We’re in a taxi zigzagging our way through Mumbai’s crazy traffic. Rickshaws are honking at pedestrians, cars are honking at rickshaws, trucks are honking at cars… And the taxis are honking at everybody.
“Can you please stop honking?” I ask the driver.
“I have to honk! If I hit someone, I’m guilty, but if I honked before hitting him, I’m innocent,” the driver replies with a big smile. But I’m not sure whether it was a joke.
“Note to self,” I think out loud, “next time you’re coming to Mumbai, bring earplugs!”
The taxi takes a sharp left and swerves on to the Sea Link, a 5.6-km bridge connecting south Mumbai to the western suburbs, the heart of the Bollywood film industry.
We’re on our way to meet Ram Sampath. He’s a composer, music producer and musician, who started his career making ad jingles and then moved to writing music for pop albums and soundtracks to Bollywood films.
Ram is waiting for us as we arrive at the offices of “OmGrown Music”. “Great to have you here,” he says as he leads us down a narrow corridor. “I’ll take you straight into the studio so I can let my music do the talking.”
As we sit down in the plush studio chairs, he immediately launches into his story: “When I was 21 I had a rock band: we sang songs in English and my dream was to go to the West and become the next Nirvana.
“But at the same time, I felt there was something wrong about leaving India. A lot of young Indians were looking West and a lot of them left to work in the U.S. or U.K. after university. To give you an idea: 52 of my 56 classmates from university left the country after we graduated. But I felt the fight that had to be fought was right here in India.
“Of course I still wanted to be a rock star and I was a rebel. But a rebel with a cause. And the cause was, and still is, India. I saw that there were lots of things to fight for, right here: social inequality, discrimination against women, we are losing the connection with our roots, stories, philosophy and aesthetics… To me, leaving the country would have been like giving in and admitting defeat.”
“And you weren’t prepared to do that?” I ask.
“No way!” says Ram decisively.
“So where were you going to stage the fight? By going into politics?” I ask.
Ram does a double take to see if I am joking and then laughs. “No, definitely not! My weapon is my music. I want to instigate change by being disruptive. My strategy is Rock ‘n’ Roll and Divinity.
“Ok, interesting… can you explain?” I ask.
“I want to keep the rebellious edge of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but at the same time make sure I am popular with and relevant to young people. And then, I unleash my hidden agenda on them: Divinity.”
I look at him questioningly and Ram explains: “I want to create new ancient music. I know it sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I’ll show you what I mean,” he says as he turns to the computer screen and selects a video file. “Watch and learn,” he says with a smile.
The video starts playing and Ram turns back to us. “This is one of the most interesting collaborations ever. It’s a crazy mix-up of two completely different worlds: Bhanvari Devi’s traditional, powerhouse Rajasthani vocals, fuses with Hard Kaur’s scorching rap on her personal life.” He turns back to the screen and turns up the volume.
As we watch the video, we’re completely blown away by the power and intensity of the music.
When the music stops, I want to break out in all kinds of superlatives, but I only manage an awestruck “Wow!”
“Now I understand how you can connect young people with ancient music,” I tell him.
“Wait,” says Ram with a cheeky smile as he turns back to his computer screen. “You ain’t seen nothing yet! I’ll show you how I can be disruptive in India’s most popular media: Bollywood. It allows me to reach millions, even hundreds of millions of people with my message. Here’s a song I wrote for the film Delhi Belly. What you’re about to see has never been done before!
As the video starts, I can’t help imagining Ram unleashing his hidden agenda on us. Things do not have to be the way they are. Just stop resisting the change and go where the music takes you.
Tags: Meeting Ram, meeting Ram Sampath, meeting Ram Sampath in Mumbai, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, CoolBrands, Storytelling, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Divinity