One of the indie music's biggest influences talks about his journey through the scene.
The journey of music has unfolded of its own accord, says singer-songwriter Uday Benegal, one of the independent music scene's ‘Big Daddys’. From the 80s 'Rock Machine' that eventually became what is today the Indian rock-defining 'Indus Creed' to the funk-rock band 'Alms for Shanti' and the acoustic three-piece 'Whirling Kalapas', there's always been different strains of music branching out of Uday.
But it's how the music entered his life that draws my attention. "My first memory is probably my dad listening to his classical records - Indian and Western - very loudly. The early days of my own collection included pop, rock and disco albums or whatever my aunt brought back from her trips abroad. I just loved the sounds I heard and sang along to every song on each of them," he recalls.
He also remembers how his taste "changed dramatically" when his older brother returned from college one day and popped a tape into the cassette player. "The sound that emerged blew my mind. It was The Who's 'Quadrophenia'. My brain was forever altered," grins Uday.
While Uday allowed these influences to take their course, he acknowledged that one's influences don't necessarily become one's sound. "I reckon my music doesn't sound like Steely Dan, Led Zep, Aretha Franklin, Santana, Pink Floyd or any of the other artistes whose music I devoured in my formative years. Besides, my nature has always been to avoid emulating and to journey towards my own voice.”
Finding this voice wasn't easy, mind you, given that there was no scene or industry to speak of at the time. So he did what he thought was the best course of action - he participated in singing competitions in school, lost them all and kept at it. "When I was in 12th grade, I bumped into Mahesh Tinaikar outside HR College, where he heard me sing. He asked me to come audition for his band 'Rock Machine' as their singer was about to quit. The journey was automatic thereafter."
Asked about the space he requires for the creative process, Uday replies, "Solitary, not just physically but mentally too. While I do a lot of my songwriting in Bombay, I like to get out of the city as often as possible. And preferably into nature because even if I don't actually write anything there, it affords me a certain clarity, which I need to free up the clutter in my head. As a songwriter, I try to channel my experiences into some kind of understanding - of relationships, the politics of human nature, the insanity of existence and the amazing potential to be great. The subjects have naturally flowed into different streams with time as everything I write is related to personal experience and observation."
With the current wave of music leaning more towards electronica and dance, does the rocker in him find it hard to enjoy? He laughs and clarifies that he loves all kinds of music as long as he hears integrity in it and if it appeals to his ears. "I love that the indie scene in India is so incredibly fertile, that genres are not just being explored more widely but also mashed, merged and mangled. So as with all forms of music, there's stuff that I dig and stuff that I don't," he notes, politely.
With new 'Indus Creed' songs in the making and new ideas emerging for 'Whirling Kalapas' and his solo project, it should be interesting to see what this musician does next!
By Rohini Kejriwal
Photograph by Bobin James