Ever thought what it would sound like if jazz were to ever marry Carnatic or Hindustani music? Bengaluru’s world music ensemble, MoonArra, invokes those sensibilities and nails it at that. A fusion of four — Madhuri’s vocals, Karthik Mani’s drums, Jagadeesh Ramanujam’s bass and Prakash Sontakke’s slide guitar — this band is headed to the Tanjazz Festival in Morocco next month.
The four of them have often bumped into each other or played the odd gig since 2002. But it was only in 2009 that they announced themselves as a group and came together, almost like streams. “MoonArra means three streams in Tamil and Malayalam,” they explain, coming together from diverse backgrounds only to make music that speaks to the soul.
“Music is a great connect, as is open mindedness towards all forms. Backgrounds cease to matter when music is a common factor. Diversity is unifying,” says Jagadeesh, about their collective upbringing in the classical that binds them. Describing their sound as “eclectic, progressive yet traditional” the quartet derives inspiration from great masters of all genres and of course, from life within and outside.
“We evolve with internal collaborations, meaningful associations, constant ideation and incremental innovation — nothing too bizarre,” adds Prakash Sontakke, whose most recent achievement has been co-composing the Grammy Award-winning Winds of Samsara. Although an achievement that they’ll always be kicked about is getting along so well musically, the band has had quite the journey.
Aside from performing at jazz festivals across the country, they’ve also been a part of the Java Jazz Festival in Indonesia, Bangkok Jazz Festival, were invited by renowned drummer Lewis Pragasam to perform at Little India’s inaugural attended by the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at Kuala Lumpur, and even received a special letter of acknowledgment from jazz genius Herbie Hancock, UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue.
Having recently launched their debut album Indian Accent, they are now working on their second. “It might be in three parts,” reveals Karthik, adding that they are simultaneously working on three live productions and an Indo-Jazz poetry project. “When musicians are in sync, the blend of music is never a challenge — but unfortunately, some of the challenges we face are from the outside — fellow musicians and other detractors,” he voices.
As MoonArra internalises this year’s theme at the Tanjazz Festival — Jazz of Five Continents, and prepares for a special collaboration with Gnawa Express at Morocco, after their performance this week at Blue Frog they don’t leave their private fun out of the mix. “We read a lot, watch movies, travel and sip on cups of chai and coffee over endless conversations. We sometimes listen to random, even cheesy stuff at times, because, there’s always something to be learnt from everything,” smiles Madhuri.
Oh, and did you know they are all dangerously good mimics and very sporting? They also believe their sense of humour ranges from slapstick to wry and witty.
Who doesn’t like a good gag with a royal platter of world music? We’ll take one of that.