Rock Band Indian Ocean Releases New Album ‘Tu Hai’ After 9 Years

The Delhi-based fusion rock band gets candid about their 34 years of making music, their eighth album and upcoming tour.

Published On May 02, 2023 | Updated On Mar 03, 2024

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One of India’s most loved and popular music bands, Indian Ocean has completed 34 years in the business and continues to enthral music lovers with their blend of folk and fusion music. The band that formed in 1990 saw some initial setbacks with tabla player and vocalist Asheem Chakravarty’s death due to illness and later, guitarist Susmit Sen’s exit. However, Rahul Ram (guitarist and vocalist) and Amit Kilam (percussionist and vocalist) kept going, and soon, with the entry of Himanshu Joshi (lead vocalist), Nikhil Rao (lead guitarist) and Tuheen Chakravorty (tabla player and percussionist), Indian Ocean has kept their promise to music fans with packed performances across India and abroad, bringing out memorable tracks all these years.

The band dropped their new single, Jaadu Maya, a couple of days ago, from their upcoming album Tu Hai, which releases on May 5, 2023. There’s also a Tu Hai tour, from April 29, 2023 which will see concerts being held in cities such as Noida, Gurgaon, Delhi, Mumbai, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Guwahati and Jaipur among others.

Zee Zest sat down with four of the five members to chat about all things music!    

Rahul Ram: There was never any uncertainty in my mind. Asheem’s death was a horrible shock. When he fell sick, we thought we’ll get in another person to perform the tabla and for vocals till he gets okay and re-joins us. We had to carry on and we did. Unfortunately, he passed away. Ironically, Asheem died in December 2009 and in 2010, Indian Ocean did more concerts than ever in their life. A lot had already happened before he died – the release of a film on Indian Ocean, going to Indian Idol, etc. Toh chalte toh rehna tha aur chalte raha (so it had to continue and it did).

Uncertainty did not come even when Susmit left because we knew he would leave. He had already lost interest and I think he wanted to pursue a solo career. Plus, I think he felt – and he said this in a few places as well – that these guys are doing more vocals and less instrumental. So, the uncertainty was not about the band but about who will replace Susmit and Asheem.

Tandanu came out the year that Susmit left the band and it was a spectacular album. It was a gift to ourselves. We did a lot of work after that. It seems like it has taken us nine years for this album to come out but in between we composed music for Masaan, a film called Chakki, a play on BR Ambedkar for which we composed the songs, etc. We also made a lot of songs for this album but the pandemic delayed the launch.

Nikhil Rao: There are six songs in Tu Hai and they were all made at different times. Some are six-seven years old; some are more recent while some go a long way back. They kept getting made because we are musicians, that’s what we do. Now when we look at the album in totality, it feels like there is a narrative and a structure. This album is us trying to talk about issues such as climate change, consumption and questions that have plagued people for years — like who is God, where is God and what is God. There’s also an instrumental track called Rebirth which is about regeneration and renewal. So, there is some kind of narrative structure to the album.

I want to credit Rahul for the songs. We went through a lot of pros and cons and discussions about people’s decreasing attention spans and how we should present our music and so on. Indian Ocean songs tend to be slightly longer and we were thinking that we might make them shorter this time. We may do that in the future but Rahul really held his ground. He said, ‘What has changed? They ignored us then and they will continue to ignore us now, but why should we do anything different from what we are known for?’

I believe that even if ten people listen to our music, they have some expectations they have built over the years. Even 50-60 years ago, there were these incredible artists making concept albums and spending more than a year or two developing a certain thought and every song/instrumental piece would be in service of that. With Tu Hai, our scale of ambition is not that but there is a clear narrative of what we are trying to present in today’s world.

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Rahul Ram: Varun toh ab yaar ban gaya hai! (Varun has become a friend now). The first time Amit and I got to know of Varun was when we made the tune for a song that he had written for a documentary called Katiyabaaz. We read the lyrics and we wondered who this guy is, he had written it so beautifully. I sang a couple of songs for a film after that and again the lyrics were written by him. So, Amit and I knew Varun through his work before we even met him. Then we met and worked together for Aisi Taisi Democracy and then Masaan came along. For Jaadu Maya, Amit asked him to write the lyrics for the tune we had composed and he did. Working with Varun is a lot of fun. He is very intelligent, very thoughtful and an absolute pleasure to work with.

Himanshu Joshi: Collaborations ka silsila Tandanu se chal raha hai (this series of collaborations has been on since Tandanu). These musicians dumb down their capabilities for us because they are great artists. They are big banyans and we are small plants in front of them. For us, it becomes a brilliant learning process. For instance, one learns so much just by being in the same room as Vikku Vinayakramji. He has this childlike innocence in him. He wants to tell so much and he puts in so much. Personally, it’s a great learning process to be in the same room and to be working with the greats. I’m very thankful when such collaborations happen.

Nikhil Rao: I would also like to think that even these masters were presented in a different light than what they usually do and to a different audience as well. I’d like to believe that we also, hopefully, gave them something of value.

Rahul Ram: No, it's not more difficult, it’s just different. In fact, it’s easier, because there are time constraints and you have to finish them in 4-5 minutes. The lyrics are given to you and lyrics have their own implicit meter, so it becomes easier to compose. Also, there are no long instrumental bits and even if there are, they are ruthlessly chopped off on the table by the editor (laughs). These ‘songs to order’ are actually faster to compose than our own songs because that luxury of trying different things is not there. It is the nature of the work. AR Rahman creates beauty in just four minutes. It’s a very different skill from when you make songs that are for 8-10 minutes and you can meander and explore this or that. Both require different skills and both are fun.

Himanshu: Boost is the secret of my energy! (laughs) This line works for us. When we travel, the high we get from being on stage motivates us more than anything else.

Tuheen: I used to think that these are cliched things one says, about getting energy from the audience, but I have experienced it myself. There have been many times I have felt that I have not slept enough and I am so tired that I won’t be able to perform properly. However, once you are announced on stage, and you hear the crowd cheering, it’s only once the show ends that you realise that you were supposed to be tired! (laughs) You do get a lot of energy from the audience.

Rahul Ram: I want to go to South America! (smiles) Indian Ocean has performed in five continents but we have never performed in South America, so I hope to perform there someday. We also want to tour a bit more in Europe because we have not performed much there.

As for the composing and music part, we don’t plan. That happens on its own.


Photo: Indian Ocean

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