The Calcutta Collective

Ukuleles, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, shakers tied to shoe laces and bass to ground – not a band, but a collective. More power to them, echoes Neel Adhikary!

From the armpit of the Indian underground music scene comes a new stench. I realized that we weren’t stinking enough. In the past few years I’ve found a lot of brilliant songwriters and musicians with real voices and unique points of view playing their music to their friends and their walls in the confines of their homes. The stage comes with its own learning curve and every performing musician has to acquire the stage savvy before his material gets the kind of attention and presentation it deserves. Old vultures like me can come in quite handy in situations like this. So I started the open mic a few years ago to counter this problem. But yes even the open mic happens on a stage with wires , monitors and the soul defeating, spirit crushing and thoroughly embarrassing feedback. As a result even the open mic wouldn’t get them out that often.

Coincidentally I was recently asked to suggest some bands for a new venue called The Tea Trove in the city where they were looking to start a Wednesday scene. I took the opportunity to get on to stage one of my favourite musicians in the city. He’d been on stage with me once for a tiny gig at a store in a mall. This was something we’d done as an experiment, which had worked out rather well. I played on some of his songs and he played on mine. So I decided lets start this Wednesday scene at The Tea Trove with Topshe. We asked Dhee to join us on percussions cuz he’d casually played shakers and darbuka with us in the earlier gig and was rock solid with time and groove. While discussing this with a few friends we found our pal Arijit had bought a ukulele and was singing his songs with a new fresh energy after his ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ kind of holiday at Goa.

So we asked him to join. Bassist Roheet (from Ganesh Talkies and the Lightbulbs) joined us when saw that the vibe was quite chilled. The two man gig had become a 5 man gig. The venue was packed and Nicholas (from Ifs and Buts) played a couple of songs after we finished. Four songwriters had played their songs to the 75 people crammed into the tiny coffee shop. Everyone had one thing to say…”this is the scene maaaan”. There was an informal vibe and the line between the stage and the crowd was rather blurred. The sound was different from everything that we see or hear around us. It had Ukuleles, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, shakers tied to shoe laces and bass to ground all this high frequency action. So we decided that Nicholas should be a part of this and we should get in Dhee’s partner Satyajit (they’re both in school and have a band called The Suitables). We decided that it’ll not be a band. It’ll be a collective where all these artists will get together and play once in a while.

Lets Ghettoize is what we’ve been saying for a while. People are listening up now.

Three days later we had another gig at a wine festival at the Swissotel rooftop and we realized our journey had begun. Also we realized that this collective would soon turn into a ‘Massive’ with more members coming in. After much deliberation we decided to simply call ourselves ‘The Calcutta Collective’.

Lets see what the other members feel about the collective.

Arijit Sett : Originally part of the band ‘Peppermint Sunshine’. They’d gotten themselves a strong tight following for a while before getting defunked. Brilliant writer.

“I used to hang around musicians a lot but somehow it was a world that I didn’t have access to directly. I discovered could sing a bit and got into music but I wouldn’t consider myself a musician. I wanted to do this and that but I realized that you’d need to invest quite a bit, to get things going in terms of equipment. Getting a gig is one thing, having equipment is one thing, writing, playing and having a practice pad are also a big factors, and all of these things need to come together. Finding the right guys to play with is also always a problem. These things keep you from playing music. But when we do it amongst friends like we are now everybody gets something to the table and that enables us to complete our music with a full sound rather than chasing one particular micro sound. That’s why this collective is great for me. I found myself on stage two days after you called. A lot of great musicians in the city want do a lot of things with their music but don’t or cant. Being part of a collective keeps the pressure and the anticipation up. For me it’s an enabling process. If there’s a forum in the city then it can help musicians get their music out there more professionally.”

Nicholas Rixon : A songwriter with the city’s favourite acoustic duo. Ifs and Buts. After releasing their first EP they are working on their first album. A dedicated fan base follows them to every gig they play. Check out their video for ‘Tourist’ , one of their brilliant compositions.

