Neel Sarkar Project has just returned to Kolkata after a successful tour of multiple cities across India following the release of their second album Zikr which is available on Oklisten.com.
The Project is - Neel Sarkar (Composer & Guitars), Andrew Kay (Alto Saxophone), Pritam Sengupta (World Percussions), Pierre Antoine Lasnier (Electric Bass), Sushruta Goswami (Bansuri). The band’s music can be described as fusion – elements of Indian classical music played on traditionally western instruments such as the nylon string guitar and alto saxophone. Songs from the ‘Zikr’ album like Petrichor, Route 5 and Ikebana have become main stays in their live set, Ikebana garnering the most number of requests at their end of tour gig at Jamsteady.
Bongrong: What led to the Neel Sarkar project? How did you start out?
Neel: So the thing is, I was pissed off playing for others so I decided to move away from all this. I spent 2 years working on my instrument and writing my music. When I returned to the city I was lucky to find like-minded people and thus the journey began.
Bongrong: When did you start working on ‘Zikr’?
Neel: Yeah it was 2013. Zikr is the 2nd album; the debut album was Vishnu’s Report released by Rooh Music.
Bongrong: You’ve said that it is important to include elements of Indian music in whatever you play. Stressing on original music, since most people today stick to pop, EDM or Bollywood do you think you’ll get a positive response?
Neel: I think the present generation has little knowledge of the depth of our tradition and music as well. As an artist it is our duty to show them the path. I think what is pure will always connect to the people anywhere on this planet. I didn't expect, in Amritsar, that the Sikh or Punjabi listeners will appreciate my music so much!!
Bongrong: So would you say that it is possible to be a musician and earn a living only by making original music? Like what should someone fresh out of college, do to make a living just off of their own music?
Neel: In India it's tough but not impossible. I think the only way is devotion with purity and trueness. But keep in mind always that the path for an artist to live his/her life is not that easy or normal. On the other side there is always a sweet side to every pain, it depends on how you perceive it.
Bongrong: Are you associated with other musical projects?
Neel: Other than this project, I am associated with a project called Le melodie de Nirbaak which is a cine concert project founded by our bassist Mr Pierre Antoine Lasnier...I used to do music for films and ad films. I still do music for films and ads for sustenance.
Bongrong: You played several new songs at Jamsteady last Friday. So are you already working on another album?
Neel: Yes we are planning for the next album in 2017.
Bongrong: You've priced your album at 75rs on oklisten.com. Why did you decide to keep the price so low?
Neel: I didn't decide, it's the decision by the aggregator itself because of their business. It's sad to sell your music at this price because an album cannot be the same price as a burger, where you put so much of effort to make it beautiful, but it's India where people can buy a handkerchief worth Rs1000 but fight with rickshaw driver for 1 rupee.
Bongrong: Yes that's the sad thing. On one hand, it is good that the price is more than affordable. It makes it more accessible. How do you think one can get people to actually pay for music?
Neel: Here it's tough because the system is already corrupted with the free download concept and most importantly the music business here doesn’t have a proper agenda nor strategies whereas in the west it's more compact and will build to serve the artist and the listeners equally.
Bongrong: For a young performer just starting out, 90 percent of places ask you to perform for free because it's good exposure. Where does one draw the line?
Neel: This is a bull shit proposal because if the organizer is choosing anyone even if he is new, they must have some kind of faith in his artistry which is why they want the performer in the first place. So, they’re allowing him/her to play in front of people and as the artist is providing an entertainment service for that moment, there should be a token amount for the artist other than the exposure... For example, if you go to a restaurant and chef is trying to make you taste some new recipe, but you still have to pay for that if you agreed to try it in the first place.
Bongrong: Do you think YouTube shows like Friday Night Originals and The Soundcheck Project helps?
Neel: It helps a little bit to reach the audiences in a local way, not globally. But at least platforms like this, they are doing a great job without any static funds. But it’s for reasons like these that they have to stop at some point sadly!
Bongrong: One major aspect of local events is that when a local band performs, it is mostly people who are friends with the band who attend the gigs. In that regard, it doesn't matter if your music is good or not. If you are popular and have a lot of friends, you get called to play at events. Have you seen this happening at all?
Neel: It depends on the bands fan base and music which may attract people to come and listen to them, so therefore, if there is nothing which can be interesting to the audience or they can relate then you have to depend on friends and family and people you know to be at the gig andpeople here are so lazy with their actions. So I think listeners are always unpredictable like the gig we played at Jamsteady we didn't expect a crowd of 87 heads because we didn't have a chance to promote for the evening as we were on the tour!
Bongrong: So what were the gigs on tour like?
Neel: We started with Chennai then Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Dehradun, Chandigarh and Amritsar. And we closed the tour in Kolkata playing at Jamsteady.
Bongrong: Personally, I never got the chance to learn Indian classical music even though I’d like to. Where should I begin? Is YouTube enough?
Neel: You need to find a proper guru for proper guidance. You can never learn from Youtube. If you need to learn this music it's mandatory to go under the guidance of a guru otherwise it's impossible to have the proper knowledge because it's so deep and spiritual, so, you have to be in a specific discipline to have this music with you.
Bongrong: Finally, are there local artists that you are fond of? Junior artists who you would like to mention?
Neel: Somehow the music and musicality I like it’s difficult to find here.
To be honest I don’t get to see too many performers here and at the end of the day it’s either blues or rock or heavy metal or jazz in a mostmodern form. There are a few individuals who are very skilled and talented but I miss the creativity here somehow. The bands on Friday Night Originals are good.
Bongrong: Anything in particular about the album ‘Zikr’ that you would like to mention?
Neel: Every track is special, but still I would recommend the track called Route5 and Petrichor because they both have different dimensions in terms of soundscape and listening. Route5 is about a journey where you can feel like in parts its calm and then in parts it will take you to an energetic state because you will find some Latin Jazz, flamenco textures whereas there is a section where it's purely intoclassical music to depict inner turmoil.
And Petrichor is a track where I feel it's a kind of rest from the cacophony around you and hoping for a new beginning with sweetness, as the word ‘Petrichor’ means the smell of the soil after a heavy rain.
BongRong: Thank you Neel for your time and we wish you all the success with your future.