I was born in a typical South-Indian household. Every morning, Appa would wake Amma up with the rich aroma of freshly-grounded filter coffee in a davara-tumbler. Anyone raised in a traditional Tamil family will be familiar with the bitter sweet aroma of authentic coffee with a frothy foam layer on top. The whiff of finely grounded kaapi powder brewed in that traditional filter, mixed with piping hot milk and the sound of it being poured in the classic Davara tumbler is what most of us experience in our kitchens as an everyday practice. Who knew that this cultural signature of a tradition would one day spill the beans (pun, intended) for a music band.
Meet flautist Shriram Sampath and percussionist Swarupa Ananth, the master minds behind the ethnotronic band – Filter Coffee. Their USP lies in merging electronic beats with Indian classical music. Both of them are trained classical musicians and wanted to change the palette of how Indian classical music is consumed. In their own words, “Put together some guitar riffs, the sound of a bamboo flute, a tabla, throw in a funky electronic groove, brew it with some earthly vocals and you get ‘FILTER COFFEE’.” We caught up with the duo over a cup of coffee (of course!) and here are some excerpts from the conversation:
How did you shape your sound?
We’d like to call our music ‘ethnotronic’ – a mix of ethnic sounds with electronica. We were touring in UK and our promoter had made a poster that branded us as a band which blends Indian classical music with electronically produced sounds. People now associate Filter Coffee with ‘ethnotronic’ music. It is a mere co-incidence that we got the term, but we are glad that we got it.
Tell us more on how you coined the name for your band.
We live in a South Indian dominated locality in Bombay called Matunga and is one of the only places in the city that feeds you authentic filter coffee. The only thing that kept us up during rehearsals was filter coffee. Filter Coffee is fresh, it uplifts your mood; it is brewed and not instant. Coffee is a creative fluid. We quickly googled and saw that there is no other band of the same name, and that’s how we adopted the name!
How did the two of you meet?
We used to live in the same locality in Matunga in Mumbai. We’ve never been friends; the first time we met, we played music together. We’d thank our friend Naresh Iyer, who got us together. We listened to the same kind of music and used to perform covers of artists like Trilok Gurtu, Shakti, Shankar Mahadevan in the 90s. We were tired of playing as session musicians in other people’s bands.
Our evolution call happened then. We started writing our own music. Laptops came in and our songwriting also evolved. We started experimenting with electronic sounds. Shriram is a former journalist and I (Swarupa) was a music manager with a record label. We used to spend sleepless nights making music after work, and one day, we decided to call off our day jobs, and made Filter Coffee our full time job!
Tell us one thing that no one knows about the two of you.
Shriram: Swarupa has an OCD – a cleanliness OCD that spills into being disciplined and organised. She won’t rest till she’d make me wipe that last speck of dust on the windowpane of the car.
Swarupa: Because of his journalistic background, he is finicky about what has been written, by us or about us. I’ve been yelled at, for how I answer questions to journalists!
What is your most memorable live performance?
We pray before every press interview that we don’t have to answer this question. It is so difficult to choose our favourite performance, because each performance is a unique experience. For the record, we re-invent the same material in each gig – we improvise in every performance and no two performances are the same.
Having said that, our performance at the Hindu November Review was extremely memorable – the audience was superb – it was a fantastic auditorium with slick visuals and the audience had come with a specific intent to understand our music. At the Sacred Festival of Music, we performed at a ruined courtyard on the banks of River Cauvery – the audience consisted of the cream of classical music lovers and local villagers.
We also enjoyed playing at the House of World Culture at Wassermusik Festival in Berlin. The theme of the festival was Indian influenced music and we saw Asha Bhosle perform before us, and we have never seen her in India!
What are your future projects?
We are working on a live audio-visual project called Urban Grooves where we take Indian classical/folk music to schools and colleges and expose young students to traditional Indian music in a contemporary form.
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by Vipasha Tilak