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Revisit Project’s desi jazz brings audience but no money. That’s India’s indie music scene

The popularity of The Revisit Project’s instrumental music in a vocals-obsessed industry is an interesting addition to the independent music scene in India.

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Every time guitarist Kanu ‘The Fender Bender’ Gangahar enters a wedding or a party venue in his suit and tie, the first thing he does is look for the buffet table. He’s partial to chicken, which just so happens to be the title of The Revisit Project’s theme song. It’s become a ritual of sorts for all seven members of the Delhi-based jazz/funk band. “After we eat, we play our theme song, ‘Chicken’,” said the band members, almost in chorus. Some started humming the catchy tune, while drummer Aditya ‘The Wonder Kid’ Bhagavatua slapped his thighs to the beat of the music.

Though it’s not the only kid on the block, The Revisit Project demystifies the complexity and rigour of jazz with a distinctive desi twist. It takes highly technical styles of music, those often considered relatable only to the West, and redefines them in an Indian context. Their music combines solid groove, old school funk and rhythmic jazz with pointed observations about life, love and politics in India.

But to survive as independent musicians, the band plays to the market through live gigs, and puts that money into making their music and bringing out albums. Wedding gigs are their bread and butter. And so they suit-up when the occasion demands and belt out old Bollywood hits and popular covers to newlywed couples, their parents and grandparents and hundreds of guests.

Most of them would not have heard of The Revisit Projects’s Brown Man’s Funk, which takes listeners through key events in India’s history from the framing of the Constitution to three wars, the green revolution and liberalisation. But the grind makes the reward all the more sweeter when divested of their suits and ties, they perform original numbers at live shows for their fans.

Add to this the popularity of Revisit’s instrumental music in an industry where attention is largely focussed around vocals, and the band’s music emerges as an interesting addition to the independent music scene in India.

Having started out in 2014 as a tribute band aiming to rediscover lost gems of Hindi film music through fresh, groove-heavy renditions, The Revisit Project started making original music in 2017 with its debut album ‘Here We Go’. By 2020, it had become a well-established name with hits like ‘Brown Man’s Funk’, ‘Take That Sorry (Up Yours)’ and ‘Did You Just Assume My Fender’, earning recognition from publications such as Rolling Stone India, A Humming Heart and The Indian Music Diaries.  It has four albums under its belt.

Before picking up his saxophone at their jam session, Abhay Sharma, who writes the lyrics for the band’s non-instrumental pieces, said, “Personally, and the band may not agree with this, but music is about holding a mirror up to society. I try to write lyrics that everyone can relate to.”

Karan Wadhwa, the bassist, is among those who disagree. “I don’t think the process of making music has to do with showing society what they are. In my opinion, your music is the product of what you listen to.”  

Also read: From Prateek Kuhad to When Chai Met Toast, indie music has risen from the ashes of the ‘90s

Money, money, money

The title song of the band’s latest album ‘Capitalist Musician in a Left Leaning Avatar’ explores the challenges of making money as an independent musician. It’s a subject the band is well-versed in.

“Recording a song in a studio for one day will cost you at least Rs 10,000. Mixing and mastering will cost about Rs 20,000. If you want good artwork for the cover, that will be another Rs 3,000, plus Rs 10,000 if you want a video. After all that, it takes about Rs 5,000 to promote your song through Google ads, Instagram promotions, etc. Our fourth album cost about Rs 8 lakh to make,” said Sharma.

For mid-level, upcoming bands like The Revisit Project, live shows at weddings are the main source of income. Then there are corporate gigs, where ordinarily, they don’t play a lot of original music. “Often musicians don’t want to play these gigs. But I think it’s important for every musician to do them. It teaches you how to deal with the business side of music. And there’s money, good money, in live shows,” Wadhwa said.

The unpalatable truth is that indie musicians aren’t making money from the music they have recorded. “The records give you live gigs that you earn from. Modern day contracts with labels will give you gigs to play, they will not pay you to make music like labels in the ’60s or ’70s,” Sharma added.

Independent artists today, then, must wear many caps — apart from being musicians, they must be entrepreneurs, businesspeople, content creators, editors and managers. Almost all the members from The Revisit Project also work as session musicians and have independent projects.

The sole female member, vocalist Vrnda ‘The Soul Queen’ Dhar, is currently pursuing a master’s degree from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), after having majored in sociology and psychology from Lady Shri Ram College (LSR). “Although many people think that having another job leaves you with no time for music, I am still trying to achieve that model. I’m doing my masters online at the moment, and continue to play many gigs while completing my degree,” Dhar said.

The other members of the gang —  Rythem ‘The Wise’ Bansal (keys) and Varun ‘The Groove’ Rajasekharan (percussion) — also play independent gigs.

But according to The Revisit Project, streaming platforms have increased their visibility. With almost 75,000 streams on their top song on Spotify, The Revisit Project’s following is growing steadily. But streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music do not generate a lot of revenue for artists like them. Even with thousands of monthly listeners, the band has earned just about Rs 1,500 from Spotify. “Spotify works best for individual bedroom producers when they produce a lot of songs,” Sharma said.

Also read: ’In films, I have mostly sung for the bad girls’ —Why Usha Uthup is more than Bollywood songs

Delhi beats

For a long time cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru were known for their vibrant indie music scene. 

In this aspect, Delhi is one of the best places for a band such as Revisit. “When compared to Kolkata, Chennai or even Bengaluru, Delhi has more opportunities, especially for bands that play instrumental music,” says Sharma, who has worked with artists such as Shankar Mahadevan in Mumbai. He contends that Delhi has one of the best club scenes in India, rivalled perhaps only by Mumbai. “And even then, for a lot of Mumbai artistes, the organisers of their events are in Delhi. For vocalists, too, Delhi is a great place because the wedding and corporate section is huge here.”

The band has also observed that the Delhi audience is more receptive to instrumental pieces compared to people from other cities.

Jazz, which had its roots in protest music, has been considered in India to be music of the elite. Thankfully, bands like The Revisit Project, The Many Roots Ensemble, Jatayu, and T.ill Apes are challenging such conceptions, changing the independent music scene in the country for the better.

(Edited by Prashant)

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