IndiEarth xChange 2015: conference and showcase of world music and indie acts in India



The annual IndiEarth xChange, with four editions under its belt, is a must-attend event in India for industry professionals and fans of world music and indie acts. The three-day event spanning a weekend was held recently at The Taj Connemara Hotel in Chennai, and included a conference, workshops, film screenings and a music showcase.

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.


Panel on music venues Amandine Moreau (Cite des Arts, Reunion Island), Ruchika Tiku (Blue Frog, India) and Ruth Hardie (Southbank Centre, UK)
Panel on music venues Amandine Moreau (Cite des Arts, Reunion Island), Ruchika Tiku (Blue Frog, India) and Ruth Hardie (Southbank Centre, UK) – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Industry insights

Panel topics at IndiEarth xChange this year included music markets, temple instruments of India, multi-disciplinary art events, music education, international touring, copyright, business models, digital media, audience engagement, recording dynamics and festival programming.

I took part in a panel on ‘Media and the Arts: Finding an Honest Voice,’ on the agendas and activities in music journalism, and the role of music journalists in shaping the ecosystem of artists, labels, venues and festivals.

A workshop on music journalism was conducted by Simon Broughton, editor-in-chief of Songlines magazine. Two other workshops were offered for DJs, and one titled ‘Mindfulness for Creatives’ by Australian musician and yoga teacher Phoebe Kiddo. Music producer Howie B held an open session; he is hailed as one of the original exponents and creators of trip hop, and has written the music scores for major motion pictures (including the closing title music to Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street).

The Queensland University of Technology presented the Indie100 Program, in which Australian producers Lachlan ‘Magoo’ Goold and Yanto Browning recorded, mixed and mastered the works of 10 indie bands.


The Taj Connemara Hotel in Chennai
The Taj Connemara Hotel in Chennai – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


A number of useful artist insights were offered during the three days of panel discussions. For example, musicians have to learn to be entrepreneurs as well, though many just want to do music. For legal reasons, artists need to make a habit of documenting their activities during tours, live gigs, recording sessions and collaborative performances.

Industry connections will help with international exchange of music tours and talent enrichment. Touring artists have to do more than perform – they should teach, do workshops, talk at panels and jam with other bands.

Roots music is about more than entertainment, it is about keeping folk cultures alive. Sometimes, roots music can be changed during performances for new or international audiences, but should not degrade the original messages and forms. World music artists should be proud of their indigenous traditions but need not feel they have to restrict themselves only to these genres.

Though new bands may find it hard to get audiences to download their music, they should try techniques like giving away a couple of tracks for free in exchange for users’ email ids or social media connects. This can be used for deepening audience engagement and eventually converting them into becoming fans, influencers and evangelists – and ultimately paying customers of live music, merchandise or digital tracks.

Music venues and journalists have to figure out the balance between featuring established and emerging artists. There were also some hilarious suggestions at one of the panel discussions: what if smoke machines at gigs blew ‘different’ kinds of smoke?

The three-day indoor music showcases featured artists from a range of countries: India, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, UK, France, Reunion Island, China, Ireland and Denmark. Here are profiles and photos of some of the acts which I caught; the performances were held across three separate stages, and covered Indian classical, folk, roots, world, contemporary, alternative, and electronica artists (see my 2014 writeup here:

Day One

The first day of music shows kicked off with a hypnotic performance of Hindustani classical music by Saskia Rao-De Haas from the Netherlands. Now based in New Delhi, she has adapted the western cello with an additional set of sympathetic strings for Indian classical music.


Saskia Rao-De Haas
Saskia Rao-De Haas – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Lakhan Das Baul from Kolkata performed a haunting set of baul music, derived from the mystic minstrels from rural Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. This music is devotional but at the same time does not identify with specific orthodox religious practices in the region.


Lakhan Das Baul from Kolkata
Lakhan Das Baul from Kolkata – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


The energy ramped up with qawwali music by the Hussain Group Qawwals from Hyderabad. Ustad Ahsan Hussain Khan Quadri has been performing traditional qawwali music for over 40 years, and is the son of the late Ustad Qurban Hussain Khan Sahab, a classical singer in the royal court of the Gwalior family. His son Adil Hussain Khan also joined him on lead vocals during their mesmerising performance.


Hussain Group Qawwals from Hyderabad
Hussain Group Qawwals from Hyderabad – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


A spectacular collaboration on percussion and dance was presented by the band Thappattam from Thanjavur. The folk troupe featured thunderous thappattam drummers, on the thavil drum (a barrel shaped drum) as well as nadaswaram (a double reed wind instrument). The powerful rhythms and percussive textures were enhanced by a bass guitarist and drummer, who drove the performance to a high-energy crescendo.


Thappattam from Thanjavur
Thappattam from Thanjavur – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Other artists performing on Day One were Zoo (electro dream pop, from Kolkata), Black Letters (indie rock, from Bangalore) and Komorebi (electronica and chillstep, from New Delhi).

