Since its inception in 1990, Indian Ocean has served as a beacon of folk-rock in India, with a core sound that has remained consistent, but peripheral elements evolving over the years. Very few Indian bands have managed to establish such a strong sonic identity with an immediately recognisable sound. Indian Ocean would top that short list. Though members have come and gone, the band’s creative vision has remained constant, steadfastly rooted in its unique blend of Indian classical and contemporary rock, breathing life into their illustrious three-decade odyssey.
Their latest release is titled Tu Hai. The album bears witness to their artistic growth—the band’s last release, Tandanu, came out in 2014—and their ability to consistently deliver fresh and innovative music.
“The album was recorded, mixed, and ready for release in early 2020 when COVID-19 hit, causing delays. Consequently, it seemed futile to release an album during the pandemic. This was primarily due to the altered revenue model in the music industry, where simply releasing an album no longer guarantees significant earnings. Instead, revenue is generated primarily through touring, which was severely impacted by the pandemic. During this period, we focused on creating music for films such as Masaan and Chakki, and Babasaheb: The Grand Musical, resulting in a substantial amount of material equivalent to two or three albums. Our dedication to making music never wavered; we simply chose not to release it under our own name,” Rahul Ram said to me after the band’s Jaipur concert.
The band has collaborated with renowned artists such as the Grammy Award-winning percussionist Vikku Vinayakram, master storyteller Varun Grover, and American saxophonist, bringing diverse flavours to this homogenous mix.
Through this collective exploration, the band unveils the vibrant hues of their ever-maturing sonic palette, fearlessly venturing into new musical horizons. They remain steadfast to their longstanding commitment to environmental sustainability, a testament to their enduring love for the planet that nurtures their artistry.
The album artwork beautifully merges a banyan tree adorned with Warli art, symbolising nature’s mysteries and its evolutionary attribute akin to the music. With her colour selection and strokes that dance to the soul of the music, Priya Brahmbhatt’s gorgeous artwork captures perfectly the essence of the songs and their subjects.
Within the fabric of the album, a common thread intertwines its songs, connecting them through a seamless harmony created by their instrumentation – Himanshu Joshi (lead vocals), Tuheen Chakravorty (tabla, percussions), Amit Kilam (drums, percussions, vocals), Nikhil Rao (guitars), and Rahul Ram (bass guitars, vocals). Tu Hai evokes a variety of emotions, from anger and frustration about environmental issues, to awe-inspiring celebrations of nature’s beauty. The album explores themes of suffering, spirituality, and the eternal cycle of renewal and rebirth, and paints a portrait of the human experience and our intricate relationship with the natural world.
‘Jaadu Maaya’ mesmerises from the first note, with its enchanting melodies and profound lyrics. It invites listeners to delve into the illusory nature of existence, blending despair and hopes through mystical imagery and metaphors.
The second track, ‘Jungle’, captivates with its gradual rise and rich instrumentation. This ballad juxtaposes nature’s grandeur with our insignificance, highlighting the vastness of existence. Featuring acclaimed saxophonist George Brooks, a long-time collaborator of the band, it is a musical masterpiece.
‘Iss Tan Dhan’ resonates with its poignant exploration of the futility of possessions. Kabir’s wisdom adds a beautiful depth to the song, pushing the listener to introspect.
The bifurcated title tracks dwells upon the existence of a supreme being. It serves as a catalyst for self-discovery and spiritual evolution.
Closing the album, ‘Rebirth’ enchants listeners with its captivating instrumental arrangement. Inspired by guitarist Nikhil Rao’s love for Carnatic music, the track serves as a reminder that the world needs a collective rebirth, urging us to embrace unity.
What distinguishes this album is its remarkable equilibrium and restraint. There is no overindulgence. Every element is added with a great deal of precision and frugality. You wouldn’t want any more or any less of anything. This careful curation enables the album to connect with a diverse audience, appealing and catering to both discerning and casual listeners.
Indian Ocean’s music has transcended time, becoming a wellspring of inspiration for countless musicians and listeners across generations. The eagerly anticipated release serves as a testament to the band’s enduring legacy, reflecting their unwavering commitment to artistic integrity and social consciousness. With each note and word, Indian Ocean continues to paint a vivid canvas of resonating melodies that touch hearts, invigorate minds, and remind us of the transformative power of music.