Urban Echoes: Profile of a UAE music band

Music as attitude
There is a new sound in town: Urban Echoes. It reflects the musical aspirations and attitudes of the UAE’s young Indian expatriates, writes Rajeev Nair

Photographs: Rajan

On first hearing, the debut of Urban Echoes, a new concept in music, sounds itself caught between two worlds. And as you talk to the team, a group of young, twenty-somethings, you realise that it isn’t deliberate.
Urban Echoes is the bye-product of a new wave of thinking, a new style of living, a new sort of attitude that is simply hip, happening and very “now.” It is about youth discovering their own identity – one that is defined by their roots and nurtured by a global lifestyle that they live every day of their life.
Do we hear the words ABCD and British Deshi? ABCD – the American-born Confused Deshi is a cliché now. British Deshi, too. But both sparked a new cultural wave. The ABCDs gave new cinema (Hyderabad Blues, for starters) which petered out without much ado. British Deshis, however, gave us the rocking Asian Underground sound of music that is still going places.
In that mould, Urban Echoes is perhaps the Gulf’s offshoot of a cultural identity that young Indians, who spend a considerable part of their lives in Arabia, uphold. It is an attitude spelt out in music, and if you need a parallel of sorts, look no further than the ubiquitous FM airwaves, particularly City 101.6 and Hit 96.7 FMs, which – good or bad – have won over loyal listeners in remarkable numbers.
It could be purely coincidental that Urban Echoes has dished out its edition one as a Malayalam album. Binu Joy, who has composed, arranged and programmed all the tracks, apart from being the prime mover of the concept, takes pride in his own cultural roots. Yes, the lyrics by Raju George and Gopi Krishnan are in Malayalam. But the music, simply put, cuts through geographic and even cultural barriers.
That is not only because of the rap element infused by Sanjit Bardhan, a “non-Malayali.” While he gives an “extra flavour,” according to Binu, the overall mood of Neeyum Njanum (You and I) is one of unpretentious joviality, which isn’t bound to languages or parochial musical influences.
Naturally, it is hard to bracket the music of Urban Echoes in one mould: Binu says it is a new concept in music. “It is not traditional; it is very jazzy and funky.”
It is jazzy and funky with a reason; it is music as understood and appreciated by youngsters who have been exposed to diverse musical streams and have been trying to carve out an identity that could set apart them. If there is an overt element of fusion – the rap, the jazzy grooves, the thumping beats and the sheer melody – again, it isn’t forced.
Binu says the first edition, Neeyum Njanum, launched on Sunday by Vanilla Music in Dubai, took almost two years to roll out. The whole process of the team-members coming together and working out the music was like a chain reaction. Binu knew Rijo Chacko, who knew Sanjit Bardhan. Both are supported on the album’s vocals by Shobana Chandramohan and Neetu Saju Paul.
Binu says the album’s seven numbers were evolved with definite themes. From the theme came the lyrics, and the music followed. The seven songs tackle seven emotions, seven moments that one goes through in life, he adds.
The key members are largely self-trained in music. Neetu had formal music training but working with Binu was an entirely new experience, she says. Freedom was the essence of the teamwork – everyone came up with inputs, improvisations, and each pushed one’s own individual musical sensibilities.
Binu says he looked out for “just talent” in picking up his team. In that vein, he adds, the second edition of Urban Echoes, which he resists from calling a band (it’s a concept, he insists), might have a fresh group of singers too.
Vital inputs for Urban Echoes have come from Vladimir Persan, Sidhart Mishra, Anish Gohil and KJ Singh apart from Joy Varughese, the executive producer, and Iju I Jacob, who designed the international feel for the concept.
Much of the production work was done in Dubai itself with additional mixing and mastering done in Mumbai, India. The album will be launched in India within a month.
Deepinder Kapani of Vanilla Music says Neeyum Njanum is an extension of the music company’s renewed focus on the Malayalam segment, which is sizeable in the UAE. Despite the threats of music piracy and Internet downloads, he says the audio business of Vanilla has grown by 40 per cent in the last two to three years thanks to its large basket of products.
“It has been no joyride,” explains Binu Joy on the amount of work that has gone into creating the album. “And we have a very well-planned marketing strategy.”
Sanjit Bardhan is “super confident” of Urban Echoes’ success. “It is much better than the sounds you hear on radio here; it has got the power,” he asserts.
Underscoring it all is the young team’s desire to spell out – in no uncertain terms – the evolution of a new music culture in Dubai, one that is reflective of a new generation of young expatriate Indians, one that crosses over, one that “opens yourself to a new world…”
Now, that is hard to define in words but easy to understand in the music.

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