There is no better way to describe a Sofar music vibe better than an toned down Amanda Palmer house concert.
More on that, in a bit. But first, here is a snapshot into my music journey.
My music playlist
I read How Music Works by David Byrne two years ago.
“As music becomes less of a thing–a cylinder, a cassette, a disc–and more ephemeral, perhaps we will begin to assign an increasing value to live performances again.”
― David Byrne,
I have been to many Carnatic and Hindustani music performances; light music, jugalbandi, bhavageete, and devotional music. I do not know or understand raagas, taalas, and swaaras. I love these, anyway.
David Byrne is the founding member, principal songwriter, lead singer and guitarist of the American new wave band Talking Heads.
All the ’80s feels right there!
He spoke of music that exists in the region between one’s ears. Music from ipods and mp3 players, smartphones, tiny devices and earphones.
I have noticed all the quainter parts of Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur’s malls, Penang, Melaka and, I imagine, the whole world has many streetside musicians, serving up local delicacies, in music format.
There’s something mystical about owning music, having access to it, that only you know of.
You “discover” the music. It transports you. It is part of you now.
When I read Bangalore: A Century of Tales from City and Cantonment by Peter Colaco or BANGALORE BLUE A Bunch of Nostalgic Tales for and by True-Blue Bangaloreansand PAST & CURIOUS – Forty Tales of Good Old Bangalore by Stanley Carvalho I was especially fascinated with the parts on Bangalore cantonment lifestyle and music meets at Cubbon Park.
The bandstand at Cubbon Park came to life every Sunday evening. The music strip was in business where anyone could pick up a guitar, sit at a drum kit and play for the crowd that lazed on the lawns. The music ranged from okay to pretty bad, but who cared. The air was thick with sweet smelling smoke. Bangalore’s blues singer Peter Isaac would make an appearance from time to time in a T-shirt and veshti (a lungi or sarong) worn half mast. Strapping on his telecaster, his head would sway from side to side as he crooned, “I want you… So baaaad, honey I want you…”
Granted, we were not deadheads (not the real ones), Peter was not Jerry Garcia, and Cubbon Park was not Haight-Ashbury. But what the heck, we let it all hang out.
Reading these books felt like Time traveling. I meandered into Sofar Sounds and felt the same way.
Sofar Sounds Session #1
On an unsuspecting day, February 18th to be exact, Compadre K and I followed fancily dressed folks hoping they were going to the same place we wanted to go to – The Sofar music sessions; we were stalking random people, yes. I did not want to use Google Maps because I had my Discoverer Mode: On.
A little bit a dramatic revelation:
K and I would listen to good music any chance we had. If this were the ’80s, we would have exchanged 20 mixtapes at least. We “discovered music”. We found a few Sofar music compilations.
Particularly, this one took my breath away. John Pita’s too, apparently. He’s so red towards the end!
There was even this…
Imagine, listening to an artist, just before they explode onto the music scene worldwide…
Subsequently, WE FREAKED OUT, because Sofar Sounds was right here! In our city! So close! So cool! Here? Whaaaaaat.
We immediately signed up. K got the invitation. I invited myself over, as a plus one.
The location secrecy just adds to the coolness! If you apply, and get an invite, you get the address only a day before the gig day!
Back to the fancy folks. We walked in the maze like roads of Jayanagar and came upon a beautiful house which had a discrete Sofar sign board outside on the garage door. We asked and entered.
Sidenote: I love the wiry typography and the plug at the end. We are unplugged, it seemed to say.
The Blue Room was a describable place. The space is small. The homeliness gives a good setting for friendly conversations. We had many.
Every time I go to any artsy, cultural, literary, or music place I have a feeling akin to traveling in a new country or city. It is not a “culture shock” but an overwhelming euphoria. It is like trying to hold yummy melting cheese in your hand. You want to eat it. It is falling. Oh the anxiety. Come to think of it, that’s probably why pizza was invented. A base to hold the cheese in place. Hummm.
K and I looked on in wonder when the music was about to start. There was no awkward “Hello!”
Instead there was an awkward swara singing. Auuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh.
It had begun!
Prarthana Sen, the emcee for the night and Natalia Rebecca Isaac, the curator, we later realise are very very musical. P plays the Tanpura and captures you with hindustani vocals. Becky plays the guitar and some trumpet and harmonises to add layers around the already beautiful sounds.
