I am in Ahmedabad – a tad tired after a day of meetings at IIMA and with Chief Minister Narendra Modi- when I an old friend calls with interesting news from afar. Coming from Bangalore where we have had a spate of power outages, Ahmedabad with its 24-hour power supply, seems like a foreign land indeed. Its clean and good roads are enough to get me to wax lyrical after the potholed ridden nightmarish traffic we endure back home.
Right now though the foreign affair that I’m referring to is the album that my friend Sandeep Chowta has co-produced with the legendary American jazz fusion band Spyro Gyra. A foreign affair has debuted at number two on the Billboard Jazz world charts, which is probably a first for any Indian musician. It is currently charting eighth on the world’s premier music publication.
Originally from Bangalore, Mumbai-based Sandeep is better known for the dozens of background scores he has composed for Bollywood films including Om Shanti Om, Satya and the more recent Not a love story. He’s also scored the music for umpteen Telugu films, for films featuring leading men like Nagarajuna.
A self-taught musician, this son of a rich family found it hard to get anyone to take him seriously at first. But he persevered. Having watched at close quarters his early efforts at composing, I have come to admire the single-minded dedication he displays to his career. Much like the successful Gujaratis from here.
Spyro Gyra says about the name of the album, “Sometimes when you fall in love, you know it from the first embrace. A Foreign Affair is the story of our love affair with the music of the world”. Sandeep too has an enduring love affair with music; indeed it’s the single most constant love of his life.
Spyro Gyra’s founding leader, alto saxophonist and songwriter Jay Beckenstein says, “Tom Schuman (keyboardist) had worked with Sandeep Chowta long distance over the net and then I did some work for Sandeep. We were very impressed with what he was doing, so when we decided to take the record in this direction, Sandeep was a perfect gateway into Indian music for us. It was natural to ask Sandeep to contribute to A Foreign Affair.”
Here is what the band says about Sandeep’s song Khuda which is part of the album, “Khuda announces itself immediately as the most obvious departure on the record with its intro. It’s probably the first time a Western group has released a song with lyrics entirely in Hindi”.
Sandeep spent seven months in Toronto for the recordings and the album takes us on a journey across the world; from the reggae beat of Caribe, to the sounds of Trinidad in Sweet Ole Thang which is a Calypso flavored, steel pan band party rave-up. Next is a piece of world music funk with Middle Eastern scales. Shinjuku offers a taste of modern Tokyo while Samba For Two and Canção de Ninar, take us to Brazil familiar in Spyro Gyra’s music. South Africa is present with Dancing On Table Mountain and the Last Call is sung by Grammy winning blues great Keb Mo’.
Collaborating with legendary jazz musicians is not something new for Sandeep; he’s earlier produced Matters of the Heart, featuring modern jazz icons like Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, Scott Henderson, Bunny Brunel, Virgil Donati, Dave Weckl, as well as members of Spyro Gyra, The Yellowjackets and Fourplay. He’s organised gigs in India such as the Bunny Brunel All Stars in 2006, with Virgil Donati, Frank Gambale and Mitch Forman.
As the strains of the garba music play out around me on the streets, Sandeep and I reminisce about the long way path he’s travelled from his first album Pulse. He reminds me that I was the first journalist to write about him all those years ago!