(G)Olden Rock Bands in India
In Indian culture, Classical Music is of huge prominence and is one of the most prime forms of Music. Classical Music can be traced back to the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the timeline can be set at the early times of the Indus Valley Civilization.
In the early years of Independence, there were some Rock Bands in the metro cities like Mumbai and Kolkata, but the Indian people couldn’t handle this genre because of its intense sound and hurried lyrics. When the Beatles visited India in the 1960s and worked with some of the famous musicians of that time, like Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain, people liked the blend. The blend of classical music with the rock instruments and fast lyrics inspired people to take the Rock genre seriously.
Over the years, Indian Rock has produced many artists and bands, who are now acclaimed all over the world, for incorporating Indian music with hardcore rock music. Though Rock Music was initialized by some of the bands of Mumbai and Kolkata post-independence, not all bands survived. Let’s explore some of the oldest rock bands which made it to the mainstream.
1. Mohiner Ghoraguli
Mohiner Ghoraguli is a Bengali independent band, which made their debut album in 1975. Their music was mainly rock, comprised of folk and Indian Classical. Arguably the first Indian Rock band, Mohiner Ghoraguli had a good run due to their popular albums. Their band got dissolved in 1981 and then re-evolved again in 1995. In India’s rock band scene, they are still considered to be the ‘best’.
In a time when India was deeply in love with the filmy songs, Mohiner Ghoraguli incepted a new variation in music. Their music was largely based on everyday fallacy and depicted the picture of Urban Kolkata. Though, in the first two years, due to the political turmoil of Bengal, and the radical beliefs of the band, the band didn’t gain much popularity among the common people of Bengal. Over the years, when people started realising the true potential of the music they compose, Mohiner Ghoraguli became one of the most listened to bands in India. Mohiner Ghoraguli couldn’t reach the National platform mainly because of the language barrier, but they did become the first rock band, which was acclaimed largely by the common mass.
2. Indus Creed
Indus Creed is a Mumbai based band, which started in the rock circuit with the name of “Rock Machine” in 1984. The main difference between Mohiner Ghoraguli and Indus Creed is that Mohiner Ghoraguli didn’t perform in College fests instead they concentrated on their albums. Indus Creed started as a ‘cover’ band, who mainly performed in College fests and entertainment events, singing their famous playlist which consisted of Thin Lizzy, UFO, The Who, Deep Purple, Van Halen and Rush. In 1988, Indus Creed produced their first album, which was a huge success. Rock’n’Roll Renegade was the first all-rock album of India and became a huge success instantly.
Their albums reached every corner of India. In 1993, they started experimenting with traditional Indian instruments, and thought of changing their name to something more connected with India, and thus the name “Indus Creed”. They played with various famous musicians all over the world and became one of the most known names in the Rock Circuit of India.
3. Indian Ocean
Considered as the pioneer of fusion rock in India, Indian Ocean is still the most sought after band any day. A pseudo-Bengali band, Indian Ocean started in the late 1980s, with a performance in Roorkee University. There wasn’t much fame until 1990 when they recorded a tape of 7 songs for a length of 45 minutes which impressed HMV, who offered them an album deal.
Their music mainly involves hazards that keep humans from leading a normal life. When their first album, Indian Ocean released in 1993, it became the highest sold record of all time. The Indian Ocean never looked back after their initial release in 1993. Though they have undergone certain changes in the line-up, due to the sudden demise of some of their musicians, they are still highly acclaimed by critics and audience alike.
Parikrama, a Delhi-based band, was formed in 1991 and is one of the most famous rock bands in India today. With thousands of performances under their belt, Parikrama has a huge fan following in India. Parikrama believes in free distribution of their songs and all their songs can be downloaded from their website. Until now they do not have a full-length album but have famous numbers like But it rained, Am I dreaming, Xerox, One which are all sung in live performances. Fusing their music with traditional Indian instruments like a tabla, mridangam is very soothing to hear on stage.
Recently But it rained got a special mention in the “25 Greatest Indian Rock Songs of the last 25 Years".
