Riffs, ragas and razzmatazz

We catch up with emerging musicians in Kerala to see what they’ve got in store for us in the coming months
Unnikrishnan Puthuchery
Unnikrishnan Puthuchery

On World Music Day, we catch up with emerging musicians in Kerala to see what they’ve got in store for us in the coming months.

Mastering tunes 

Thrissur lad Jo Marshal’s musical journey began at the tender age of five. “That’s when I first laid my hands on the piano at home,” he says. Though, like every other Keralite, he, too, pursued engineering, his true passion lay in creating music. “It was difficult then to convince my parents that I wanted to become a musician. It wasn’t until I earned well from my first live gig that my parents accepted my decision to pursue music full-time,” says the 25-year-old self-taught musician.

“I find influences everywhere, be it classical compositions or contemporary pop music. This fuels my creative process and shapes my unique style.” In addition to his proficiency in playing multiple instruments, he has also honed his skills in the art of music mixing and mastering.

“I often lend my expertise to fellow musicians, assisting them in achieving the perfect balance and sonic quality in their tracks. I have earned recognition from musicians and directors such as Govind Vasantha, Rex Vijayan, Manoj George, and Kailas Menon,” he adds. Jo has showcased his talent at 
TEDx and many music festivals across South India.

Symphony of wind

Unnikrishnan Puthuchery’s journey as a woodwind artist began in 2016, a time when he was actively involved in singing. He purchased his first flute and fortuitously found himself under the tutelage of Ustad Hassan Bhai, a maestro of shehnai, flute, and other instruments. After completing his formal training, he honed his skills through self-research.

In 2021, he posted a cover video on Facebook, of him playing Hariharan’s ‘Walking in the Moonlight’ on the flute. The video went viral, and the rest is history. “In 2019, I had the opportunity to perform live with music producer Prashant Pillai in Western Australia, which was my first live performance,” he says.

Now, the youngster has set his sights on pursuing a full-time career as a flautist and has already received invitations to collaborate with music directors in the Kannada film industry. “My journey has not been without its challenges, but with my determination and with the support of my friends, family, and social media followers, I have overcome all obstacles,” says Unnikrishnan, who hails from Kasaragod. 

Let’s get poppin’ with Clint

Like many, Clint Lewis began his musical journey by being part of the church choir. However, it did not dawn on the 24-year-old Kochi native than that he could make a career in music. That came years later when his college mates, part of the artist duo Immigrants, invited him to be their vocalist ahead of a music competition.

“It was the first time I sat down to write a song. I was surprised when the track — ‘Otherside’ — was adjudged the competition’s most popular track. This lit a spark in me,” Clint says. However, it took a long while for him to snare emotions as mere words on paper. “Then, after I fell out of a relationship, I found myself pouring my emotions on paper,” he adds. Now, his creative process is a lot simpler and involves less heartbreak. According to him, building a community around oneself is key.

“When you have a group of like-minded people around you, who push you towards success, you can really excel,” he says. This is precisely what has helped Clint to break free from the trappings of being an artist in a small town, far removed from the thriving music scene in other metros. But Clint, eager to make it big here, is working towards his debut album, slated for release in late 2023.

Bridging two worlds

For Ritwik Ashok, an engineering dropout, music was only a backup at first and not a very rewarding one. “Initially, I faced many setbacks. Though I was dejected, the experiences also lit a fire in me. I promised myself that I would take to music wholeheartedly,” Ritwik says. However, what propelled the 30-year-old from Thiruvananthapuram to popularity were his efforts to seamlessly blend classical melodies with contemporary vibes.

“I noticed a declining interest in Carnatic music. So, in an effort to revive the love for the art form, I created my own version of the music, combining the essence of Carnatic melodies while also embracing modern influences,” he says. He draws inspiration from hip-hop icons like Tupac, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg. “I have also started a band, Agatha, with my friend Shan G Francis, who is a singer and composer. We mostly cover film songs of different genres,” says Ritwik.

