Friday December 28, 2012
Anhad reaches out to fans through meditative rock
By N. RAMA LOHAN
Meditative rock isn’t a prevalent genre of music, but Anhad knows exactly what it’s all about to go against the grain.
WE’RE the guys who are born to be rock stars,” Hargobind Singh declared emphatically. It’s a lofty claim, no doubt, but fair comment from a man who not only knows how to rock, but is explicitly aware that – according to his religion – Sikh men are encouraged to keep their hair long.
But since when did looks make a solid statement in what rock music was all about? Whether it was The Beatles dressed as psychedelic servicemen on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Marty Robbins as a cowboy on Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs, the duds never said as much about the music.
Even his band, Anhad, decked in its traditional turquoise chola/kurta and white turbans, does so strictly as homage to its holy elders. The band, which flaunts a brand of music not commonly heard (meditative rock), is going to take its sound and style as far as it can. But the road ahead could be bumpy.
Like the few other Sikh rock bands plying their trade – Hargo, Roving Sikhs, Rabbi Shergill etc – Anhad hasn’t been spared some form of bias. The turbans and beards spell one thing to the Western (and sadly, parts of the Eastern, too) world at large: Terrorism. It’s a form of ignorance that’s been perpetuated by 9/11, and still exists 11 years later. The aftershocks continue to hold the blinkers down over the eyes of the less informed.
“The problem is, the Sikh community doesn’t have an idol out there under the glare of the media. In any other situation, (actor/comedian) Russell Brand would be deemed a bum, but because he’s viewed as a celebrity, he’s accepted the way he looks,” Hargobind theorised during a recent interview.
Given the pool Anhad is mining and the direction the band is taking, though, Hargobind and his bandmates have little to worry about. The septet recently released its debut album cheekily titled Live/Unheard. No, it’s not a live album in the conventional sense. Neither is it unheard, since the band has successfully shifted a 1,000 copies since its release.
“We recorded the basic tracks live, and of course, added the other parts later. And the band’s name Anhad sounded like ‘unheard’ to some people,” explained keyboardist and singer Dalip Singh.
Rock music is recognised as raucous, gnarly and not for the faint-hearted. So, Anhad’s music described as “meditative rock” is somewhat of a paradox. “The lyrics are chants, so that probably is where the meditative quality comes in,” revealed Dalip.
The band’s creative process is fairly straightforward: Hargobind comes up with the germ of the idea, Dalip and his brother Jasdev Singh flesh out the arrangements, while the rest of the band join in to complete the songs. The lyric writing in the band is the most intriguing ... they are Gurbani Mantras (universal hymns from the Sikh holy scripture), basically, with words in English used for embellishment. The band was cute enough to credit Waheguru (God, in Sikhism) in the liner notes of the album: “All lyrics by Waheguru (we asked him about the licensing, he said it was cool).”
Making music is serious business, but Anhad always has its tongue firmly in cheek.
Live/Unheard is soothing and stirring all at once. The six-track album kicks off with the hypnotic drone of the harmonium, with guest vocalist Sukdev Singh’s voice underpinning the proceedings. Shaan explores pastures not far off the Brit rock movement of the 1990s. Ardaas Bhaee and Ik Oangkar are the two tunes with the greatest rock content and it would be perfectly natural to find them getting under the skin of most music listeners. There’s some stunning vocal work too, none more so than on the ethereal bonus track Pavan Guru.
The band began as a trio in early 2009, but quickly yearned to spread its sense of musical expression. And while the band members have always received the backing of their parents, the expansion of the band to include more than its original complement of instruments (guitar, tabla and harmonium) was met with a collective groan.
“They kept telling us, ‘It’s okay the way the band is. Why do you need to add those other instruments?’ You know how it is lah,” Hargobind reasoned with a laugh, recalling how their parents’ alarm bells went off when they noticed the electric guitar, drums and keyboards making it into the band’s setup.
Inspired by the likes of Coldplay, U2, Oasis and even progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Porcupine Tree, it was no surprise that Anhad has always aspired to be a full-fledged rock band. Making up the lineup are Hargobind (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Dalip (lead vocals, keyboards), Jasdev (electric guitar), Karamdeep Singh (bass), Tripert Singh (drums), Bhajanmeet Singh (tabla) and Harkiren Kaur (backing vocals, tambourine). “Ultimately though, we’d like to be a band like Tool,” Hargobind shared, revealing that the expansive music of the American rock band is somewhat of a blueprint.
Anhad is visually distinct as a band, but ultimately what separates it from the bulk of the rock world is its East-meets-West musical mishmash. “When we heard the collaboration between Nusrat (Fateh Ali Khan) and Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam) on The Long Road, it really opened our eyes and we recognised that as a direction we wanted to take,” enthused Hargobind.
Rock music is the fare Anhad is peddling, but it comes sans the trappings commonly associated with the genre. In fact, the members have all received their Amrit (Sikh baptism) and are teetotallers.
And under this cloak of purity and the bond shared between its members (they are all cousins), the band has forged an understanding that can only come with a team pulling in the same direction.
“It’s not easy being Sikh. There are people who still think that we sit up on the mountains and meditate all day. But we just want to play music we like, and we’d like to give the kids something to look forward to, not look up to,” Hargobind philosophised on a parting note.
Opening doors in Anhad’s position might not quite be a walk in the park, but there’s a sincerity that shines through in its music that’ll always get it across, regardless of restrictions or barriers.
Anhad’s Live/Unheard, in CD format and digital download, is available from anhad.com, The album is also available at Chayo Studio, Kelana Mall in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. For more info, visit facebook.com/anhadband.