Kolkata musician Arko Mukhaerjee's new band explores the collective spirit of music
The new avatar of Arko Mukhaerjee Collective is based on an idea that has been in the pipeline for about four years now. It came out of a necessity, as the pressure of playing with too many projects proved a bit too hectic for Arko, an urban folk artiste from Kolkata. Known for playing with bands like Fiddler’s Green, Ziba and Ashram, he has three solo albums to date: Ghater Kotha, FIVE, and The Lion and the Hamster, apart from scoring for several films as well.
“I’ve been playing live music for nearly 20 years now. One goes through the stages of arrogance, humility and desperation. At one point, you come to a standstill, where you want to do one thing that is yours,” he explains. The new Collective includes Arko on vocals and ukulele, Koustav Dey on guitar, Nitin Mani on bass, Sounak Roy on percussion and drums, and Sajib Sarkar on Indian percussion. A recently released single by the band, titled The Folk Express — a medley of a Nepali Man Gandharba song, a tribal Bengali tune and an Irish folk song — offers a vivid picture of the free space in their music. It can range from ancient Israeli songs to reggae, music from Africa and Latin America as well as folk tunes from across India.
“Music embodies community spirit. One song with a singular groove keeps on playing, and takes time to sink in. One person starts singing, another joins in, then another... it goes on. That’s why, it’s a collective,” offers Arko, “The band has a very open-ended structure, and is not a space for extreme shows of virtuosity. After a long time, I’m enjoying sitting in the evening, having a cup of tea and playing one song for two hours. Start with a groove, and see where it goes. It’s not meant for intellectual discourse.” “Band members listen to what the other is playing,” Nitin chips in. The general Indian musical style is that of soloists, with a boithoki character, but Sajib understands groove, and does what is required of him. “I don’t have any difficulty playing in this setup. It’s so free. I have a lot of fun,” he adds.
Koustav’s role is crucial, as he shares Arko’s passion for injecting West African flair into their music, and is diligent enough to pick up its vocabulary. Starting off with their debut gig at Kolkata’s hip new venue, TopCat at OffBeatCCU, the Collective is raring to play as much as they can, be it in bars, cafés, festivals or even pujo shows. They plan to release singles and videos as and when their songs are recorded.
Upcoming singles include an Islamic Sunnat prayer, Allah Humma Sallay Ala Sayyidina Muhammadin, leading into the Bhawaiya song Kajol Bhromora; the centuries-old Jewish tune Rad Halaila, mixed with Pyaar Hua Ekraar Hua, a medley of Sana, an African soukous song and the Bihari nautanki tune Chalat Musafir Moh Liya Re, sung by Manna Dey for Teesri Kasam. Arko has also written an original reggae-flavoured song, Happy to Start Again, which will also be released soon.