Bollywood is like Indian culture; it is all-accepting: Rahul Ram

Music speaks a universal language and so do musicians. It really doesn’t matter what language a song has been sung in and it really doesn’t matter who has sung it. As long as the voice touches the heart and stirs the soul, one really doesn’t bother if the singing is technically sound or not. One such singer is Rahul Ram, the vocalist and bassist of India’s first fusion rock back, Indian Ocean.

Rahul is gradually making it into the mainstream Indian music industry but is adamant on sticking to his own unique formula. And hence, he is making his debut as a judge on Zee TV’s ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ and will be sharing the stage with music director duo Sajid-Wajid.

In a chat with Gayatri Sankar of, Rahul spoke about his role as a judge on ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’, his band Indian Ocean and lots more. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

From being a member of Indian Ocean to a judge on ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’. Describe the journey.

I am still a part of Indian Ocean and my journey as a judge has just begun. Everybody who is a musician at some point has been asked to judge this that and the other and has in turn been judged by several others also. So, they know how weird it can seem sometimes from the contestant’s side. Because most contestants don’t know what a contest is all about. There are times when they are over-confident when they shouldn’t be and there are times when they lack in confidence when they need it the most. It is very difficult to have an idea of where you stand in relation to others. Most aspiring singers are appreciated by their relatives for their singing, but it’s only when they reach a contest that they realise that many others can equally sing well. It is very difficult from a judge’s point of view to be 100 percent rationally correct. It is not easy to perform live on stage. Every singer who performs live may at some point of time go off sur. He might be good at recording because he/she gets several chances to improvise but not during live performances.

What are you looking forward to hearing in ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’?

I am quite excited, because I am not a conventional singer. I lay more emphasis on the lyrics and the feel a song must convey. I can say that the contestants who will eventually get selected for the finals will be 90 percent better than me as a singer. But I am looking forward to listening to a powerful voice that has an effect on the listeners.

As a judge on Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’, you share the stage with out and out commercial musicians. How do you relate with them?

I am on ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ with a purpose. I am here to look beyond what Bollywood has to offer. Indian youth likes the kind of music Indian Ocean is into producing. People are showing appreciation for our way of music.

Has music changed the audiences’ preferences?

Now we get to hear all kinds of voices. People are no longer looking for crystal clear voices. People are open to a wide variety of voices that can modulate a wide variety of emotions. I grew up listening to Bob Dylan apart from our Indian singers. At the end of the day, the voice is what matters the most.

Indian Ocean is almost a couple of decades old. Are you happy with its growth?

We have toured five continents in the last couple of decades and have been received exceptionally well. Our songs have been appreciated by all abroad. Our songs aren’t technically great. They are very simple. We concentrate more on the lyrics and the emotions that needs to be conveyed through the songs.

Indian Ocean has a niche audience. People in India have not yet opened to the rock band culture. Do you agree?

As a band, I feel we have grown beautifully since the 1990s. Our music is loved because of its uniqueness. Just by listening to our songs, you can make out that it’s an ‘Indian Ocean’ song. Our songs have a lot in common.

For people abroad, Indian music often means Bollywood music. Do you agree?

I will question the fact that Bollywood is the best known. Of course, Bollywood music forms a big chunk. According to me, the best genre of Indian music known abroad is Bhangra- composed and sung by the NRIs either settled in the US/Canada or the UK. They are hugely popular. Bollywood is like Indian Culture. It is like an ocean that adopts all kinds of music. It is all accepting. And coming to classical music, when our classical musicians go and perform abroad, the number of people who turn up is incredible. The audience includes not just Indians settled abroad but also westerners who have great love for Indian classical music.

The 1990s saw a parallel music industry booming. But saw a sudden decline. Why was it so?

Unfortunately most of the music was rubbish.

But people liked it…

Yes partly because of the way they were being projected. Cable TV was newly introduced then. The culture of producing music videos was a new concept. But the power of the view has been killed because of the internet. Nowadays no one buys music. You get everything on the internet.

How does Bollywood imbibe rock culture?

Many young generation directors like Anurag Kashyap, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Dibakar Bannerjee, Imtiaz Ali, all listen to music from all around the world. Very soon, you will see rock becoming an integral part of Bollywood music.

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