Feb 14, 2014

Posted by in Music Festivals, Travel Reviews | 0 Comments

Ragasthan music festival featuring Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe

Ragasthan music festival featuring Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe

Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho
Pothi Padh Padh Jag Mua,
Pandit Bhaya Na Koi,
Dhai Akhar Prem Ke, Padhe So Pandit Hoye !

Does that sound achingly familiar in a way that it takes you back to your childhood days? Here’s a little twist in the tale. What if back then you were asked to recite the same dohas at school extempores with a mix of Reggae, Pop and Rock? I guess we all would have not only won a standing ovation from our audience everytime we stepped on to the stage but also managed to remember most of what we read back then.

Well, that is precisely what Neeraj Arya did when he realised that he hates going to school and the result? A few years later, Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe was easily one of the major highlights of Ragasthan, the three day camp out music festival that took place at the Khuri dunes in Jaisalmer between Feb 13-16
Kabir Café performing at Ragasthan

Considering their love for music and the abundance of it at Ragasthan, I couldn’t manage to spend enough time with this band at the festival and so we decided that the best way to do so would be to watch this bunch of talented largely self-taught musicians at work and here we were at the recording studio chatting in between their shoot, recording and smoke breaks.

Kabir Cafe is the result of Neeraj Arya’s 6 years of relentless research in picking up, understanding and performing the verses of Kabir and that’s how he pioneered the genre known as Kabir Rock, says Raman Iyer, the mandolin player of the band. Now listening to Raman play, its hard to believe when he says as a matter of fact that music was not even on his mind during his stint as an advertising professional in Mumbai in 2004, although he has learnt music for a few years while he was at Ramakrishna mission.

Kabir Café performing at Ragasthan

As I scribble on my notepad, Mukund Ramaswamy, the band’s violinist keeps peeping in to verify the details. Then realising that its now his turn to pitch in, he tells me that he’s a mechanical engineer from Mumbai with a love for music and has been playing on stage for over 10 years now. And that it was during one of his performances at National Streets for Performing Arts (NSPA) that he met Neeraj. Now that seemed to add up for me considering Mukund is an accomplished Carnatic musician with a formal training to back him up.

I am listening intently to Mukund when Neeraj joins us to take me back to his journey of how he had come to Mumbai as an event coordinator with the NSPA but soon his solo performances as part of the events he organised left the audience asking for more each time. To an extent that he soon realised that music was a clear favourite and he performed with Mukund and Dakshinamurthy under the band name ‘Makeshift’ at the Kabir festival 2012. “And that’s also where Raman met him again”, he says.

The journey after this was easy for me to guess. The three started jamming together every now and then and that is how the idea of Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe was born. This while Neeraj still continued to go for the Malwa Kabir Yatra, Neeraj’s primary influence, which is essentially a week of celebrating Kabir and other mystics through a musical journey where singers and music lovers alike travel through the districts and villages of Madhya Pradesh.

The youngest member and the band’s latest find is Viren, their drummer. At 18 years of age, he had girls swooning at the festival asking for a solo performance, much to his embarrassment.

With a clear inspiration in place, creating and experimenting with various sounds has only been a part of the entire process where the band recreates verses of Kabir in a variety of styles- Pop, Reggae, Rock and Carnatic fusion to simple acoustic gigs. Their music as I found out at Ragasthan, celebrates the true meaning of Had Anhad- Bounded Boundless, much like Neeraj’s inspiration, Kabir who insisted on living life to the fullest and defined life as an eternal party. That very much explains how and why their songs like Bhala Hua Meri Mala Tuti, Man Lago Mero Yaar Fakiri Mein, Halke Gadi Hako gave the Birakha stage at Ragasthan a reason to groove, stand up, sing along and go berserk with excitement, albeit this time to music and lyrics with a meaning and purpose.

I suddenly realise its 10:00 pm and they have to get back to their recording. It’s been a perfect Sunday well spent listening to honest and soulful music.

Kabir Cafe’s music can found on Youtube and they can be followed on Facebook on their official page https://www.facebook.com/kabircafeofficial .

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