Audiences at the Alchemy Festival recently enjoyed the experimental sounds created by this group of young musicians. Seetal Kaur Gahir asked them about the musical paths they are exploring, taking in hip-hop, folk and electronica, as well as Indian classical music.
Artistic endeavours are often seen as a lone pursuit but with a career in the arts becoming increasingly unstable, some have chosen to join forces and create, purely for the love of it. Project 12 is one such group; however, music is not a hobby taken lightly. It is a huge passion for these humble and hard-working musicians. Alongside their day jobs and numerous commitments, the eleven members carve out precious time to further the dream of an eclectic and ambitious band.
“We all learned music growing up but I guess as you grow older you find you have other responsibilities to prioritise too,” explains Mithila Sarma, veena player and instigator of the project. Admittedly, only one member of Project 12 is a full-time musician: Jasdeep Singh Degun, the versatile sitarist. The rest of the band work full-time in various professional sectors including recruitment, management consultancy, hospitality, finance and the public sector. But if you ask them where their passion really lies, they’ll say that music has always played a huge part in their life. There is Yad Selvakumar the flautist, Senthan Nadarajah the ‘morsebox’ player, Sanal Das the bass guitarist, Sam Suriakumar the pianist, Raaheel Husain the vocalist, Nish Raj on percussion, Mithila Sarma on veena, Kitha Nadarajah on violin, Jeevan Singh Riyait on tabla and Daren Mootoo on guitar. It might sound like a long list but when you hear them together, each colourful piece of the puzzle just fits.
Some met each other and even played music together before Project 12, but many who were trained in Indian classical music had a hidden urge to create their own music rather than have it dictated to them. Raaheel, Jasdeep, Senthan, Jeevan, Kitha and Mithila were all part of the South Asian Music Youth Orchestra (SAMYO) but had also grown up with a diverse array of musical influences from hip-hop to house and folk to electronica. Despite such wildly different backgrounds, if one thing unites Project 12 it’s their musical taste and willingness to experiment.
So when was the project actually formed? From numerous creative discussions always leading to the same conclusion that they should really get down to making some music together, the group started to organise regular meet-ups last year. Living rooms, dark recording studios and random rehearsal spaces all hosted enthusiastic and organic ‘jam sessions’ where Project 12’s unique musical ideas came to life. Organising the logistics of these musical meetings is certainly a challenge, as although most members live and work in London, with the exception of Jeevan in Leicester and Jasdeep in Leeds, many of them travel regularly and have very busy schedules. However, despite the infrequency of all of them rehearsing together, all members are unanimous when they say that music-making is the most enjoyable part. As Jeevan Singh explains: “We are all very good friends. It means that when it comes to composing pieces there are no inhibitions about playing something wrong or not in keeping with our style. Some of our best pieces have originated from our most radical ideas, and that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have the bond that we do as people.”
The music certainly has an eclectic and bold taste with an innocent openness that only comes from working so passionately and independently. Some pieces, like ‘Krishna’, create a minimal mix with a few instruments layering undulating textures alongside a chorus of vocal harmonies, whereas other tracks like ‘Eternal Fire’ drive the energy forward with a vibrant unison of sounds. Although their diverse range is difficult to summarise, they essentially blend urban riffs and rhythms with the soulful embellishment of Indian classical music in new and interesting ways.
It’s not all fun and games. The group possesses a playful dynamic between musical freedom and a disciplined commitment to shaping a sound that they all believe in. Rehearsing, recording and releasing music via social media have all been done independently and the hard work has certainly paid off. They’ve caught the attention of major festivals and venues in such a short space of time, which reflects how talented they all are. After their first concert at the London International Arts Festival and a sold-out gig at London’s Rich Mix, they recently pulled out the stops at the Alchemy Festival in the main foyer space where dozens thronged to witness them in the midst of the Southbank Centre.
Although Alchemy was a great success, where they even released some original music for the audience to take away, it was a huge learning curve too. “You grow up learning music but to actually be a musician or a band, it entails so many other parts to it,” says Mithila. “Get eleven of us in a room together to make music and it’s fine. But trying to reflect eleven personalities in a name, a logo, a design, a look ‒ that’s the hardest part!” For these young musicians, it has been all about learning as you go along and playing it by ear. There are numerous obstacles, from communicating across Western and Indian classical disciplines to organising recordings and rehearsals, but Project 12 has shown its strength in numbers. It’s certainly inspiring to see so many musicians overcome challenges together purely for the reward of making music and nothing else.
“I think it was about making sure there was a platform for people who don’t want to give up their full-time jobs. It doesn’t make them any less creative or any less of a musician, it’s just a choice. And you can’t blame them for making that choice,” Mithila adds. So many talented young artists drop off the radar after full-time study, but maybe Project 12 are creating a new model where creative careers can be sustainable? The question remains whether one can truly reap the fruits of a full-time artistic career without sacrificing other options, but what’s clear is that Project 12 are carving their own path.
Finding a constant balance between life and art isn’t easy, but it has its own rewards. For now, Project 12 aim to keep creating together as they follow the long and winding road to discover what unexpected experiences their love of music can bring them.