In this monthly spin-off from my column about the Indian music industry, I highlight four of the most interesting Indian independent releases of the last few weeks " one album, one EP, one single and one music video each. The series is accompanied by a Spotify playlist of the same name that includes tracks I wrote about in the 'Recently Played' section of my column as well as many other cool tunes that I recommend checking out.
Album: Comedians On Drugs, Avora Records
The first time I wrote about Aizawl's Avora Records was back in February 2018 when I featured them among a list of artists to watch that year. At the time, they were working on their debut album, which was finally released earlier this month. I'm happy to report they've lived up to the promise displayed back then. Comedians On Drugs, named so because few people take musicians seriously, is a set of songs that seamlessly combines multiple genres and musical eras. "Sunday", a rumination on the rat race, recalls aughties alt-rock; "Walt Of The Foolish Youth", a contemplation on carefree teenage love, is all upbeat 1980s pop; "23:00", a bittersweet post-break-up ballad, is jazzy R&B. Not the kind of the band to forego the opportunity for an easy hook, crowd-pleasing guitar solo or funky bassline, there's something endearingly old-school about Avora Records. Comedians On Drugs has made me more eager for what's next.
EP: head + heart, pb
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist pb aka Paridhhi Bajoria is among the few but growing number of female Indian independent artists who single-handedly write, compose and produce their own music. (The list includes genre-melding teen Rudy Mukta). Originally from Mumbai, pb " who is currently pursuing an MRes degree in Sustainable Futures at the University of Bath in the UK " makes lo-fi bedroom. Although it's become a cliche to describe such music as intimate, the raw and warm sonic textures and confessional, diary-entry lyrics of head + heart justify the use of the adjective. Songs like "call u anyway" and "pedestal" will resonate with anybody who's been part of unequal relationships in which self-awareness doesn't always prevent self-jeopardy. They're contrasted by EP closer "coffee", which features fellow singer-songwriter Sid Pillai. The acoustic guitars and sweet harmonies of the folky ballad hint that pb's range of influences extends to the likes of Laura Marling.
Single: "Chehra (Live)", Hanita Bhambri featuring Bawari Basanti
This pick is a bit of a cheat. "Chehra", arguably singer-songwriter Hanita Bhambri's signature song, was released a little over a year ago. But this version represents a rare occurrence in the Indian indie scene: a duet by two solo female artists. It was performed as a special collaboration for vocalist-composer Bawari Basanti aka Mahima Dayal's gig for the Madness Jams series of livestreamed shows at the end of September. Considering that they've both consistently put out quality material and played impressive live sets over the last few months of #lockdownlife, it was something of a perfect match. The contrasting tones and inflections of Dayal and Bhambri's distinct voices add a new dimension to the heartache ballad as they alternatively sing lines of the verses and harmonise during the chorus. The vulnerability they individually infuse into the lyrics make it sound even more intense the original, which is known to bring Bhambri to tears whenever she sings it.
Music video: "Rihaa", Arijit Singh
I never imagined including Arijit Singh in this series. The country's top playback singer is by no means an independent artist. Yet for all practical purposes, his recently launched label, Oriyon Music, is an independent record company. This was evident when during the first week of its release, the video for its inaugural offering "Rihaa" tallied only a fraction of the YouTube views accumulated by the videos of major labels' new "non-film" singles. "Rihaa", composed, produced and co-written by Singh, is not radically different from his Bollywood output but it has him doing what he does best, effortlessly imbibing a song with a certain soulfulness that can elevate even the most ordinary track. More clutter-breaking is the intricately detailed stop-motion video, which is somewhat of a showreel for his production company Oriyon Edutainment. It takes viewers into the fantastical world of its protagonist puppet as he grapples with the many existential matters outlined in the lyrics.
Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox