My own musical path, and in turn the path of Lickpenny Loafer, was shaped significantly by my Indian heritage. India is the country I was born in and was raised in for the first seven years of my life. Beyond that it is hard to really explain the extent of the relationship that I have with the country of my origin. But what I do know is that for me there is a very deep connection to India.
Though my memories of those first seven years in her arms have encountered time and distance, I can remember many things still. Some are full memories, some are pieces, and still others are only glimpses of a past life; one I look forward to reconnecting with. Interestingly, so much of what I do remember involves music.
I am Canadian. I have lived a happy life for many years in my adopted country. I love my adopted home so it is not for reasons of homesickness or lack of identity that I pine for more connection with my birthplace. But there is something that gnaws at me. Unfortunately, one does not have multiple bodies and multiple lives to lead. We belong where we are and do what we must with those circumstances.
But I look at India now (albeit from afar) and I am blown away. It is hard for me to fathom– thinking back to riding in a taxi at the tender age of seven from grandfather’s house in Bharat Nagar (Delhi) to the airport, bound for Canada, and looking through the car window one last time at this place I was leaving – just how much change and growth the country of my birth has undergone; and it continues to grow at a pace the world has never before seen! I yearn to reconnect with that place. I want to know India as it is now and to better understand with what rhythm the heart of my home country now beats with. Mostly, it is the desire to not only know, but to contribute to a growing fabric of artists and musicians in India that are exploring and discovering the energized world of rock music. There is such a fantastic music scene developing in India! It excites me to one day participate in that.
I know that India has a very long and rich history of music. In fact, I know it first-hand – I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a household utterly devoted to music. My grandmother, Indira Natesan, was a South Indian classical music composer. As a toddler in Kolkata, I would be seated on her lap chewing through sari after sari, as she would sit quietly in a kind of trance while she made her compositions. I suppose this was how I first learned to devour music- literally. As a child in Chennai, I can remember essentially ‘hanging out’ for hours on end in the houses of timeless musicians like the great violinist Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman, and the great mridangam player Sri Vellore Ramabhadran. Time in our house was measured by the passing of days and weeks between ‘Kacheris’ (concerts). And of course aside from classical music, my ears were constantly fed the vocal stylings of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, and other Indian film music virtuosos. It also helped to have a mother who is a singer, and my father who was- well, who was easily the biggest lover of music I have ever known.
When we moved to Canada, the influence of Indian music on me became even greater. My family, as many Indian families living abroad can attest to, seemed to work as hard as possible at participating in and preserving those aspects of culture of their home country they so conflictingly left behind. For us that meant music from dawn to dusk. In the morning it was Suprabhatam (Sanskrit hymns), the afternoon was a steady stream of carnatic music, and the evening, especially when spent with other Indian families, was a recap of all of the new Bollywood hits- karaoke style.
And always there were visiting musicians and concerts. I can remember tagging along on ten hour drives from Toronto to U.S cities like Washington D.C, Trenton (New Jersey), and Pittsburgh just so my parents could see a concert by a beloved artist from the homeland. And many times when artists came to Toronto, my own family had the incredible honor of playing host and having them stay with us. It is an honor I know I did not fully understand or appreciate – to have the likes of Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman or Vikku Vinayakram (ghatam) gracing you with their presence, sharing their wisdom and joy for both music and life, in your own humble house. I may not have appreciated it then, but I do so much appreciate those times now.
But you see back then I was discovering a slightly different path. I was just finding my teenage legs. I was growing my hair long, stealing time whenever I could with my sister’s new acoustic guitar, and discovering three very important things – Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and the Smashing Pumpkins! I had discovered rock n’ roll and I was hooked. I started my first band at the ripe age of sixteen and never looked back.
I started writing my own songs at a voracious pace since the time I was eighteen. At first, many were throw-aways, but over time certain songs here and there would come to contribute as building blocks for the Lickpenny Loafer sound. Some of these songs were directly influenced by my Indian roots. Exploring ragas in particular became part of how our band was negotiating melodies. And as a vocalist, my style was affected just as much by hearing K.V Narayanaswamy sing live as it was by listening for hours on end to The Doors records and Jim Morrison’s voice. At the end of the day when playing most of its songs, Lickpenny Loafer is very much a rock n’ roll band. But if you look carefully, deep in the underbelly of our overall sound you can find several traces of Indian influence.
As I look back over the last decade, I feel lucky to live a life with so much music in it. There is also one that fact has never escaped me- if it wasn’t for my Indian roots and the influence that it has had in my life, I would have never become a musician. Now our band, Lickpenny Loafer, is set to release its first full-length album (second overall), and I am ready to give back.