“I think being part of this collective is helpful, because you get to hear a lot of music you wouldn’t have heard otherwise and it sounds a lot different from even our own Indie scene. The collective is different because I feel there’s a stronger emphasis on the songwriting more than the musicianship. That’s very undone in the Kolkata scene. There’s usually a lot of attention on guitar parts and drum parts but here it’s more about the storytelling aspect in music. I think its the perfect platform for me, to dig out the old songs I’ve forgotten about, or even bring the fresh new ones to the collective to see what the other songwriters think about it. Most of us are on the same page about the vibe.”

Topshe : A multitalented individual. I personally think he’s a genius. He’s a brilliant guitar player, songwriter, editor and cameraman amongst other things. Had a band that played the CAW festival in Kolkata called ‘The Super Nirmas’ that was soon swallowed up by everyone’s daily lives. It’s Defunked now. He also shot and edited the video of ‘Washing Windows’ from Neel and The Lightbulbs.

The collective is different because I feel there’s a stronger emphasis on the songwriting more than the musicianship. That’s very undone in the Kolkata scene. There’s usually a lot of attention on guitar parts and drum parts but here it’s more about the storytelling aspect in music.

“The collective is working out amazingly well for me. When I first play a song it’s very different in my head, typically it’s an impossible sound where I can imagine a host of different instruments playing. However when you get down to realistically arrange a song it’s a different ball game. This is my first set up where I am working with many musicians and giving flesh and skin to my music. The process is becoming clearer in my head. Also on stage it’s a very nice vibe because everyone is playing for themselves and for others. Everyone seems to be quite happy to receive criticism as long as they get praise for the good things as well. The plan for now is to get more practice under our belts and do more gigs and be more organized in terms of our stage performance. Since we have many instruments shifting between the players. In our next show the percussionist will get up and sing a song too. Everyone has a role in everything even if the role is waiting.”Satyajit Chatterji: Still in school. He’s a maverick blues guitar player with a surprisingly raspy husky voice for his chocolate boy looks. Plays his originals with his blues trio ‘The Suitables’. They’ve been around for more than a year gigging intermittently and they wear suits on stage. I hope they survive the summer.

“When I was in class four you gave me a DVD of John Mayer’s mega-concert ‘Where The Light Is’ and the blues set in that, got under my skin and I was hooked onto the blues. Although now I trip on Stevie Ray Vaughn a lot and guess what?

SRV died on my birthday and I feel that might mean something although I know that it doesn’t.

The collective is super fun for me to play in because we are currently without a bassist who’s stepped out of the band to focus a li’l more on his studies. We have a few originals we are planning to record soon once we figure out the bass player situation. Till then, Dhee and me will rip it with the collective. And at least keep appearing on stage to do what I feel we do best.

Do check out the video to our song ‘Suit Yourself ’’ on Youtube and also our chapter with the SCP.

Dhee Majumder: An immensely gifted percussionist with a maturity way ahead of his years. Still in school and rock steady with his tempo and groove. Once in a while sings and plays guitar too amongst a host of other instruments. He comes from a family of thinkers. His father is Silajit, a star in the mainstream Bangla music scene who ironically has not a mainstream bone in his body. Plays drums for ‘The Suitables’. He also plays ambient effect guitar and drums sometimes for his dad’s band ‘Silajit Live’. A complete musician.

Roheet Mukherjee : The Busiest Bassist in town. Most wanted man in the indie scene of Kolkata with a foot in the mainstream pie as well. Very mature and capable of multitasking, Roheet plays for:(lemme take a deep breath) The Ganesh Talkies, Neel And the Lightbulbs and The Anupam Roy Band apart from freelancing with Ifs and Buts, Bodhisattya Trio , Crystal Grass, and God knows how many others, he doesn’t tell me. What’s incredible about him is that when he comes to practice with my band his creative light glows super bright even after completing four practices with other outfits in a day. His idea box is never empty. Has a very good sense of arrangements and understanding different vibes and genres. Currently working on two albums with The Ganesh Talkies and NATL. A hard man to replace.

So then that’s the collective. But last night we had Suyasha Sen from the Ganesh Talkies at my place she’s been writing a song a day. She’s on a creative high she said. She’s joining the collective and will be there from our next practice session. So finally the sausage party will be validated as a real consortium with a feminine presence. This collective somehow reaffirms the clichés about Kolkata while dispelling them sonically

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