Our colleagues over at Time Out Mumbai are such fans of Bombay Bassment that they asked them to play their recent seventh birthday. Billed as India’s first live hip-hop outfit, bassist Ruell Barretto and drummer Levin Mendes supply a groove that, coupled with samples and scratches from Chandrashekar ‘Chantz’ Kunder, create a platform for raps from MC Bobkat (aka Robert Omulo). With elements of drum’n’bass and reggae worming their way into the band’s explosive sets, they’re tipped to attract the same kind of international following as fellow Mumbaians Shaa’ir + Func. Ahead of the quartet’s Dubai debut at The Music Room on Friday June 8, we found out more.
They started life as a rock band.
Levin: ‘Ruell and I used to play for a funk rock outfit called Aftertaste. When the band decided to split, we went on to form Bombay Bassment as pure drum’n’bass. Eventually we felt the need to add more styles and that’s when Jayesh Veralkar at Sony Music India introduced us to Bobkat and Chantz. We got along well and loved the vibe. The next week we got into the jam pad, where we worked hard for almost six months to come up with new sounds. Jayesh went on to be our manager and the five of us set up India’s first live hip-hop outfit.’
The band comprises two Goans, one South Indian and one African.
Bobkat: ‘The [cultural] mix is fun and keeps it interesting. We all come from different backgrounds, cultures and religions, and what binds us all is the passion for good music. We keep on introducing each other to our individual sounds. Lately we’ve spent a lot of time touring, and individually we make sure that we keep each other on our toes. Each of us has a different food choice, taste in music, opinions – it’s a big hustle and it’s fun!’
They’ve already picked up an international buzz, singled out by UK newspaper The Guardian.
Bobkat: ‘Our only fear of prejudice is getting underestimated – we’re crossing over mainstream international genres. We’re not sure what people expect from a live hip-hop act rapping in English from India. They probably don’t even know if original hip-hop music exists here.’
They believe the music scene is picking up in India.
Levin: ‘The indie music scene has been peaking in the past few years. Despite the monster of Bollywood, original music has managed to make its way out and generate a huge buzz, all thanks to the internet. The media landscape is also changing. Magazines such as Time Out, Rolling Stone, DJ Mag and NME now have local operations and are promoting local talent. This is a great time, but it is still far, far away from becoming a profitable setup for original musicians. Only a handful of bands in India are pursuing music full time. Except for Chantz, we all have full-time jobs supporting our financial needs.’
Decksman Chantz is a regular visitor to Dubai.
Chantz: ‘I’ve been to Dubai several times as a DJ. I just love the fact that you have such an evolved nightlife – so many options of clubs, pubs, and concert venues. Every month you have major headlining live acts or DJs performing in the city. We’re excited about our debut international gig, and on a turf where we have some friends, so it will be nice to play for some familiar faces. However, there is a bit of nervousness!’
They like Time Out nearly as much as we like them.
Ruell: ‘Time Out in India has been very supportive to us and many Indian indie artists. We’ve been featured in Time Out Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi on many occasions, and appeared in a feature as one
of ‘10 upcoming musicians you need to hear’. It’s one of our biggest marks of recognition.’