As for the bands that night, the experience was not of this world. For InfiniteSync, we were so close to the instruments I noticed every twang of the guitar. Gabriel Daniel and band (Akshat Kiran Kavidayal and Ajit Singh) spoke to us about loneliness in the big city via music. Ramdas and Aiyer Trio electrified us with their Jazz hands.
The Blue Room made me feel like I was in a magical pocket in Jayangar, with a crowd out of a storybook. A dedicated sound room in the basement of a house where secretive gigs abound. We rest on colourful pillows, next to strangers and as the host for the night, P urged us, we might find a new friend in the stranger sitting cross legged next to us. We spoke to the Sofar curator. A flautist artist. I found a friend from Comic Con.
Only the Gabriel Daniel video is from The Blue Room Sofar day. The others are from other Sofar sessions.
The Sofar backstory
Sofar, which stands for Songs from a Room, launched in London in 2010 with the intention of creating an alternate live music experience.
“We wanted to create an environment as magical as the music you sometimes hear.”
The very first gig took place in the North London flat of Offer’s now-business partner and co-founder David J. Alexander. Sofar Sounds began in 2009 after three music fans – Rafe Offer, Rocky Start and David Alexander – went to see a show by a band called Friendly Fires at a club in London. The music competed with clinking glasses, screaming and laughing at the bar, and people not even watching the show.
Sofar Sounds Session #2
My second Sofar, I got invited! Now I felt truly part of a secret cult; an underground movement. I felt cool, spontaneous and by measures, very in league.
So did K. We invited Agent R and Ranger R to come with us, on March 10th.
We were intrigued. Mi Casa Su Casa is a coliving space which was the venue for the night. It was bound to feel fancy. The coolest pictures could be taken from the spiral staircase.
We looked on as Viraaj Arora kneaded magic into his keyboard. Shubham Roy sang about a pumpkin that saw the world next to his human companion in Bengali. Aman Mahajan, Kartikeya Srivastava and Pranai Gurung of Aman Kartikeya Pranai took us to a place nobody has ever gone before – 1960s Sitaphalmandi of Hyderabad, a very Jazz place apparently. Having actually been to Sitaphalmandi, I can safely say the people wouldn’t know Blues from Jazz, or the other way round.
Sofar Sounds Session #3
The secrecy of my third Sofar Sounds session was intensified because I had to figure out the address from a locality I had no idea about this time – Rooftop at Bose Compound, Wilson Garden. I had just munched on chilli spicy momos and peanut spicy noodles with yummy masala drinks in Bamey Resto Cafe, a Nepali Godsent food haven and I was prepared to be serenaded with music all evening long. I, once again, followed a bunch of dressed up people to a huge gate and an old man ushered us all in through a metal gateway.
On that 18th March, I was Alice and Sofar Sounds was a rabbit hole.
There were wall paintings everywhere. Agent A sneaked me in as her plus one, only because her original had bailed. I am a good second choice. I gave her a serious lowdown on everything and everyone I knew about Sofar. It was not much, but I was starting to feel comfortable.
Siddhartho Podar, a Mumbai Sofar Alum, took us to first crushes, Himalayan mountain summits, and Kashmir. It was a sweet ride. He introduced each song to us. He told us why he thinks of the amber of autumn for Summit Amber; and I like that. The music composing process I can understand, the music itself, not so much; I can only enjoy it. RGT Trio was interesting right after they fixed audio issues.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf was almost post rock like, but the lead vocals were very emotionally charged, which did not feel right for a crowded, lit room. The crowd was an older lot, than I am used to, at Sofar. There were those who dress up, those who dress down, and those here for the high.
A Rasgulla chaat at Kedia’s was a fitting end for the day. Sweet but tangy, just like the music we were listening to.
To go into a live music performance without knowing what you are in for, is the highest level of trust you can place at a musician’s basket.
I missed the days of Leonard Cohen,Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and David Bowie. I know The Smiths from film soundtracks. I know concerts have a different energy to them. Bhajan mandalis are intense. But I have to say, the Sofar format is the closest I have been to The Chelsea Hotel experience.
Why oh, why don’t you have active music performances Sofar Kuala Lumpur?
Have you been to a Sofar Sounds gig? What was your experience like? If you have not been to any Sofar ever, JUST GO! You will not regret it.
It is in all major cities around the world so check it out here.