India’s reluctant rockers will play their first gig in Hong Kong, five years after one-off TV appearance sparked their career
The 15-member Thaikkudam Bridge started out as just a group of friends for a one-off TV performance, but five years on they have a legion of fans around the world who love their fusion of Indian musical styles with metal, folk and blues
Thaikkudam Bridge never set out to be rock stars. The 15-member Indian ensemble, who specialise in splicing a huge range of different Indian musical styles with big doses of heavy metal, only formed for a TV programme and had to be persuaded to perform live.
Five years later they’re still performing, including in Hong Kong at the Y Theatre at Youth Square in Chai Wan on March 3, and are about to release their second album after taking first India and then the world by storm.
Named after a landmark near where the band had their early rehearsals after forming in the South Indian city of Kochi, Kerala in 2013, Thaikkudam Bridge’s music covers both Carnatic (South Indian) and Hindustani (North Indian) styles. As well as metal, Western influences include folk, blues and all flavours of rock, with a result that at times sounds not a million miles from 1970s psychedelic rock.
They started off covering classics from various parts of India with their own, usually heavy, twist, but are also increasingly writing their own songs, including their best-known, Fish Rock. Their lyrics, in the Keralan language Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil and English, concern a range of serious subjects, including political satire, freedom and equality, mortality, traditional dance and the historical crimes of the Mughal empire.
The band formed as a collection of friends, who had all studied sound engineering at college together years before. They were all working as professional musicians before the band was formed to perform on the TV show Music Mojo, broadcast on the Malayalam-language Kappa TV.
They got so much positive feedback that they decided to do a single gig at Kochi’s Model Engineering College. It was the reaction to that first gig that persuaded them there might just be something in this.
“It was supposed to be a one-time gig,” says guitarist Ashok Nelson, taking time out during a shoot of the band recording songs for a reality TV show for Indian channel Zee. “At the time we were all pretty busy with our own lives. We got together and we were just fooling around, jamming, having fun.
“Then we did the TV show, and it got uploaded onto YouTube, and suddenly we got a lot of calls. We started getting enquiries for shows, and we thought: why not? It was a chance to get together with old friends, and we were all working as freelancers, so we could all go back to that if we needed to. As luck would have it, we’re still going five years later.
“At that first concert, we got a huge welcome. We really weren’t used to that kind of thing here. We weren’t expecting to hear people chanting our name before we ever came on to play, to hear it echoing through the building. It gave me goosebumps.”
Since then they’ve performed at more than 500 venues around the world – extensively around the Middle East, plus Europe, the US and Australia. Hong Kong, though, will be not only their first visit to the city, but their first performance anywhere in East Asia.
With so many members, getting everyone in one place can be a challenge, but they refuse to play live without a full complement of band members.
“The only time everybody gets together is on stage,” says Nelson. “Usually we work in small clusters, then we come together after; there’s always someone spearheading the creative process, usually [producer, vocalist and violinist] Govind [Menon] or [guitarist] Mithun Raju, and then everyone else contributes.
“It’s kind of funny that this many people can be on the same page. Creatively, the biggest help is that everyone respects one another’s outlook and musical tastes. There’s very little friction going on – there’s no war between pop and metal in our band. A common factor is that we all like to listen to everything we can, and we like most of it.”
The band released their debut album, Navarasam, in 2015, while second album Namah is due to land in April. Crowdfunded by the band, it features collaborations with Indian musicians including sitar player Niladri Kumar, flautist Rakesh Chaurasia and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a Grammy winner who plays the mohan veena, a type of slide guitar; as well as Western musicians including German drum maestro Marco Minnemann and Lamb of God and Megadeth drummer Chris Adler.
“We had an idea of what kind of artists we wanted to feature, and then those artists got bigger and bigger,” says Nelson. “We’ve all been blown away by the response we’ve had from them; they’ve all said yes. That means the budget is bigger this time, and we wanted to stay independent, which is why we’re crowdfunding it. But it’s everything we used to dream about when we were small kids: it’s spectacular.”
Thaikkudam Bridge, Mar 3, 5.45pm, Youth Square, 238 Chai Wan Road, Chai Wan, HK$300 to HK$1,000