By Deepika Ramesh
She is an author, jazz artist, trained Dhrupad singer and leader of the Band UNK: The Radha Thomas Ensemble. Radha Thomas, author of Men On My Mind was in the city to perform at Isai festival. In an interview with DC Radha opens up about managing her band, writing novels and being successful at all of it.
MEN ON MY MIND
As the title suggests, it’s about men on my… ahem… mind. It’s the journey of a young girl hunting for Mr Right and all the place she goes to, people she meets, adventures she has in this quest. It’s a work of fiction, before you think it’s my life story! I used to write a column called ‘Between The Sexes’ and the book is as a result of that. This is the first book in a trilogy and right now, I’m half way through the next one.
THE FIRST ALBUM
The band is the closest thing to my heart next to my son! Matt Littlewood on Saxophone, Mishko M’Ba on Bass, Ramjee Chandran on guitar, Suresh Bascara on Drums and Aman Mahajan on keyboards. The music is a blend of jazz and Indian classical. I hate to call it ‘fusion’ that’s such an overworked term, but I’ll say it’s an expression of who we are – a cross-cultural, plural band featuring musicians from all over the world. The album itself is a result of a lot of work between me and Aman, with arrangements and all sorts of detail including recording and finally mixing it before we had it mastered in New York. It’s called, “I Only Have Eyes For You” and it’s available online now and in some stores too. The best thing that’s happened are the reviews. We have received some terrific ones and as a result it’s being played on radio stations across the USA. Stations that play jazz of course, not mainstream. Because jazz, as always, is not the most popular form of music.
I have always wanted to sing, even as a little girl. And I have always written songs and poetry. So becoming a musician and a writer is sort of natural. I am very fortunate to have found someone to encourage me… my mother. She also sang and wrote. In fact, I come from a family of writers. My grandfather was a professor of English Literature and forced me to read Dickens and Bronte when I was barely seven. I hate the classics! I took lessons in Dhrupad singing from Farid Ud Din Dagar specifically to be able to use it while I was singing jazz. He understood my reasons and helped me achieve the ‘meld’ very nicely. I use Dhrupad here and there in my singing, but it’s more of an effect. I am not a Dhrupad singer. I am a jazz singer. I was extremely fortunate to have been discovered by Niranjan Jhaveri for was the founder of Jazz India, the country’s premier jazz organization. He championed me and arranged for me to travel and participate in musical events around the world. A long time ago! By the way, lots of people knew about jazz in the 70s and 80s. In fact, even in the 20s and 30s I am told.
MUSIC CULTURE OF INDIA
I think it’s an exciting time for music and musicians in India these days. There are many avenues to play. At the same time it’s very competitive and you have to bring you’re A-Game at all times. There’s one thing that I think is important. Jazz is not the kind of music that can survive without patronage. We need people to come out and hear us. We don’t make much money on it. But we do it because it’s in our hearts and souls. So a little applause is most welcome!