Inside Thaikkudam Bridge’s new album Namah, a collaboration-heavy tribute to their musical influences
The 12-member Thaikkudam Bridge say they let the song evolve itself and don’t force themselves on it.
Namah is Thaikkudam Bridge’s way of paying tribute to their heroes in the music space.
The 10-track record features sarangi artist Ram Narayan evocatively starting off on 'Saawariya', while other veterans include Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Niladri Kumar and Ustad Rashid Khan.
The band thinks Avial paved the way for them, in a way, because they showed them how to do rock in a language that was not English.
Who would have thought that a decorated mridangam legend like Umayalpuram K Sivaraman would be on the same track as one of metal’s most intense drummer, Chris Adler? In the world of Kerala fusion group Thaikkudam Bridge, this was the starting point for their second album Namah, which released in late November.
Guitarist Ashok Nelson says the Adler and Sivaraman feature on Thekkini was the first time they thought about getting collaborators on board for new material, which they were writing by the end of 2017. “When it was taking shape, we thought it’d be good if there was a foundation of Indian instrumentation. It would have a contrast also,” he says. It ended up becoming the closing track on the album, but it remains eerie and heavy, Adler amping up on double-bass drumming while Sivaraman’s mridangam portions coming in the second half of the track, almost apocalyptic in its intent, if Carnatic music ever could be that.
The 12-member Thaikkudam Bridge had been touring around the globe since the success of their 2015 album Navarasam. If that album’s diversity – prog metal, emotive Hindustani classical, playful Malayalam rock and more – was an indication of the band’s size, Namah is their way of paying tribute to their heroes in the music space. The 10-track record features sarangi artist Ram Narayan evocatively starting off on 'Saawariya', while other veterans include Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and his Mohan Veena on the sorrowing 'Kalliyankatt Neeli', sitarist Niladri Kumar on 'Nee' and Ustad Rashid Khan on the sparkling 'Jeele Jeebhar'. Flautist extraordinaire Rakesh Chaurasia joins in on 'Kaadum Malayum', which bears the cheery Malayalam folk lilt of Navarasam.
After sorting out 'Thekkini', Ashok Nelson says the other collaborations just started falling in place, much to the band’s delight. “If you start swimming in the ocean you just want to go deeper. We were stumbling upon artists. We were headed to Seychelles and en route in Colombo, we met Dream Theater and exchanged numbers with (keyboardist) Jordan Rudess.” The playfully pop, violin-aided 'Saalaikal', complete with signature dance moves that’s a hit at Thaikkudam Bridge’s shows, was released as a single in 2018.
Prior to that, the band surprised fans in 2017 by releasing 'Inside My Head', featuring drummer Marco Minnemann. It was their first English song, but Ashok says it wasn’t something the band necessarily set as a conscious decision. The guitarist says, “I think one major thing that we do is we don’t set any boundaries and just go with the flow. Many people are involved in the creative processes of the album, when a song is evolving, it exchanges a lot of hands and when the melody is laid down, we think, ‘This sounds like a Tamil thing, or let’s not put any lyrics on it.’ We let the song evolve itself and don’t force ourselves on it.” Minnemann’s bandmate in instrumental rock trio The Aristocrats, virtuoso guitarist Guthrie Govan, also features on the second English song on Namah, the prog-leaning 'I Can See You'.
Unlike before, frontman, violinist and composer Govind Vasantha, along with vocalists in the band – Vipin Lal, Krishna Bongane, Nila Madhav Mohapatra, Christin Jose and Anish Krishnan – don’t stick to just one language in one track. Where 'Saawariya' features Tamil and Hindi vocals, the powerhouse song 'Kanne' features Malayalam, sung by Anandraj and Vipin Lal.
On first listen 'Kanne' shines brightest on the album because of Anandraj’s distinct croon that might send chills down the spine of any Avial fan. Ashok says, “Anandraj and Avial are a big part of our journey. Govind, Mithun…most of us found each other at Chennai when we were studying sound engineering, a diploma course. That was around when Avial launched their album. Anand was a major influence for us. Avial kind of paved the way for us, in a way, because they showed us how to do rock in your native language, in something other than English.”
Up next, there’s videos being planned for the songs and more international tours. While Govind is often busy as he’s wooed by the South Indian film industry to compose for screen, Ashok says Thaikkudam has always been his priority. There’s no overtly cinematic influence on Namah, so that clearly means Govind and the band still think differently for their own music. Ashok jokes, “Right now, bodybuilding is a distraction for him, but otherwise he’s a workaholic.”
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