Has Indian classical music become irrelevant? You’ve probably heard your grandparents lament that it’s a dying practice, and hardly heard your friends and contemporaries bring it up in conversation – except maybe in mention of The Indian Jam Project – and for good reason.
This musical collective/YouTube video series founded by Tushar Lall exploded onto everyone’s Facebook and Twitter timelines a few years ago thanks to their Indian classical renditions of popular movie and TV show soundtracks and songs such as the ‘Rains of Castamere’ from Game Of Thrones. Their talent for breathing new life into classical music’s often ossified conventions have since garnered them tens of thousands of fans.
How the Indian Jam Project came to be
When Tushar Lall attended a friend’s father’s concert a few years ago, he was so enthralled by the music of the Sarod that it inspired the young musician to continue pursuing Indian classical music.
However, upon learning of the industry’s bias towards commercial music, which spells a bad note for the Indian classical music, he decided to find a way to make people realise that Indian classical is not just a few notes played by a musician, but an experience and an art form so fascinating that one cannot pull away from it. This is how the Indian Jam Project (IJP) was born.
Lall picked up an instrument for the first time as a four-year old. But it wasn’t before 6th grade that he realised he wanted to become a musician. As he was a bright student in school, his parents always imagined that their son would pursue an academic career, but those expectations changed after Lall moved to Bombay and began pursuing his diploma in Sound Design. He simultaneously enrolled himself in Jai Hind college so that he could participate in events and get more exposure. “I just wanted to perform wherever I got the chance and as much as I could so that I get rid of my stage fear,” he says.
After completing his studies, Lall was clear he wanted to present Indian Classical music in a different light, explaining “In my mind, I was aware that these instruments are capable of doing anything. Which is when I decided on bringing out this versatility.”
Coldplay with a Hindustani classical twist
He began working on recreating scores of original television series, starting with his then favourite, Game of Thrones using only a bansi and a tabla. He also composed the Harry Potter theme song on a sarangi as well as the iconic Star Wars theme on a sitar. Lall elaborates, “I started with scores because the playability is so much more when you’re playing a score. Like when you’re playing something like Hedwig’s theme from Harry Potter, there’s so much more that goes into it unlike commercial music which is mostly just a four-chord song that goes on over and over again.”
On being asked which of his compositions stand out for the musician himself, Lall names the project’s Coldplay tribute and the Interstellar theme. “The Coldplay tribute is very close to my heart because I know I’m perpetually never happy after I have released a video since I have already heard it over 100 times before releasing it,” he says. “But with this one, I didn’t get tired which was very strange. And similarly, with the Interstellar theme, it was because I had my own composition running over the base theme.”
BBC’s Sherlock’s musical composer names the IJP
IJP has released about 12 videos and performed at events and in colleges across India all in a short span of three years. Lall’s work has even been recognized and applauded by Emmy award-winning composer, Michael Price who worked on the BBC Sherlock theme. In fact, it was only after Price tweeted about Lall’s work calling it the ‘Indian Jam Band on the BBC Sherlock theme’ that the name ‘Indian Jam Project’ came about.
“I wasn’t actually really fond of it at all!”, confesses Lall with a laugh.
“Maybe because I had not really thought of a name for the project up till then. But now that it’s become more like my second face, I’ve started associating with it and don’t negate the name anymore.”
Keeping the focus on Indian classical instruments
IJP compositions ensure the focus stays on the instruments, which is also why the musicians keep differing in every video. Lall says his compositions are not about the musicians, but about the instruments. Why? “I would rather have seven different sitar players to come and play so that you can show how versatile each and every sitar sounds,” he points out. “Indian classical instruments are hand-crafted, so every sitar will sound different, even if it’s from the same maker.”
So when composing, Lall writes all the parts – the melodies, counter-melodies, solos – except the rhythms. He then brings different musicians onboard to play together.
What’s next for IJP?
There are a bunch of surprises in store for their fans and followers as Lall promises a blend of covers (with a greater focus on the latter) will be released over the next 4-5 months. And starting next year, the musician is going to make a shift to original compositions where Indian classical instruments are orchestrated with Western elements and Western scores.
Written by Additi Seth
All images credit: Indian Jam Project