Patio Unplugged: USM's music has a tinge of folk and a healthy dose of the blues

Prahlad Srihari

Feb,01 2018 15:36:10 IST

Editor’s note: Patio Unplugged — a platform for indie artistes and a Lazy Patio Films production — is bringing over 30 musicians from Mumbai in its first season, to audiophiles. Born out of a love for acoustic music and a passion for film-making, Patio Unplugged not only provides a stage to artists but also a chance to record their music, and shoot two music videos. What sets this programme apart, is that artistes from across genres recreate their music in an unplugged format. Each artist/band featured on the show will perform two original songs. The Habitat Comedy and Music Café is the audio partner for the show. The Habitat also records, mixes and masters the tracks for Patio Unplugged and hosts the artistes every Saturday as an event called 'The Listening Room Sessions'. We're featuring each of the artistes from season 1, on Firstpost.

USM performs during a Patio Unplugged session. Instagram/usmmusicofficial

USM performs during a Patio Unplugged session. Instagram/usmmusicofficial

Every musician and bedroom DJ — with a soul-sucking corporate job — fantasises about surrendering to their artistic calling. For many, it's not more than a fleeting moment of escapism, something they joke about with friends after a dull and dreary work day. And then there are those who are pretty adept at the juggling act — with enough time and dedication for both a full-time job and regular gigs — before finally making a clean break from the nine-to-six grind.

One of these brave souls was Umang S Mehta (aka USM), a Mumbai-based musician who took this leap of faith by quitting his thriving law career to play some good ol' blues. "It took me a while but there were bills to pay and guitars ain't cheap," remarks a relieved USM. A guitarist, singer and songwriter, USM's old school rootsy music has a tinge of folk and a healthy dose of the blues. A lot of blues music evolved from the plantation work songs of African-American slaves and from its humble, hardscrabble origins, it has transcended racial and cultural boundaries over the years. "Whenever things got too heavy, I would just sit down with a book and write it out," he says on the cathartic power of songwriting.

On this week's Patio Unplugged, USM performs two of his original compositions: 'Opportunity Cost' and 'Arranged Marriage Blues'.

Although 'Opportunity Cost' was born out of a gag after a long, exhausting meeting at his law firm, he says it seemed to resonate with a lot of his colleagues. So, he began to perform the song more frequently. There's an infectious riff that threads through the whole song as USM moans and wails the verses. There's a slight lowering of the pitch in the reprise which helps create a darker and sadder sound in a song which, otherwise, has a pretty standard chord progression. "Why don't you write me a cheque and tell me what my life costs? So, I can count the opportunities that I've lost," sings USM in the song's chorus reflecting on our capitalist society, where everything is measured in terms of money. But, he declaims how money can't possibly measure the time you spend with your loved ones or the memories you create with them.

'Arranged Marriage Blues' is a heartfelt ballad about a musician (clearly USM himself) whose girlfriend leaves him after her parents arrange her marriage with a man with a 'better' job and more money. A folk song performed in the blues idiom, it expresses the singer's own struggles and passions and he chooses the perfect notes to evoke empathy in the listeners. His passionate vocals describe his pain and he sure can sing but "it don't do him no good if he can't buy her a ring." As we are defined by our job and the size of our bank account, what we do to earn a living — and how much it pays — is of supreme importance in today's fiercely competitive matchmaking market. "I plead my case but life's not more than what you earn...I said I'd give her all that I could but without them diamonds, I ain't no good," he sings regrettably. And the irony is not lost on USM. "Back when I was working as a lawyer, I was a great prospect. But now even if my capacity to love a girl is boundless, I would probably be dismissed simply because I decided to quit law and become a musician."

Updated Date: Feb 02, 2018 10:27 AM