sbcltr speaks to the Jazz-Funk quartet that has released a tribute song dedicated to the life and struggle of dalit scholar Rohith Vemula

An affinity for improvisation and playing original music brought this Jazz-funk quartet into being in October 2015. The band which is inspired by the spirit of improvisation as exhibited in nature, tries to “bring forth these elements of spontaneity in their music.” In a short span of time, they have become a regular feature at most music venues in New Delhi. The band has Rie Ona on the Saxophone, Shivam Khare on Keyboards, Sonic Shori on Bass and Manoj Mavely/Sreenath Sreenivasan on the drums. They’ve been in the news recently for their song From the Shadows to the Stars that is dedicated to Rohith Vemula and the countless other people who face caste-discrimination all their lives. In their first ever exclusive interview, Shivam Khare, speaks to sbcltr about music and politics.

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How did Afterglow come into being?
Afterglow was a project started by Rie Ona who plays the Saxophone and Clarinet in the band. It was primarily started as a jazz and funk standards project. But when I brought some of my old compositions to the band, all the band members graciously included them in the set list. Over a period of time Sonic Shori who plays the bass also started composing a few tunes for the band.

What elements do you look for in a song that makes it especially satisfying for you to perform?
We generally do only originals. We are really turned on by rich harmony and a memorable melody.

What is the message behind the track, From the Shadows to the Stars?
It is a dedication to the struggle of Rohith Vemula and countless others like him who face caste discrimination daily in some form or the other. The title of the song From the Shadows to the Stars was taken from his suicide letter. When I read that suicide letter, I was really moved by it and I wondered what he, being such a promising young student, must have gone through to take such a drastic step. He wrote in his suicide letter, “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust.”

What in your life outside of your music drives you in a creative sense?
I guess every experience that I go through. I get especially moved by stories of brave men and women, and stories of pain and struggle. There is so much beauty yet so much destruction in this world. And it all runs in parallel. I can’t say if there is an equilibrium, but we are surely fortunate enough to be a witness to this amazing chaos.

You have always had an opinion on the political state of India personally, how do you think the Indian Jazz scene or the underground scene can make a difference?
There was a time when I was completely disillusioned with politics. And there was a time when I started to actively volunteer for political party. I am somewhere in the middle now. As for the making difference bit, I think it was Plato who said that any musical innovation is full of danger to the state, and ought to be prohibited.

What are your views on the Indian Jazz Scene? Do Jazz festivals that feature international artists work to get an audience?
The Indian jazz scene is growing stronger every day. There are some fantastic schools that teach jazz. Some new venues which feature jazz bands are coming up every month. International artists obviously do inspire a lot of musicians in India to pick up jazz.

You have been part of many bands and set-ups. What are you most proud of at this point in your life and career?
I think touring US, Australia and UK with Bipul Chettri has been special. Also releasing some really cool looking videos with Kaash and Afterglow have been really satisfying.

What are the future plans for Afterglow in terms of an album or an EP?
We have released 2 videos with Afterglow so far—Spaces and From the Shadows to the Stars. We will be releasing two more videos in the month of October, A Word Once Given and I Belong to Me. These four songs will be released in November as an EP. We plan to record a few more originals that we are already performing as a band and then release an album next year.

Tell us more on the backend staff who helped shoot From the Shadows to the Stars.
This was a challenging project as both audio and video were to be recorded live in a single take. We approached Aditya Singh from Brainpan Studio for the video and Krishna Rao from LotusTree Studios for the sound recording. Both of them were absolutely brilliant in doing their job. And they had brought a fantastic team which made the task really smooth.

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