What pops into your head when you think of a sarod inside a soundscape comprising rock n’ roll, disco and funk? A heady tonic of fusion music, or at the very least a crossover of different worlds? But Kitanu quells all such expectations by presenting a rather unique sound on their eponymous debut EP. Here, the sarod fits rather snugly into the elemental rock format of drums, guitar and bass.
The New Delhi-based five piece outfit consists of Rohan Prasanna on sarod, Siddhant Sarkar on vocals, Omkar Raghupatruni on guitar, Guru Ganapathi on drums and Arman Handa on bass.
The EP opens on a mystical sarod riff as the song ‘Vacation’ takes off. When the listener feels a precedent has been set, the sound suddenly changes gears to funk rock, with the sarod appearing to provide otherworldly fillers.
At the core, it is a rock song where the lyrics talk about friction in relationships and confusion. The chorus is energy packed with edgy vocals and fast guitar riffs. The guitar solo is overloaded with fuzz effect, which contrasts the soothing sarod.
The band seems to have come up with a pattern where they introduce breaks and distinct spaces for the sarod to take control of the otherwise Western sound. While it does the trick, a better approach would have been to coalesce the contrasting elements in a balanced manner.
The second track ‘Pebbles’ is an upbeat rag-time number, and quite danceable, where the sarod adds wind to the infectious swinging. But then again, the brilliant pace of the track is broken by a break to transition into a less intense sarod part. Even though they aren’t jarring, the breaks sometimes disrupt the flow of the music.
Where Kitanu cashes in is the novelty of the magical sarod sound in a completely Western genre. And it milks that for all it has got. But their shortcoming lies in choosing not to go beyond the novelty. With a mood-making instrument like the sarod, the musical possibilities are endless but they choose to use it in place of a guitar.
The problem is that the fusion is one-way: the sarod tries to fit in, but the Western rhythm section doesn’t seem to compromise some space for it. As a result, there is some hesitation, almost as if the band is testing the waters with this EP to see if their sonic experiment can be a success.
Only in the last song ‘Faith’, can one find glimpses of the bigger picture. In between raw bursts of electric guitar, the sarod simply sweeps over everything with beautiful gliding notes, elevating the sound into ethereal dimensions. Here, the instrument is more in its own element while the others try to work around it.
The entire band sheds all of its inhibitions and shyness to become one cohesive unit which owns the new musical space that they have charted for themselves. You can understand that there is a spark here, perhaps what they themselves discovered in their first jam session, and what listeners can expect more of in their next albums.
And this promise – of uninhibited imagination – is enough to keep going back to this interesting record.
Shaswata Kundu Chaudhuri is a features journalist based in Kolkata with an unhealthy interest in music.