The Fusion Project (TFP) describes its uniqueness as a band which subtly fuzes Indian classical with Western music creating beautiful melodies out of this fusion. Ahead of their performance at the Bhavan on the 11th of June, Rushil Ranjan, founder member of the band speaks to Subhadrika Sen . . .
Subhadrika: Could you please introduce your group and its members to our audience?
Rushil: The Fusion Project is essentially a collective of Indian and Western musicians from various backgrounds. On the Western side, some of us come from the pop scene while others have had pure classical training. The same can be said of the Indian classical musicians. Some come from a Carnatic background while others have had a more Hindustani training. We like to think we have a pretty interesting mix going on.
Subhadrika: How did the idea of The Fusion Project come into existence?
Rushil: The idea came about a couple of years ago when I was introduced to Praveen Prathapan, our flautist, through the Oxford Indian Classical Arts Society. At the time, I had absolutely no real knowledge of Indian Classical music, or Indian music at all really. I’d spent years playing the blues and pop scene but had never really played with anything so traditional and eclectic. There was a pretty instant connection as soon as we started playing. I’d previously encountered musicians who could either play with a lot of feeling or play technically; this guy- and every other member of the project- can do BOTH. We both loved the idea of the style of music being made accessible for the first time. To me, the complex classical melodies and rhythms sounded amazing over even the simplest and most easy-listening- type Western sequences.
Subhadrika: Are all of you full-time musicians or come from other professional backgrounds?
Rushil: A few of us are. I personally used to be a law student at Oxford but I’ve gone into music full- time now. Our bassist, Joshua Rigal, is the only other full- time musician currently in the band. The rest of the band does a whole host of things, some are medical students, some are lawyers and some have full- time jobs. It’s a mixed bunch really. Given all that, I’ve found everyone’s dedication and motivation to put aside loads of time for this really overwhelming. The love and passion that all these guys bring to each session is really the reason that we are where we are right now.
Subhadrika: Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?
Rushil: There are a lot of us so I can’t really give you the entire list or else we’ll be here for a while. I know that as a band, we all have the deepest love and respect for the music of the great Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I personally had no experience of him until I came across him through one of my personal heroes- Jeff Buckley. I spent loads of time trawling through tonnes of his stuff on YouTube until I stumbled across this random live recording of him talking about Nusrat. He then went on to sing some of his stuff… a massive feat for anyone, let alone a western musician. I was blown away. I kind of fell into it from there.
Subhadrika: Do you have any memorable experiences during your journey with The Fusion Project?
Rushil: Too many, most too ridiculous for me to publicly discuss. If I had to pick one, it’d probably be our first show with Sofar Sounds in Oxford. It was in this beautiful chapel in Worcester College. At this point we’d never really played our material to anyone; we’d just jammed away at home. I think we were all pretty much emotionally shell-shocked by the reception that we got from 150 total strangers, most of whom had never heard any Indian Classical music before. I remember standing there after our show when Krishna, our Carnatic vocalist (and definitely the wisest of all of us), walked up to me and quietly said: “Yea, I get what you’ve been saying, I think we have something here.”
Subhadrika: What challenges did you face in this field?
Rushil: The music industry is tough these days. Recent Tech means literally anyone can put out stuff. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing in a lot of ways, it just means that there’s a lot more noise floating round to break through. That kind of applies to all musical acts right now. For us, I guess its more about convincing people that Indian Classical Music can be truly accessible. I love that we have really hardcore classical fans who love those elements but I also love the idea of spreading classical music to the rest of our generation. Before people actually hear us play, getting them on board with the idea can be kind of tough sometimes.
Subhadrika: Do you get nervous before a performance or a competition?
Rushil: I don’t think we can anymore because there’s just so much hilarity and humour floating round the dressing room before we jump on. We’re all so close as friends and we’re all so dopey and silly in our own ways that we can’t help but laugh at each other all the time. That makes taking any moment, even those just before a performance, too seriously. Added to that is the fact that you know, regardless of anything; the band has your back. Playing with musicians that are this good means that they adapt and you never have to face the nightmare scenario of it all collapsing.
Subhadrika: How often and for how long do you practice?
Rushil: We don’t really schedule practice sessions. We just get together around 4 times a week and play. That’s kind of the reason why we do this at all. Discipline comes in the week running up to a show. Around then we’ll get together for long sessions and we’ll make sure we’re tight.
Subhadrika: How easy or difficult do you think is it for individual bands to carve a niche for themselves in the field, when the world is mostly dominated by mainstream musicians?
Rushil: I think there’s more latent demand for something fresh and original than we’re aware of. You know, something away from the mainstream. Thing is, listeners don’t want to have to work too hard for it. You can’t just shove really eclectic and complex Carnatic music in a modern day listener’s face without it intimidating them. You’ve got to package it up in a way that’s easy for people to access and allow them to make their own journey into the complex parts of it. If you do that you can develop your niche over time.
Subhadrika: Where can we find you on Social Media?
Rushil: We’re everywhere, the best place to go to is our website : www.thefusion-project.com Pretty much all our social media links and upcoming shows are on there! But you can also find us at:
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/theukfusionproject
Subhadrika: Could you please let us know about your upcoming concerts?
Rushil: We’re playing a big show at the Bhavan Centre on the 11th of June. We’d absolutely love to see you all there. We’ve also got loads of dates coming up! We’re opening for some pretty big names in the Indian Music scene soon but that’s all kind of hush-hush right now. Sign up to the mailing list and you’ll be the first to know!
Subhadrika: What advice would you give to the beginners?
Rushil: Keep trying. I think people somewhat feel that talent is everything in this industry and if you’re not born a virtuoso you’re screwed. I really don’t think that’s true. Talent is really important but hard work is so much more important. Its a marathon. Just keep practicing. But most importantly, enjoy it for what it is at the time. Planning for future stardom or whatever is all great but if it means that everything you’re currently doing pales in comparison then you’re probably doing something you’re not really into right now, which isn’t right. You’ve kind of got to love playing for the sake of playing.
Subhadrika: Do you have any message for our readers?
Rushil: We’re really appreciative of all the love and support we’ve gotten from your community! Thanks so much for taking the time to read all this… Also come to all our shows! Especially the one at the Bhavan on the 11th of June. That one ought to be really, special! Oh and don’t hesitate to get in touch! We love hearing from you guys!
Tickets for their latest performance at the Bhavan, London could be purchased through the official website: http://www.bhavan.net/art-gallery/past-exhibitions/event/473-fusion-project