How Mae Thomas is keeping the faith in Indian indie music with her long-running podcast, Maed in India

Anurag Tagat

Mar 19, 2020 09:15:03 IST

When Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra were inundated in 2005 due to unprecedented rain, Mae and her mother were stuck at home for about three days with no electricity. “The only thing that worked was my mom’s battery powered radio. My mom just played the radio and someone somewhere was broadcasting, man. I suddenly realised then that when the apocalypse hits, I have a job!”

She goes on to mimic exactly how she’d start it, “Welcome to the End of the World!” Mae has to think much, much harder when asked what song she’d play to start off this hypothetical show, but she has a lot to choose from. After all, she’s been a radio jockey, journalist and most notably, the host of her own podcast Maed In India since 2015.

 How Mae Thomas is keeping the faith in Indian indie music with her long-running podcast, Maed in India

Mae Mariyam Thomas' show recently completed 200 episodes.

Touted as the first podcast on Indian independent music, the weekly show recently completed 200 episodes, which is no small feat considering Mae moved from it being part of the IVM group of podcasts (where she also worked on other shows as creative director) to now a self-funded venture. She says she always understood audio really well, to the point that her partner Shaun Fanthome says she can “hear ideas.” Mae says incredulously, “Seems like I can audiolise it in my head?” It’s how she also worked with the likes of gynecologist Dr Munjaal Kapadia on a show called She Says She’s Fine in 2019, which discussed sexual health and related topics holistically.

Owing to her background in radio – Mae worked as a radio presenter at Radio One between 2012 and 2014 – Mae also got around to working with comedians like Kaneez Surka and Abish Mathew. At Radio One, Mae was quickly the go-to source for Indian independent music, some of which (like Indus Creed’s 'Fireflies') even got picked up and slotted by her fellow RJs amidst international pop and rock programming. The love for indie music arguably grew when she was working at NH7, the publication run by Only Much Louder that eventually became the brand for their annual music festival NH7 Weekender.

At NH7, editor and founder Arjun S Ravi recalls that Mae had an “inquisitive mind” and still carries forward her genuine excitement about music "without any sign of jadedness or in a patronising way". He adds, “She’s great at interacting with people, that’s one of her key strengths – making someone feel at ease when you’re talking to them. Some random band, it’s their first interview in life or whatever, you’re trying to get some kind of story out of them for a video, article or podcast, but she’s so good at that.”

In the five years that Maed In India has its weekly run of recording guests (and their performances on video), Mae has hosted everyone from Nikhil D’Souza to Ankur Tewari, Naezy, Karsh Kale, Prateek Kuhad, Indian Ocean, Parvaaz, Uday Benegal and of course, Blackstratblues. Guitarist Warren Mendonsa tells us he was interviewed twice by Mae. “Both times have been fun and relaxed experiences, with a focus mainly on the music. I really appreciated the fact that she did her research on the music itself, and didn’t ask the obvious questions. As a result, a usually reticent artist like me felt comfortable enough to open up and share stories I may have not told before,” he says.

In her somewhat distinctive American-meets-British-meets-Malayalam accent – something she’s quizzed about in the 200th episode celebration by her video producing staffer and singer-songwriter Jishnu Guha and music journalist Amit Gurbaxani – she’s admittedly trying to “manipulate” band members or artists to just become comfortable to talk about one another and their music. Her specific bias remains towards artists from the North East and South India, since they rarely come to Mumbai, where the show is taped.

In between queuing up their songs, she’s interviewing the artists and trying to figure out what they’re all about. In the process, Mae has brought in emerging talents (her latest episode features R&B duo Saltwater) as well as rising stars like Sid Sriram. It’s led Maed In India to become one of the best resources for independent music discoveries in the country. Ravi notes with a laugh, “She was a little bit into it, but definitely now she’s in the deep end, like in the Mariana Trench of the indie scene while we’re all in the kiddie pool.”

As a journalist in Cardiff who got into radio and then into podcasts, music is Mae’s focus through and through, specifically Indian indie. “I just felt like there needs to be a place that, many years down the line, people can always come back to and actually listen to some of the great music that was coming out of this country and it’s there, in some repository somewhere,” she says.

The current goal is to travel with the show, but until then she’s glad that India is in the midst of a podcast boom of sorts, where more people are asking her for advice but she’s also happy to see other music podcasts come out. If she does have to go back to the end times with a radio show, however, she knows what she’ll play first on her apocalypse playlist – American rock band Cake’s 'Comfort Eagle', a slick and sly takedown of the music industry’s quick buck makers. Not a bad choice at all.

Updated Date: Mar 21, 2020 10:08:37 IST

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