The latter is unique in the sense that it is a live recorded album, a rare phenomenon in its time (and maybe even today).
Legend has it that Indian Ocean were to perform at Delhi’s Mandi House on the occasion of legendary playwright Safdar Hashmi’s birth anniversary. The day was 1 January, 1997. A new year had begun and so had a new chapter in Indian Ocean’s musical journey.
In what seemed like a spontaneous decision, the band recorded their 7-track performance on a DAT recorder (Digital Audio Tape). Three songs from their tracklist were already featured in their debut album while the four others were previously unreleased content.
The amalgamation of jazz and rock along with Indian instrumentation was a feat to behold for the indie music scene back then. And it can easily be argued that Indian Ocean did bring about a new wave of fusion music that was experimental and at the same time, easily palatable for the audiences.
The founding fathers of Indian Ocean, percussionist Asheem Chakravarty and guitarist Susmit Sen, were responsible for writing most of Desert Rain’s compositions. Chakravarty also lent a few vocals here and there but the largely instrumental album succeeded in highlighting every member’s traits. The contributions of fan favourites Rahul Ram (bass) and Amit Kilam (percussion and multiple instruments) were later added in the final mixing.
From Village Damsel to Melancholic Ecstasy, the instrumental tracks are lively, atmospheric, and definitely remnants of musical history that need to be passed on to the future generations.
The album’s recording process evokes a sense of impulsiveness that might be characteristic of its era, a time when artists didn’t have to pre-plan their streaming releases or helm any promotional campaigns on social media. In order to build a loyal fanbase, all that an artist had to do was to give their best on stage and this is the feat that Indian Ocean achieved.
Released as a limited edition, Desert Rain began to garner a cult fan following prompting the band to re-release the record in 2002. Since then, the band’s members haven’t stopped in cementing their status as stalwarts of Indian rock.
Apart from their own releases and global concerts, Indian Ocean has lent its expertise on the soundtracks of iconic films like Black Friday, Masaan, and Peepli Live. In fact, Black Friday’s Bandeh continues to be one of the most recognisable Indian Ocean tracks for mainstream audiences.
The band has been an ardent critic of record labels for copyright issues, and drawbacks in distribution. In a symbolic move, Indian Ocean even released their 2010 album 16/330 Khajoor Road for free.
Since Desert Rain, the crew has gone through changes in its lineup. Susmit Sen left the band in 2013, releasing an acclaimed solo album titled Depths of the Ocean. Asheem Chakravarty unfortunately succumbed to a heart attack in 2009.
Bassist Rahul Ram has also been involved with movements such as Narmada Bachao Andolan while pursuing side-projects like the satirical group Aisi Taisi Democracy.
Amit Kilam also keeps on performing for the band, dabbling in a variety of instruments, ranging from drums to the clarinet. His drumming pattern is notable for incorporating longer Indianised rhythm cycles rather than following the formulaic 4/4 pattern.
Joined by new members over the years, Ram and Kilam continue their tenure, carrying on the legacy that Sen and Chakravarty founded decades ago…