Swarathma's Vasu Dixit on pursuing a solo project, exploring the spiritual through songs by poet-saints
Swarathma frontman Vasu Dixit has embarked on a video project called the Vasu Dixit Collective Live Sessions, where he will present compositions by Purandara Dasa and Basavanna
Swarathma frontman Vasu Dixit realised that when he was working solo, the songs he performed were by saint-poets like Purandara Dasa and Basavanna.
The obstacles that he has faced while pursuing this project were finding sponsors or investors and coordinating between about 19 musicians.
What attracted him to these compositions by poet-saints were their meditations on spiritual matters.
Just over two years ago, Bangalore contemporary folk singer-songwriter Vasu Dixit boarded a bus with his guitar-ukulele and began performing ‘Ragi Tandira’, and even handed out lyric cards featuring saint-poet Purandara Dasa’s verses, so that everyone could get in on it. Unsurprisingly, the song got Dixit, the frontman of folk rock band Swarathma, a bit of viral fame.
But Dixit says his intention wasn’t to create a spectacle; it was to explore singing in public. Those are shenanigans he’s explored with Swarathma since 2002 – including the one time he sang out airport announcements on behalf of the staff – but when it came to going solo, he realised he wanted to sing about different things.
The songs that Dixit was listening to and performing on his own were by saint-poets like Purandara Dasa and Basavanna. “They have a spiritual and philosophical space of life. Swarathma has that too, when we raise our voice and question the system, but with Kabir or Purandara Dasa, there’s an inclination towards accepting the spiritual side of the being.” He adds, “That’s not to be confused with the religious side of it.”
The catalyst for performing solo and putting together the Vasu Dixit Collective came from a show three years ago, when the singer-guitarist performed at a remembrance meet, in memory of a friend’s late husband. He says, “I sang with two other musicians; those songs were more about introspection and the spiritual side of things. It found resonance, that’s when I started thinking maybe there’s scope to do more than what I do with Swarathma.”
From two musicians to more than 15 stepping in and out of the Collective, Dixit has been performing live with harmonium players, saxophonists and percussionists. He’s had the regular rock band setup as well, and all these worlds seem to come together for the Vasu Dixit Collective Live Sessions, his newly launched video performance series. Dixit had looked up everyone from Coke Studio (Pakistan and India), Kerala show Music Mojo on KappaTV and jazz fusion frontrunner Snarky Puppy’s videos for inspiration.
Even as the groovy, saxophone-aided song ‘Kelabyada’ (which means “ask me not” in Kannada) has released online to some popularity, the journey has had its obstacles. Before Dixit finally put together his musicians and selected five songs from a shortlist of about 10 compositions to record for the series, he was aiming for sponsors or investors and coordinating between about 19 musicians. “So I pulled out all my savings and started on this. Then if I have financial issues, I’ll borrow from relatives and friends. We worked out all the costs and figured we can pull off five songs in two days,” he says.
In addition to ‘Kelabyada’ (written by Karthik Pattar), there are songs by Purandara Dasa (‘Tarakka Bindige’), Basavanna (‘Maneyolage’), Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan (‘Mere Khuda’ was gifted to Dixit and his wife, singer Bindhumalini) and Apoorva Jaan (‘Neela Megha’). Apart from ‘Kelabyada’ which talks about urban living from the perspective of a small-town native, all of the Vasu Dixit Collective’s tracks have a spiritual tone.
But even after recording and shooting at Bangalore’s feted auditorium space KH Kala Soudha, trouble found Dixit again when data from the session was lost due to a corrupted hard disk. Data recovery set Dixit back by many more thousands, but he doesn’t regret it. “We lost some time there and then after getting the data, we realised we should re-record some parts because there was a lot of leakage in the string section and other parts,” he says.
Having bided his time, Dixit has planned a video release every 15 days, along with additional behind-the-scenes footage and audio snippets from the recording sessions. It’s already helped achieve a sense of satisfaction for Dixit. He says, “I think the Collective has helped me expand and grow as a musician and performer.”
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