The annual IndiEarth xChange conference and festival wrapped up in Chennai recently with a weekend of world music and indie performances at The Park Hotel. The event also included conference tracks, workshops and film screenings (see my earlier writeups on the festival editions from 2015 and 2014).
The IndiEarth initiative, promoting independent musicians and filmmakers, was conceptualized by the founders of EarthSync India, a music label and film production company launched by Sastry Karra, Sonya Mazumdar, Yotam Agam and Kris Karra in 2004. It is widely regarded as one of the best forums to discover new bands and to network among the independent music industry, venue founders and festival curators in India.
The event was a celebration of the ability of artistes around the world to collaborate at a time of increasing political conflict, and also to share industry lessons on building viable careers and forums for the world of arts and culture. Panel discussions were held on music education, media contributions and festival design, along with workshops on field recordings, legal issues and preservation of folk arts.
Classical and folk musician Vidya Shah conducted an outstanding multi-media presentation along with live performances, titled ‘Women on Record,’ highlighting the gramophone era of recorded music and its mixed impact on the world of live performances. In a world of increasing commercialization of culture, it is important to understand the value and contributions of folk musicians, according to Divya Bhatia, founder of the annual four-day Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) in Jodhpur.
I took part in a panel on ‘Arts Journalism: Content Creation, Ethics, and Reportage,’ covering the increasing role of social media in artiste promotion and music reportage, the need for talent strategies incorporating partnerships and internships, media coverage for local audiences as compared to international markets, the balance between business and editorial agendas, and new digital formats for content about music (see for example my app ‘Oktav: Music Quotes and Proverbs’ available for Apple and Android devices).
In the afternoon of Day One, the music performances kicked off in the lobby stage with Aver, a nine-piece Indian contemporary fusion-style band. Formed in 2015, the band is based in Chennai; its Indian as well as Arabic influences were reflected in their range of instruments and sounds.
The evening show began with the spellbinding Hindustani classical music duo Pratik & Vinayak. Vinayak Netke composes, arranges, and plays the tabla for his fusion band Zamee, and has also released two devotional albums, Aadi Pujya and Kalidas’s Meghdoot. Pratik Shrivastava was born into a family of musicians, and began playing the sarod at the age of six under the guidance of his grandfather Pandit Rabi Chakraborty. They played two ragas (Rageshri was outstanding), and drew loud applause for their virtuosity and call-response interplay.
The mood switched to electronica with Vasuda (‘Miss V’) on digital media and Chaitanya Bhaidkar on guitars. The music blends Indian classical and folk with Western contemporary music. Vasuda’s debut album is ‘Attuned Spirits.’
Another superb performance of Indian folk and ghazal followed, with Vidya Shah on vocals accompanied by four musicians on sarangi, tabla, percussion and guitar. She picked up on some of the themes from her morning presentation, and wrapped up in fine style with the ever-energetic ‘Mast Kalandar.’
Gears shifted again to the lobby stage with Tamil rock band Kurangan. They showed that scorching funk and blues have no geographical barriers, and lend themselves well to local interpretation. Formed in 2015, the band is set to release its debut album next year.
French alternative electronic band Organic Bananas wowed the audience with some amazing sound from the hurdy gurdy, fused with modern digital ambience. Kraftwerk in the 21st century, with some rock and groove, would be an apt way to describe their music.
The night ended with a long set of African-influenced danceable electronica by Sauvage Sound System from the Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. The DJs Kwalud and Black Ben kept the audience on their feet late into the night, as could be seen by the sleepy faces of some of the conference attendees the next morning!
The second and final day of performances began with singer-songwriter Abhi Tambe from Bangalore, who was earlier with post-rock group Lounge Piranha. Abhi performed some melodic tracks from his upcoming solo album. Another solo performance featured Aditya Balani on guitar and digital media; he has been on BBC Asia Beats, MTV Coke Studio, Pepsi MTV Indies, and BBC Radio.
The previous day’s Tamil rock track picked up again with folk rock band Kulam, featuring Pradeep Kumar on guitars and vocals, Jhanu on bass and Tapass Naresh on drums. Barefoot and in lungis, the guitarists joked among themselves between their songs, to much audience delight.
Another terrific band from Reunion Island then took the energy to another level: Afro-jazz band Identité. They blended maloya with jazz, showcasing the creativity of Creole culture. The percussion section and lead saxophone were outstanding, and drew loud applause from the audience.
Electronica took the floor again with the Chennai duo Krameri, consisting of Gopi Krishnan and Damini Chauhan, followed by Indian punk rock band Dossers Urge. Synth-pop took the stage with Akshay Rajpurohit’s solo set; his debut album is called ‘Sadomist.’
By then the audience was all pumped up for Indian dubstep guru Nucleya; his high energy set blended Indian sound with global bass. His new album ‘BASS Rani’ is a hit with audiences across the diverse regions of India.
The music carried on later in the hotel bar well into the early hours of the next morning; a round of goodbyes followed the next day over breakfast and lunch (or was it brunch?). We look forward to next year’s xChange 2017 festival and conference already!
Author: Madanmohan Rao
Madanmohan Rao is an author and media consultant from Bangalore, and global correspondent for world music and jazz for World Music Central and Jazzuality. He has written over 15 books on media, management and culture, and is research director for YourStory Media. Madan was formerly World Music Editor at Rave magazine and RJ at WorldSpace, and can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao.