The Ashram project, which tries to interpret songs from the Indian sub-continent within a soundscape that is electronic-psychedelic, is a collaboration of ex-Cactus keyboardist Kanishka Sarkar (Pinky) and the versatile singer, Arko Mukhaerjee and one of the prominent percussionists of present time, Ritoban Das. Kanishka has been doing music for more than three decades and is now based in Berlin. Arko is adept in a great many musical styles and genres and is active on the music scene for around two decades. And Ritoban, a talented percussionist based in Kolkata.Both of them share similar views about music – they believe that good music is never imitative and that it is inevitable that their music will incorporate elements from various musical traditions. The Ashram project attempts to present a sound that has hitherto not been explored within the ambit of Bengali popular music. However, given the global nature of the Ashram soundscape, it is a matter of time for the project to travel to various parts of the world.
Both Kanishka and Arko maintain that ‘pop music’ is simply popular music at a given point of time, irrespective of the genre. Kanishka says that if a particular form of music dies out, it happens on its own and not because people take to listening to other forms of music. Arko says that it is consumers of music who give names to different forms such as Bangla Band or Rock or Pop; musicians merely sing to express themselves. Both Kanishka and Arko point out that Bengalis have always been in need of their middle-class music hero, which is why they have the term Rabindrasangeet. Arko says that as far as musical tradition is concerned, for him something quintessentially Bengali (like Rabindrasangeet) is at par with anything from any part of the world, as long as he likes it. Kanishka says that imitative music will not have a future; Arko agrees, citing the specific example of The Eagles. Arko further says that art is produced through the dichotomy between the rootedness of a musician in her culture and her migrant nature (in the sense of being nourished by other cultures).
Arko demonstrates the idea of rootedness and migration by singing a small bit of a Bengali song by Akhilbandhu Ghosh; in this instance he speaks of how a tune from a distant and unconnected origin gets seamlessly and automatically joined to the Bengali song. Both Kansihka and Arko say that the process of fusing many musical traditions to create one’s own unique sound is unconsciousness and spontaneous, never consciously imitative. While both stress that it is not always necessary for a musician to fuse various strands of music into one, they speak of the process of amalgamationthat they practice in their music-making. The clip ends with Arko singing two Jasimuddin compositions to substantiate his points made earlier.
The clip begins with the interviewer suggesting that with the song “Namaz amar…” being set in an electronic, psychedelic ambience, the ‘original’ song hardly exists anymore. Arko contests the suggestion saying that with hundreds of versions of the song available, one cannot fix one ‘emotion’ as being the authentic emotion of the song. Kanishka says one cannot consider any one version as the true version of the song; Arko says that when he sings the song in an electronic environment, he does so believing that the song demands to be sung that way at that point of time. The conversation then veers towards discussing how the Ashram project took off. Arko talks
about how the Ashram project gives him a lot of space within which to work, while Kanishka stresses the fundamentally unrehearsed, spontaneous thrust of their project. They speak in details about the dynamics of their collaboration, emphasizing the point that their music avoids being very structured. Kanishka and Arko stress that what drives them is that they derive fun and enjoyment out of their collaborative music-making. Both of them are very clear that they do not make their music with either a strategy or an aim to entertain any given set of audience, but both would like to see their music travel to all parts of the globe. They say that it is almost inevitable, given their upbringing, that they will create fusion sound, which will contain strands from various musical cultures; Arko defines this as the migrant nature of their music.
In this video Arko takes us through his journey as a musician, beginning with his forming a band at the age of eleven and his initiation to Indian classical music. He speaks about his unpleasant experiences and also about his continuous training and learning. He speaks about the great number of songs he had covered when he was in a band; songs that have helped him in many ways throughout his career. He speaks about a TV programme he hosted named Music and More and how that programme became a great learning experience for him through associations with musicians such as Nandan Bagchi, Kochuda and Diptesh. Kanishka remembers his first meeting with a school-going Arko who had come to spend his night-out at Kanishka’s Garia house; the next meeting between the two happened years later in Paris. Remembering this meeting, Kanishka recalls an episode with a European manager of a Paris rehearsal spacethat proves how music travels far and wide in the age of the Internet. Next Arko speaks at length about a harrowing as well as learning experience that he had in London where he had to sing on the street to earn 150 pounds. He believes that all his experiences accumulated over the years have gone on to shape and form his music, the dynamics of which creative process which only he knows.