5. Silk Route
Silk Route started the beginning of an era when the rock was further modified into Indipop. Musicians became inclined towards more softness towards singing, while the bass went high. Silk Route was one of those bands, who mixed their music with various high pitched instruments, and making it unique to hear.
One of the main vocals and founder of Silk Route was Mohit Chauhan, who sang the song “Dooba Dooba” from the album Boondhein. This album which was released in 1994, became a huge hit, and thus started the journey of Silk Route. As of now, Silk Route is still functioning as a band but does not perform at college fests or entertainment events. In 2016, they released their new album ‘Pehchan’. It is still the only Indipop band of India.
The recorder, a 17th-century instrument which was played by one of the founders, Kem Trivedi added a unique sense to their music.
We all know Vishal Dadlani and love his husky voice. Pentagram was formed by Vishal Dadlani and drummer Shiraz Bhattacharya in 1994. It blended rock and electronics together and gave a unique sense of Indian Independent music. Their fame became evident when they won three consecutive rock competitions in IIT Kanpur, Delhi and Mumbai. Shekhar Ravijani played keyboards in Pentagram, and that’s how the famous duo Vishal-Sekhar of Bollywood happened. Their first album We are not listening was a big hit and thus started their journey to become one of the best Rock Bands in the Country.
Their latest album Bloodywood was released in March 2011. The Introspection of the band in this album gave them huge popularity.
Though Krosswindz is a Bengali Band, they are the first band in eastern India to have an independent English album known as SINGLES. Though most of their albums or covers are from Bengali songs, they have toured extensively in India and abroad and have taken part in many music festivals. Krosswindz is one of the very few bands, which have a female lead singer. Formed in 1990, Krosswindz started playing in College festivals in Kolkata. Today, Krosswindz has performed and collaborated with world famous musicians and the journey was not easy.
They fuse Bengali folk songs with Rock Music, which makes their music attractive. Bengali folk like Baul has largely been globalised, due to the music of Krosswindz.
Cactus, a rock band from Calcutta formed in 1992 is one of the best music groups in the local scene today. Their main objective in creating the band, as stated by some of their members ,was producing rock music in a language which is connected to their soil. Their music resembles Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Their first album Cactus was released in 1999 by HMV and became one of the highest grossing album of all time. This was the first time in Bengali music there was a portrayal of psychedelia.
After their initial hit with Cactus the band started singing for Bengali films and has performed in 2500 concerts all over India.
Probably the most popular band in West Bengal today, Fossils came into existence in 1998. Their music consists of a fusion of blues, psychedelia and rock. They have performed in Bengali in Australia and the UK. Considered as one of the most popular bands in India today, their performance in NH7 was incredible. Fossils are the only Band, in Bengali Rock Circuit, which is purely rock-based like Indus Creed. Their band faced many objections during their initial years, due to their music, but these hostilities paved the way for their first album Fossils.
Fossils didn’t become an instant success but is considered as a CULT today. Over the years, Fossils came up with new albums and those became instant hits. Their lead, Rupam Islam, one of the founders has also recorded for Bengali films.
Motherjane is a Rock band which was formed in 1996 in Kochi. They are famous for blending Carnatic Music with Rock elements. Up till now, they have produced 2 albums and 4 singles. Motherjane is the only band on the list which started out as an Instrumental band as they had no vocalists. The Band was formed by John Thomas (Drummer), Mithun Raju (Guitarist) and the bassist Clyde Rozario. In 2000 when Suraj Mani joined the band they released their first album Insane Biography. Insane Biography became an instant hit and is the only album that was featured in Asian Rock Rising Festival. Their recent album, Maktub released in 2008.
Suraj Mani left the band recently due to several health reasons and Vivek Thomas took his place.
The above listing is for those brave souls who amongst many hostilities introduced a new genre of music in India. Once limited to Classical Music , India has now emerged as a Nation where Rock Bands are emergent. Rock Music is still regarded as one of the platform where musicians can portray the corruption and ill-doings of the society through music.
“While Pop Music often tells you everything is OK, Rock Music tells you that it’s not OK, but you can change it”.
-Bono, On the Move