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Jarring note strikes Kochi bandwagon

Kochi has been the launching pad for many bands. The city still has a devoted group of musicians and listeners. But the number of concerts has dwindled over the years and musicians have taken up other professions. VIJAY GEORGE on Kochi bands

REMEMBER THE Hindi movie `Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa'? The movie tells the story of a group of young musicians who form a band, well, a mediocre one, performs at a hotel and for weddings. Their dedication, dreams, ego-clashes, which results in minor tiffs, constraints and anxieties, is what the story is all about. And of course, it is all about their love for music, which unites them. Now move from reel to a real story of band groups. Bands in Kochi that play virtually everything from rock, pop, country music, to reggae, rap, heavy metal...

Music bands of Kochi have a proud history to boast of. History, that dates back to as early as 1934 when a band called `Black & White Sing O Plates' was formed by Percy Lobo. This band used to play at the European Club, now Cochin Club, with instruments that included a string board, violin, double bass and bongos. They also played for parties and weddings. However, this band became non-existent with the outbreak of World War II.

It was in the 1960s that the `Supersonics,' who played at Hotel Sealord broke into the scene. Formed by Youce Ralph Tyron and Tonny, it was a really successful one.

Emil Isaacs, who contributed significantly to Kochi's music scene, formed the `Elite Aces', regarded by many as the best to happen in Kochi. They usually played at Hotel Casino and had a large fan following. A member of this band, Francis Aniceto Rodriguez, Uncle Roddy to his many admirers, who plays the saxophone at The Trident now, fondly remembers that the `Elite Aces' was truly a `sensational' band.

Winnie D'Souza, known for his singing talents and yodelling, used to associate with the `Elite Aces' band. He is regarded as the first Malayali singer whose English song was recorded on a gramaphone disc. He popularised Western music in Kottayam too, where he was the manager at the Rozario's Bakery. Then in 1968, a band called `Hijackers' happened. The `Highway Haze' band, which is still existent, and `Stocks' also hit the scene with quality music.

However, the group that revolutionised this scene was the `13 AD'. They basically ushered in a new era for the people who associated themselves with good music. In the early 1990s, they brought out an album titled `Ground Zero' which became a real sensation. The group of youngsters grabbed national attention and began to perform live shows in India and abroad. Another album called `Tough on the Streets' followed.

George `Kool' Peter, who had joined the group after the albums were released, says that he was a big fan of the group before he joined them. He started his music career as a bass guitarist and vocalist with a group called `Val Halla'. And how did he equate to `13 AD'? "The band used to be a rage and the concerts were total sell-outs," he says.

Then, the group split. Some of the members of the group, including Elloy Isaacs, a key-member, shifted their base to Muscat, where they are still active in the band scene, but they no longer perform together.

Joe Peter, the younger brother of George and a singer whose band used to perform at the Taj Residency till recently, feels that the splurge of television channels like the MTV and Channel V, which beams music from all over the world, has hit the live band scene.

John Thomas, the drummer with the band, says that there are lots of people in Kochi who are crazy about heavy metal, but there are very few willing organisers to help them stage their shows. `Mother Jane', a heavy metal band regarded by many as one of the best in the business, is now all set to release their album `Insane Biography' sometime this September. They recently performed at the `June Rock Out' festival at Chennai along with some of the best talents in the country.

Most of these bands survive by performing at hotels or for weddings, other such parties, apart from the odd show.

`Exodus' is one of those few full-fledged bands playing in the city. Known for their hard work and dedication to music, the band is noted for their diction and good quality music. "With this recession, even the hotels now find it difficult to maintain full-fledged bands", says Captain Iyer of `Exodus'.

Capt. Iyer has been part of this scene for more than 30 years now and has even done research on its history. He was earlier associated with bands like `Hijackers' and `2B3C', which incidentally, is the shortened version for "2 Brahmins and 3 Christians". "Talent, a place to practice, good contract, thorough dedication, love for music and at least the bare minimum of instruments," is what Capt. Iyer lists out as requirements to form a band.

He believes that many musicians with great talent very often do not get the recognition they deserve. And this was true of the bands too. Today, some of the hotels prefer to have two-piece bands, which helps cut costs and also helps cater to soft music, which is so much in demand.

Raghu of `Brown Circle', which plays at The Presidency, says that the band scene, down in the dumps for the past five years, is slowly picking up. Prasad Kumar of `Antix', the band currently playing at hotel Sealord shares that optimism too.

Jayan Varma of the Tripunithura based `Fire Fly' band says that the advent of techno-music has made a lot of difference. This band also plays Hindi songs and sometimes even Carnatic music.

Some of the city hotels have plans to introduce DJs, which most of the bands feel will hit them hard. "People should differentiate between a live performance from what is being played by a machine," was how one performer put it. Jayamani, chef at the Sealord, remembers those days when the `13 AD' was a rage.

"The hotel used to be packed long before the band began playing and the euphoria they managed to whip up was amazing."

Most of these musicians are identified by their strange hairstyles and flashy dressesJoe Peter, who sports a French beard, adjusts the bandeau, which keeps his lustrous long hair intact and remarks with a chuckle, "Perhaps this helps create the right mood when we get on stage to sing those mind blowing numbers."

The Anglo-Indians in Kochi form the majority of the band fans. The eternal favourites among the audiences are `Hotel California' by Eagles, Frank Sinatra's `Stranger in the night', `Buffalo Soldiers' by Bob Marley, `Candle in the wind' by Elton John... Quiz the musicians on the future of the bands in Kochi and most of them feel that "It is not happening here right now." The devoted groups, who swear by their music, have that concerned look pasted on their faces. They are aware that the applause is fainter now Not music to their ears.

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