Day Two

The second day of live shows kicked off with Tajdar Junaid, a singer-songwriter from Kolkata, drawing on influences from India and the US. He has collaborated with artists such as Karsh Kale as well as Fred White from Acoustic Alchemy.


Tajdar Junaid from Kolkata
Tajdar Junaid from Kolkata – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


The Nagore Brothers from Nagore, south India, delighted the audience with a set of Sufi devotional music. The Nagore Brothers – Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer – sang in an ecstatic trance-like manner along with pulsating percussion.


The Nagore Brothers
The Nagore Brothers – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


The electronica performances began with Australian-born Phoebe Kiddo, now based in Berlin. She describes herself as a ‘musical pilgrim,’ and her set revealed a wide range of influences with synth and sub-bass textures. Her albums include ‘Artefacts of Broken Dreams.’


Phoebe Kiddo
Phoebe Kiddo – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Ravi Chary, a leading sitar player from Goa, performed an enchanting set of Indian classical music accompanied by Suphala Patankar on tabla. Ravi’s father is the late Pt. Prabhakar Chary, a noted tabla player and musicologist. Ravi has also produced a range of fusion and world music albums, and has collaborated with artists like Salif Keita, Vikku Vinayakram, Ustad Zakir Hussain, and Robert Miles. He has performed at international festivals like WOMAD and Glastonbury.


Ravi Chary and Suphala
Ravi Chary and Suphala – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Prateek Kuhad, a folk-pop singer-songwriter from New Delhi, then performed a set featuring some tracks from his recent album, Tokens & Charms. He has also been featured at Indian festival NH7 Weekender, and has toured in the US as well.


Prateek Kuhad
Prateek Kuhad – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Howie B from the UK had the audience on their feet with his set of trip hop and dubstep. He has worked with a range of artists including Björk, U2, Mukul Deora and The Gift, and has been releasing music under his own name since the early 1990s.


Howie B
Howie B – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Other artists performing on Day Two included Naezy (Indian rap in Urdu, fom Mumbai) and FuzzCulture (electronica duo from Delhi).

Day Three

The final day of performances kicked off with a melodic set of Carnatic music by violin maestro Lalitha Kalaimamani from Chennai. She hails from an illustrious family of musicians, and represents the fourth generation of musicians in her family. Lalitha has also performed in collaborative and fusion lineups, and has played at festivals in over a dozen countries around the world. Her passion is also keeping alive the story of traditional temple instruments in India.


Lalitha Kalaimamani from Chennai
Lalitha Kalaimamani from Chennai – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Bo Bun Fever from France had the audience on their feet with an insanely high-energy set of mambo and other Latin music. The story of their formation is hilarious: the members of the trio met in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand, and after a wild night they discovered a strange inscription tattooed on their torsos in black Gothic letters: Bo Bun Fever!


Bo Bun Fever from France
Bo Bun Fever from France – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


The musical textures switched to Asia with the band Tulegur from China, presenting a blend of of traditional Mongolian music along with ethnic rock. The duo featured hypnotic throat-singing (khoomei) along with electronic music, best described as ‘ethnic post-rock’ or ‘psychedelic nomadic rock.’


Tulegur from China
Tulegur from China – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


The musical tour then switched to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, with the band Ziskakan and maloya Creole traditions. Anchor Gilbert Pounia is a charismatic storyteller-singer and has spearheaded the band since 1979 across its international tours in North America, Europe and Asia. The lively music blended the sounds of Africa (especially Madagascar) and India. Maloya was once banned under French rule, but has been kept alive and thriving by local artists.


Ziskakan from Reunion Island
Ziskakan from Reunion Island – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Irish folk music and jazz-funk blended together in the next set by Aldoc from Ireland. It featured Alan Doherty on flutes and whistles, along with a high-energy lineup on bass, electric guitars and two electronica artists.


Aldoc from Ireland
Aldoc from Ireland – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Do Moon ramped up the energy even more with a set of Afro House. The duo from Reunion Island blended groove, South African Ghetto House and maloya, and kept the audience on their feet swaying to their ocean sounds.


Do Moon from Reunion Island
Do Moon from Reunion Island


Another creative vocalist that night was Alo Wala, an American Punjabi who is now based in Copenhagen. The blend of electronica and hiphop with heavy doses of bass from Danish Copia Doble Systema also featured commentary and critiques of Asian and Western cultural mores.


Alo Wala
Alo Wala – Photo by Madanmohan Rao


Other bands performing on the last night included AsWeKeepSearching (post-rock, from Ahmedabad), Parekh and Singh (alternative pop, from Kolkata), The F16s (indie rock, from Chennai), Sandunes (electronica/dance, from Mumbai), Nicholson (live keyboards and electronica, from Mumbai) and Fuzzy Logic (live percussion and electronica, from Mumbai).

I also picked up a good stack of CDs from the performers for review and radio play. We look forward to the next edition of XChange already!


CDs of performing artists
CDs of performing artists

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.


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