Vasundhara Vidalur has been among very few female Jazz vocalists whose name has now become synonymous with the revival of RnB, Soul and Jazz in the Indian subcontinent. Busy bringing homegrown jazz to the fore, she’s all set with power-packed collaborations for her new project, Merkaba, which debuted to a packed house recently at NCPA, Mumbai, and is set to travel to other cities soon.
Her musical quintet has chosen to challenge the stubborn definitions associated with the music business today and with a blazing rhythm section comprising Gino Banks on drums and Sheldon D'Silva on bass, innovation by producer Sanjay Divecha and Soul/RnB inflections in by Karan Joseph and vocals by her, Vasundhara shares that this is a journey they deeply cherish.
When did your romance with Jazz begin?
I’m a soul singer who began to spend work time with people who are adept at playing jazz. That’s really how it still is. Before singing professionally, the bulk of my singing was in choirs and Jazz came to me through vocal jazz groups such as Manhattan Transfer, The Real Group, and The New York Voices etc. Blues, Soul, RnB and Funk are the super-big things in my life.
Tell us about your roots and how your early life influenced your subsequent decision to take up jazz.
I really didn’t take up jazz, I took up singing. I’d value a song over its genre or style any day.
I have had an Assamese-Bengali upbringing. Music is very important to my family. My grandpop would listen to Assamese folk music and Aretha Franklin and ABBA and Frank Sinatra and Harry Belafonte all in one evening. He also always narrated the meanings or stories in the songs that he would sing himself. Genres never mattered. Songs were the star. Music and art have been important to us for generations. My grand-aunt Pratima Barua Pandey was part of folk music revival movements in Assam and my great grand uncle made films. When I was a kid, my dad would wake me up in the morning to practice singing and I hated it. But at 15, when I announced to my parents that I wanted to pursue music, they gave me their full support and consent provided that I proved to them that I could sing. Thereon, I was obsessive about practice and very focused in my teens and I think that it really helped me.
I have had no schooling in music. All my learning has been through collaboration and mentorship. I’ve been very lucky that world class musicians took me and continue to take me under their wing and nurture me.
What does Merkaba mean? Can you take us through its journey?
One meaning of Mer-ka-ba is light-spirit-body. We believe that music performance balances the animal within us, our intellect and the spirit’s quest for connection. Another meaning of Merkaba is the energy form that is associated with a state of meditation. Music feels like this to each one of us in this project. It helps us access better parts of ourselves and be more compassionate.
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