Gaurab Chatterjee or Gabu da as he is more affectionately and widely known in Calcutta among people, musicians and non – musicians alike is a stalwart in the city. Having been a founding member of bangla band Lakkhichhara, he made his mark as a drummer but furthermore expanded his abilities to include vocal work and music direction for films like Necklace and Kagojer Bou. As a musician, having had the opportunity to share the stage with the man himself, it was an honour to delve into the finer, deeper aspects of making music for a living.
Bongrong: When did you start making music professionally?
Gabooda: I started around 1995 with Lakkhichhara, along with the release of the “Abar Bochor Kuri Por”. I had also started a lineup during that time called “Juvenile Delinquency” with whom we recorded a few demos. But I think around 98 – 99, I had played a few shows with my father and also a couple of shows with Lakkhichhara. I started assisting Debojyoti Mishra around 2004 and I got involved in some classical setups around 2009, such as with Bickram Ghosh, so that’s how it’s been since.
Bongrong: Did you always want to get into film music? How did the transition happen?
Gabooda: I always wanted to get into it, I always had an interest in it. It’s very different from playing in a band. So like, in the band, someone composes the song and you play as a drummer or you help with the arrangement but when you’re directing you get a much wider canvas. I have a much better grasp of the music I am making and it’s important to make music in the context of the film so I always found that interesting.
As to how it happened, I had made a show reel that I gave to a few filmmakers and somehow Bappaditya (Bandhopadhyay) wanted to give me a chance. Around the same time Shakhar Das also contacted me so I worked for “Kagojer Bou” and “Necklace”; I got the chance after trying for a really long time. And yes I enjoy the whole thing because it’s so different from bands.
Bongrong: What do you think is the scope for making music and earning a living in the city?
Gabooda: Talking on a much larger scale, this applies to any form of art – basically it’s a good idea to always expand into multiple aspects of it. In that sense, if you get sorted with your work, then of course it is possible, but there are always ups and downs. I mean, for every famous artist you have heard of there are dozens playing in small pubs and earning a living with music. I think the key is to always have faith in yourself and keep going that’s all.
Bongrong: What is your take on the current music scene especially with younger bands?
Gabooda: Honestly, there are fewer younger bangla bands right now and it’s a lot tougher because of the lack of promotion. Honestly, there’s no media coverage – nothing on radio or TV so that’s the biggest problem right now and that applies for whether you’re making bangla, english or instrumental music. There’s actually no representation of the Kolkata music scene right now. The internet helps of course, but I mean like in most foreign countries YouTube has taken over the role of television and that transition is bound to happen here gradually. Rupam (Islam) has started a channel called Radio Bangla Rock and I think there should be more channels like that. This channel essentially covers bangla music which is great in that at least it’s covering one side of it but I think there should also be a channel that represents the Kolkata music scene.
I have a plan to start a channel and likewise provide a wider coverage for the Kolkata music scene. I mean the music here is very different from the scene in say, Bombay. There’s a lot of talent here but it’s just that people are forced to leave the city due to lack of opportunity and that has to be stopped because that makes no sense. Over here, I’ll still say that you can play original music and you know it reaches out to people.
Bongrong: Yes you said something similar in an episode of Friday Night Originals.
Gabooda: Exactly. I think that vibe is present in Calcutta, it’s just that there isn’t any medium as such. I mean, if you give it to people, they will listen to it. Years ago, at least for Bangla music, the radio really helped. It made the music available to say the average man, not a hardcore listener like you or me; so on his way to work or to a meeting he could listen to music and he’d like it and that’s how it grew.
Bongrong: So how do you think we can promote it all now?
Gabooda: TV and radio – if they don’t do anything it’s difficult. The internet helps of course. I mean like you mentioned Friday Night Originals, even though they’re just barely meeting the financial expenses, but I think if someone is doing quality work and if they hang in there and keep struggling, they might get sponsorship from somewhere.
Bongrong: Any young city bands that you’re a fan of?
Gabooda: Within the city I really like Bemanan; they were initially called Jack Rabbit and I loved their work since then. I liked the Ganesh Talkies, Zoo – although they aren’t functional now, I like Neel Adhikari. Among metal bands I’ve always liked Chronic Xorn, Yonsample and What Escapes Me. And most other bands I’ve liked have broken up from what I’ve heard. I remember judging one band at the Presidency fest called The High Crook, they were good. One new band that I really found interesting was Atlas, which is our guitarist John’s band. I found their sound very interesting. There is another bangla band called Never Ask Us. I liked them as well.
Bongrong: What is the plan with Lakkhichhara right now?
Gabooda: Honestly the last two years have been tough trying to sort out a proper line up. Luckily the core of the band has remained the same for more than 15 years and the new guys – John, Raj or Bodhi – they’re very good at what they do so yes, we’re working with new compositions, new songs. But the plan is to release a few singles sometime this year and then maybe an album is on the cards. It’ll take some time but at least the band is functioning and the lineup we have now, I don’t think anyone will be leaving the city soon, which has been a problem for us. I mean almost the entire 2015 was spent in search of a new vocalist.
Bongrong: What advice would you give to a startup band especially since Lakkhichhara have experimented a lot with music that may not really fit in well with the masses?
Gabooda: See again it comes down to the media, I mean when Sangeet Bangla used to play our music videos regularly, people used to listen to it. So it’s like whatever you give people, that’s what they’ll listen to. This is where recall value comes in to play. I mean if you’re playing the same songs everyday all the time, that’s all that people will listen to. That’s what happens with film music now.
One thing I’ve seen with a lot of new bands, is that the members have a stable job and are making music on the side. And because of this, they don’t have the pressure to earn money from music and hence they can sustain the band. And of course the other option is play in as many projects as you can and from that you can carry on with the one project that your heart is really into. I mean it boils down to the question whether you want to fund your music with a desk job or from full time music.
Bongrong: So which would you prefer?
Gabooda: The grass is always greener… so a full time musician might want to have a regular source of income and vice versa. I mean the way I do it – I play studio sessions, play in multiple projects and I think it’s very important to expand as much as possible.
If you genuinely want to make music, and if you get a job that actually allows you to do your music then of course you can work there and carry on with music on the side and then if you wish to expand with your music you have the option of quitting the job that is always there. Like our bass player, Panku, has a stable job but always plays bass with us because his job allows him that freedom.
Bongrong: So who would you cite as influences?
Gabooda: Stewart Copeland of the Police, Mike Portnoy, Vinnie Colaiuta primarily because of the various forms he’s played, that is something I aspire to become. Apart from that I think Chad Smith and while playing classical, I always try to follow the tabla player so I can adapt the indian style into my playing because at the end of the day I’m not a Cuban or an American so I should try to include those influences into my playing.
Bongrong: What should we expect from your workshop?
Gabooda: I’ll be going with Panku so I think I’ll talk about the rhythm section – how it is formed, locking in your grooves and how to use it in different forms and I’ll talk about odd meters, I mean, straying from the usual 4 and 6 I will stress on 5 and 7. So I’ll talk about that, how to do it easily. And I guess I’ll talk about my influences.