Saturday, 8 April 2017

Music Diaries: Arka Das

A big thank you to all of you who have been supporting me on this endeavour of mine in all ways. The support has been overwhelming for me and I'll try my best to give you all the I can.

For today's session I present to you a very well known person in this area- Arka Das. Also known as Dodo, a Soultone Cymbals endorsee and supported by Tempus Drums, Vancouver, Canada; Arka has been in this field for long.

He was a founder member of both Cassini's Division and Five Little Indians, played with the pop rock band Span alongside, and played on Rupam Islam's third solo record, Nishkromon, apart from film work and co-composing drum tracks on Fossils IV. Currently a member of the Saturday Night Blues Band, which is now a trio, along with Mir & Bandage and also on an unique all-percussion quartet that's all set to release its debut EP. So, here's presenting Arka Das- unplugged...

Since I have had the warning with tell me how you started it all not being in the questions that I ask you, can I instead ask you what was the very first tune that you learnt to play? Or rather, what was the first tune that attracted you the most?

Arka Das-- As far as I can remember, I was air drumming to Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie and of course, Michael Jackson before I actually picked up drumsticks. Growing up, the first major artistes that I was into were heavy-duty pop superstars, from MJ to George Michael. And the first major rock band to have an influence on me as such was The Police. If you're talking of picking up cover tunes, I really can't remember, but covers of Pink Floyd and The Police were pretty popular while we were in our teens, so it was probably some of that stuff. Weirdly, the very first band I was in, named Sweet Leaf, was an all-originals band, in the mid 90s, and since that was my first 'band', as such, I didn't really think that playing your own tunes was so rare back at that time. Being in a band, some of Rahul Guharoy's tunes were the first ones I learned to play.

Percussion. An instrument which means a lot to any band. Being a senior drummer with a lot of experience to boast of, can you tell me what is the real definition of it? What I mean is, how would you define this family of instruments?

Arka Das-- No, all songs have rhythm, so whether you actually have percussion in a piece of music or not, rhythm and melody are core elements of composition that you cannot do without.

I have been talking to musicians for quite some time now and one thing that I've talked about the most is how the bass guitar and the drums go hand in hand. That's what the bassists told me. Being a drummer, Would you like to shed some light on that?
Arka Das-- Bass and drums form the rhythm section. I obviously have a soft spot for bassists that hold it down and lock it in, and some of my favourite people in the world, as musicians and as personalities and often, close friends, happen to be bass players. Aakash Ganguly, Sandip Roy, Roheet Mukherjee, Nitin Mani, Shamik Chatterjee, Sanket Bhattacharya, Hemant Aligi, Sonu Sangameswaran, Mainak Nagchowdhury and Stuart Munro happen to be some of those friends and bass players I absolutely enjoy playing and hanging with.

You've been with SO MANY projects. And if I can guess correctly, the 2 bands that you've been the founding member of are the closest to your heart. Following the other bands. Having a band of your own to playing with other bands- what's the major difference?

Arka Das-- I don't think there is any question of preference  a when you happen to be a professional musician: every musical situation is a gift and an opportunity to put your stamp on. At this point in my life and career, I feel blessed to be able to do what I love to do and make a living, and I keep learning every day, from every musical opportunity that comes my way. Of course, I enjoy the creative process of making songs with projects where that is involved, but I love the process of picking up covers to be played on a weekly basis, because that keeps my chops up and educates me about the nuances of playing and feeling a song better, seeing as these were played by some of my biggest drumming idols.

I'm sure you're the most confident when you pick up your drum sticks. Playing love must also be coming naturally to you. But what I want to know is at the beginning of every show when you see the sea of audience in front of you, what goes on in your mind?
Arka Das-- Thank god I still get the butterflies in my tummy and am pretty stoked to go up on stage and hit those drums.
All pictures courtesy: Arka's Facebook profile

An all percussion quartet with your brothers- this is a very unique initiative. How fun is it to work with them? And how different is it to work with your brothers and with other people?

Arka Das-- Unity Village is an all-percussion quartet that includes my younger brother Ritoban Das, my long-time comrade, bandmate and brother from another mother Dwaipayan Saha and our gurubhai, the Latin percussion master, Sourav Chatterjee. And yes, you are right: it is a unique group, because UV plays songs, and is not just a percussion jam opportunity for us to let loose. The band is now almost two years old. We call it a platform that studies root rhythms from around the world; rhythms that range from Afro-Caribbean music to Oakland and NOLA funk to reggae to street beats that define our raucous festivals to Kamtapuri folk. It is home, it is easy, and it is equally difficult because there's no bullshit involved. We are going to release our debut 4-song EP over the next few months, and I think it would be best if we just let the music do the talking.

You've seen a lot happening around you. Musically. How would you explain the changes that has taken place from the time you joined the industry to now? Where does the music industry stand today?
Arka Das-- I think the main change is that there is actually an 'industry', if you will, than what it used to be back when I started off. Live music, at least, is an organised sector, and there is a definite market for it, there is an audience demand, and there is a studio scene which can sustain professional musicians. There is definitely more money, which is a good thing. But big money comes with its own pitfalls, and Bengal's situation has been no different. There's a slew of booking agencies and event management scamsters who seem to be making a lot more money off artistes than the artistes themselves. Obviously, that will implode in a few years, till we are better organised.

Wouldn't you agree if I say that being a drummer, musically, at times, you do not get questions asked that you want to? It's the same old questions. If given a chance, what do you want to be asked to yourself? And of course, what would be the answer?

Arka Das-- I'm quite a gear nerd, so I do enjoy questions about drum gear. And of course, idols.
Just before summing it all up, I'll have to ask these two very cliche questions. What is currently on your platter?

Arka Das-- I play with four set-ups now: Mir & Bandage, The Saturday Night Blues Band, Unity Village, and a songmaking project that I have been working on with one of my closest buddies, FLI founder and Fossils guitarist Allan Ao. That's basically it. Each band has specific plans, which we shall talk about when ready.

And the final one. What would be your piece of advice to the upcoming musicians of today's time?

Arka Das-- Learn the craft, hone your skills, play like there's no tomorrow, every day. Keep yourself humble, because not everyone gets the opportunity that's given to you. Keep working, and a superpower somewhere will take care of the rest. And have a tonne of fun while you're at it.

Isn't it wonderful knowing music up close? Do you want to share your experience? If you are a musician and you want to speak about music or get featured here, get in touch with me at I would be more than happy to talk to you and discuss music with you.

If you think that there are things about music that you know and would want to share with the whole world, don't forget to leave me a message. To help me with my endeavour, do not forget to share the post. If you have come up with a music album and would want me to review it before release or for that matter, after release, I am always there. Also, if there is a music launch and you want me to cover it (especially if it is in Kolkata, India) I am there. For the people outside Kolkata, give me the details of the launch and I would cover it for you. If there is any music event that you want me to attend, I am just a ping away always. For the rest, as I always say, let your soul be musical

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