A candid affair

Popularising the culture of classical music is young Carnatic musician N J Nandhini. The Thiruvananthapuram native has been rendering short videos, making classical music easier to consume through social media.  Titled NJ Lessons, her videos contain information on several ragas, vocal tips, vocal exercise sessions, Q&A and many more — all lasting just two-minute. The candid clips are well-received by music aficionados as well as the common man.  

“Being a classical singer, I felt it was my responsibility to spread the beauty of Carnatic music to more people, especially the common man who still tags it as an elite art form. Music is for all,” says Nandini, who owns a post-doctoral fellowship from Kerala University. Recently, as part of popularising Carnatic music, Nandini conducted a one-day music carnival, SaReGaMaPa Gala in Thiruvananthapuram under her music venture Nayaki Music and Arts Foundation.

“Carnatic music was combined with games in that carnival to make it simple for the public. It saw the participation of youth and many music aspirants. The idea was to experience the music and make more people learn it,” adds Nandini.

Rising rap star

Despite his young age and lack of formal training, Chockli Rapper has been making waves in the still-nascent Kerala rap scene with his lyrical prowess. The turning point for this 19-year-old came during his high school days.

“One day, I wore a pair of ripped jeans to the school which got very questioning stares from the teachers. I think my dark skin too contributed to it. Frustrated, I wrote a poem in retaliation and hid it in my teacher’s book so that she could find it after class. Though I braced for punishments, it never came,” Chockli says. To his surprise, the teacher was very appreciative of Chockli’s talent. “She inspired me to write more,” he says.

Soon, implored by his growing fanbase and his own yearnings to speak out against society’s evils, he saved up enough money and recorded his debut track, Ottapuram. “Rap is a powerful tool to challenge existing perceptions. One of my first songs tackled the issue of the dowry system,” he says. So far, the budding artist has released about 20 tracks online and is currently working on his beatboxing skills.

Setting the bar

Barrechord, a Kochi-based band, is taking Kerala’s music scene by storm. With seven passionate musicians, the band has been performing across the state, leaving audiences spellbound. Barrechord consists of lead vocalist Nihal Salim, two vocalists and acoustic guitarists Harrison Emmanuel Xavier and Irfan Zehn, lead guitarist Rohit Manoj, keyboardist Nikith Michael Biju, bassist Dominic Baby, and drummer Emmanuel Simon. The band’s music is a blend of popular melodies, folk rock, and music to which you can bust a groove.

“Barrechord was unplanned,” says Harrison. Initially, the group was bought together to perform a single gig with no intention of continuing beyond that. “We were amateurs. We were asked to name the band, and I came up with Barrechord because we couldn’t even play the barre chords at the time,” quips Irfan. In just one year, Barrechord has managed to perform 50-plus shows at various prestigious institutions and locations, including the last Under-25 Summit held in Bengaluru and the PopUp Flea in Kochi.

“Most of us are self-taught, and that results in a different connection with the audience,” Nihal remarks. Barrechord’s next venture is to release original music. “We can definitely play the barre chords now,” Harrison muses.

From looking cool to writing music

Years ago, when a young, 17-year-old Jeremiah de Rozario first picked up the guitar, he had done so to be cool. Little did he know that it would plunge him into the world of indie music. “I just fell in love with the whole process — writing lyrics, making music. Also, it helped that I had family and friends who were as interested in creative pursuits as I was,” says Jeremiah.

As is usually the case, playing the guitar means that you also got to write a song, and like many others, Jeremiah, too, wrote a love song. “It was not very good,” he admits, but it was a necessary step to get better. “It’s likely that your first 50 songs are bad. But you refine your process with each attempt. I still love experimenting, exploring,” he says. Perhaps this is why Jeremiah does not have a set creative process.

“Each song forms differently. Sometimes, I will have a melody stuck in my head. Other times, the whole thing comes together out of the blue. Usually, when something overwhelming happens to me, I sit down with a pen and paper,” says Jeremiah, whose favourite artist is Ed Sheeran. According to him, songs are an avenue to be “completely honest”, and his latest song, ‘Sunflower’, released in May, reflects this brilliantly. The Fort Kochi native has released six songs already. He is now working towards his four-track EP, which will be released in late 2023.

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