What inspires you?
Rahul: Life. Everything comes from life. I’m a musician and a writer so all of that comes from life; from joy and sorrow and everyday life in the relationships with people that we meet in this journey. I think that is my biggest source of inspiration.
Saptarshi: Of course life it is- those people that surround me; my parents, my teachers.
What drew you to music?
Rahul: I’m singing since I was seven. Music was part of the curriculum in school in East Africa, in Tanzania and I was singing in the school choir- I took part in musicals, I started being given roles- acting and singing, I kind of just flowed into it like a river to the sea, I guess.
Saptarshi: I have been making music since I was in college, when I was around eighteen years old. I am still learning, also I teach a few students.
You spoke about your time in Africa; how has that influenced your music?
Rahul: Africa is a very musical continent to begin with and I think it is the spiritual home of rhythm and melody because all music began there- even in the anthropological or sociological sense of the word. I was surrounded by music in school; we were taught European classical music and some folk songs from England and the United States. Also when you went out on the streets, it’s just so rich, there are people sitting and playing percussion and singing. There is a very vibrant street music scene and people just sing for the love of it and I think they are very passionate about music and it comes to them naturally. Since I was surrounded with that, I think I developed a keen ear for music and recognizing forms and the sounds of different instruments. That had a really big impact. Secondly being in school, it was a very cosmopolitan culture with people from all over the world- interacting with students from different countries and listening to music that they brought along with them, that also enriched my experience of music in the early years.
Did you pick up any native instruments during your time there? How do you incorporate the sound of these instruments into your music now?
Rahul: I know how to play a little Djembe, which is a very basic African percussion instrument. But then a lot of the music being made in modern Africa is actually drum, bass and guitar and I play a lot of Soukous Guitar. Soukous is a style that originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo; which was then known as Zaire, but then a lot of the musicians from the DRC moved to Kenya and Tanzania because of political instability at home and set up base in Arusha and Nairobi. I am from Arusha and it has a vibrant music scene because there are a lot of pubs, it’s a tourist town. So yes, I picked up a lot of Soukous tunes in the early years, but at that time I wasn’t a guitar player, I was playing piano, so I just basically learnt those melodies on the piano- and the songs of course.
What is your musical philosophy?
Rahul: Well, I think, music is a journey in consciousness. A part of it is external, which has to do with communication. Therefore, when we are singing or playing an instrument, we are actually talking to people at a very deep level; sharing our experiences of life, some of which are actually universal- everyone goes through ups and downs and good times and bad times. The other aspect of it is that it is very spiritual and I think music also helps you become a good human being, which is really the most important thing. I would say, especially in a very competitive environment, it helps you to stay stable and have a positive outlook towards everything irrespective of what happens. The basic musical philosophy is live and let live and have a good time.
Saptarshi: I think music is all about how you go about your life. It is a way of communicating- some communicate with words, some with words and melodies and some with only melodies. It is another way to communicate and it is all about what you grasp from people around you and also your culture, your way of living, your food habits…
You guys are performing as a duo today- what are the differences in playing as a duo as opposed to a solo performance or in a larger group?
Rahul: Every set up is unique because you approach the same songs differently. When you are playing as a duo, there are fewer instruments so you kind of get an intimate vibe to whatever you are doing and I think that it’s mellow, you tend to concentrate more on the essence of the song. There is very little to do with trying to show off your chops or whatever because that is not the kind of situation it is. A duo in music helps me focus on the lyrics and the melody and I think it’s a little more soulful because what happens is when you are playing in a band, it is really loud and so it’s more about power and energy and this acoustic duo set ups are more about the lyrics and the tune and minor embellishments that make it sound good. You could go up with a hundred piece orchestra with the same song and then that has a different kind of potential and you could be sitting alone and playing a single songwriter gigs like Bob Dylan and that is wow.
Saptarshi: For me it is just what is coming out, either from the amplifier or the sound holes of the guitar- it’s what is coming out, that’s more important than whether it is a band or a duo or a solo.
What, in your opinion, would help the music scene here that you are a part of?
Rahul: As far as the rock, blues, country, folk or the more traditional kind of music scene is concerned, there is actually a grave danger of that dying out in the sort of environment we live in today. There is not much mainstream media support for that and also, you know, this music isn’t promoted; whether it’s at corporate events or even at concerts, so the future is to learn the music well first. I’ll have to point out that this isn’t a music that many people can perform with a lot of confidence because there are not many good teachers in this style of music. In a very television driven culture or a media driven culture, people also don’t have exposure. As far as bands playing that, I don’t think too many young bands are playing this; some of them are starting this now because they are liking The Beatles, they are liking older stuff from the sixties and seventies because they are realizing that it has more depth in terms of content, sheer virtuosity of musicians involved and taste. If that catches on, it will be a good thing; it will enrich the rock scene in general and will have more bands and better performances in this particular style of music. It is also how educational institutions, media houses and all promote that. If more kids get onto it and have a good time doing it, I think we will have some excellent artists in 5 to 10 years from now.
Saptarshi: This kind of music needs to be promoted. Being a teacher I find it very difficult to teach this kind of music to my students because it is very cultural and they have to know about the lifestyle. Therefore I feel that people who play this kind of music should do more shows, play more often and organizers should give those musicians more opportunities. That is the only way people will learn and listen to it.