PEERZADA MUZAMIL speaks to ZEESHAN NABI who has formed a Kashmir-based band, Ramooz, which effortlessly mixes elements of tradition with modern, contemporary music.
The band has Zeeshaan Nabi on lead vocals, guitar, keyboards and electronic instruments; Ayan Joe on bass, guitars and backing vocals; and Srinath S. Kumar on drums and percussion. The three do live performances of their original songs while also combining forces on improvisational pieces on stage. Post July 20, 2019, the band spent five months in Kashmir, working on their first studio album. Though they shifted their base to Delhi in November 2019, they continued to remain a musical unit for the past five years.
Q. What is the story behind Ramooz? And what brought the three of you together?
A. We had known each other for the last five years and we had grown in our own distinct musical cocoons as individual musicians and performers. We had met online seeing each other’s work on social media and decided to meet formally and the rest was history. In July 2019, we decided to really fuse together as a musical unit. The guys, Ayan and Srinath, actually took a huge risk and step by quitting their jobs and moving to Zeeshaan’s place in Kashmir. After returning from Australia, Zeeshan was running a recording studio called Meerakii, which is one of its kind in the Valley, and so it was a logical step to begin the process of working on our studio album from there itself. We were in Zeeshaan’s homely environment with his family right next door to the studio taking care of us.
Ramooz is primarily based out of Kashmir since Zeeshaan is the main composer and songwriter, with his musical sensibilities and cultural specificity heavily setting the tone of the songs that are sung in Urdu and Kashmiri, at least in this first album we’re about to release. Ayan and Srinath work around this core with their unique musical inputs note by note and beat by beat. We have developed an ability to read each other’s minds in the studio and in improvisational sets where we speak through the music using our respective instruments as mediums of communication. As for the south Indian and Kashmiri connection, well, Zeeshaan has a musical history with the South of India, since he studied music in the K.M. College of Music and Technology (Chennai) founded by A.R. Rahman, while Ayan also studied in another academy in the same city (Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music) and Srinath has studied music at University of Delhi. We converged in Delhi five years ago and by 2019 realised that we had the potential to do something greater with Zeeshaan bringing songs ready to go for studio session recordings.
Q. How would you describe the genres of music that you are engaged with? Where does the texture and flavour to your songs and compositions come from?
A. Each one of us has a deep relation to music through a wide range of instruments that connect us to various genres of music. Zeehshaan oscillates between Kashmiri folk roots to Western classical while working in the alternative and progressive rock genres as well. Ayan works with pop, rock, blues, South Indian folk and jazz. Srinath centres his practice around multiple instruments and genres of percussion, specialising mainly in progressive rock, but easily adapting to classic rock, blues and jazz wherever necessary. With Zeeshaan also running a professional recording studio in Kashmir and being a producer, the band does tend to incorporate elements of electronica, particularly folk electronica influenced by traditional Kashmiri music.
We don’t really like to classify ourselves in any genre, and much less the overused fusion genre. Rather, we incorporate our entire arsenal of knowledge from different genres to get the sound that we require. We have spent enough time practicing and playing together, improvising all the time to the extent that we will draw out different styles, rhythms, beats, scales, melodies and notes as we need them, usually working in the thrill of the moment and going back and forth between instruments to create a dialogical resonance between each one of us where we speak through the music we are making. We will at times start with progressive rock, alternative, indie and folk styles and then experiment with traditional Kashmiri music, a bit of jazz, and of course a mix of electronica, even though each of songs tends to sound different in their acoustic versions. Fans have told us they enjoy the way we split our music from the studio recordings and the live sets and acoustic versions.
Q. There is a new wave of musicians emerging from Kashmir who have a knack for adapting traditional poetry and folk songs into a contemporary form. Has Ramooz explored that side of carrying the tradition of Kashmiri and South Asian music and poetry forward by contemporizing it?
A. There is a strange danger to a sense of loss attached to culture and tradition and it is felt by many of us. All three of us agree that remembering one’s roots is important, so we bring that to the table. Our musical influences are so multiple and complex that we venture into poetry and literature from many places around the world. Zeeshaan has a deep connection to traditional Kashmiri music because of his family background. We’ve worked with the genre of Chaker from Kashmir with its distinctive rhythms and time signatures, trying to adapt it and reconceptualize it for a three-piece band. Meanwhile, Ayan on the bass has been exploring South Indian folk melodies emerging from Kerala’s great tradition of music. Srinath works according to Zeeshaan’s and Ayan’s methods, bridging the two and providing atypical beat arrangements on the drums that are more loyal to traditional percussion instruments from traditional genres.
Q. Many of your songs do seem to have an iterative or cyclical aura to them, in the sense that one can play them on a loop and never feel tired of listening to the same song on repeat. Could this possibly be due to the multiple layers of sounds that exist within your music?
A. We have a lyrical, melodic and rhythmic core to ignite the collaboration and we mainly focus on a specific set of sounds that we ride out through playing using enough improvisation and not holding back to see where the music leads us. This open-ended way of making music allows us to play around and explore a wide range of possibilities as we set upon tying the lose ends in the studio.
Q. What are the differences between your studio album recordings and the live performances that you have delivered thus far?
A. Our live performances bring out the three-piece-band side of our oeuvre with a lot of improvisational work in between allowing us to surprise our audiences time and again. Meanwhile, in the studio, we do not restrict ourselves by a limited number of instruments or sounds, employing as many as we require as we see it fit for each composition.
Q. Finally, what was your upbringing like and how did it influence your individual trajectories as musicians who would one day assemble a band, record an album and start playing live to first-time listeners and familiar fans?
A. Zeeshaan was born and raised in Kashmir, disturbed and depressed as a youth growing up in a tense environment, using music as an outlet to create melancholic and emotively dense melodies. Ayan had an urban upbringing, trying to figure out the world of western music, eventually realising that the heart of music for him was beating somewhere else, within the Indian subcontinent and within the Eastern hemisphere. Srinath also grew up in a middleclass urban setting and discovered drumming at age 18. Ayan and Srinath lived in the same society in Mayur Vihar and became friends in 2006, jamming a lot with guitar and tabla. With all three of us being dedicated to music early on, we had a head start in getting acquainted with one another musically to work as one creative entity. It has been really empowering and inspiring thus far and we are looking forward to sharing many years of music with listeners and fans, both familiar and unfamiliar.