Imagine being born in a classical music family and having a music taste so vivid that you are inspired by Pandit Ravi Shankar and Slipknot at the same time. What does one do?
How about fronting a heavy metal band as the sitar player?
Rishabh Seen did that.
Son of sitar player Pandit Manu Seen, Rishabh had an extremely strict and disciplined musical training when growing up. His father and guru was of the belief that music is a direct representation of your life. He ensured that Rishabh was never afraid of anything new or adopts a narrow minded approach to life and music.
“As I grew older in life, I realised that if I did not have the family and the aura of a music family around me 24×7, I would have never stuck to music. Being a musician is like a roller coaster with extreme highs followed by extreme lows. This cycle never really stops. If you do not have your family absolutely backing you in all aspects, it is hard to last and have the same energy, passion, love for music,” said Rishabh.
Forming SITAR METAL
As a young boy Rishabh was fascinated by his father’s dedication to music. Watching him practice tirelessly, teaching, performing on the stage and the sound of the sitar enthralled Rishabh. There was something else that also caught his fancy. It was heavy metal music. Bands like Foo Fighters, Slipknot, Rammstein, Animals As Leaders, Metallica and Rage against the Machine, had a strong musical influence on him.
One day while he was listening to Slipknot, his father entered the room. An Indian classical musician’s son blasting metal! Contrary to notions, his father loved the music. He dwelled on the importance of music and notes above all the set established rules.
“He pushed me to go for the most extreme ideas I have and never be afraid to play and speak my mind. My father encouraged me when I started playing riffs, chords and composing unconventional music on my sitar. This ultimately led me to form my band, SITAR METAL,” asserted Rishabh.
SITAR METAL is the world’s first and only ‘Sitar Fronted’ Indian Classical – Rock/Metal Band. The band is fronted by Rishabh on his sitar. SITAR METAL stands out among their contemporaries for fusing Indian classical music with rock and metal while ensuring equal representation of both genres. Their debut album was picked by BBC UK for a dedicated programme on radio 6. Their fan base boasts of artists like Arijit Singh, Raghu Dixit, Nitin Sawhney and many others.
It was not all smooth sailing for Rishabh though. He has performed while sitting on a side stage on a pile of shoes, has been booed off stage. He was even labelled as uncool by the younger generation. Despite the experiences, he holds no grudge against the younger lot. That some classical musicians have stereotyped and made the genre seem difficult is why the millennials seem to avoid it, is Rishabh’s train of thought.
“As a kid, I wanted to change that outlook towards the sitar. I wanted it to be acceptable and show the young people that it is as limitless, fun, easy and other-worldly as any instrument out there. Rock or Metal just happens to be my second most favourite genre. I realised that never in the history of music has sitar fronted a rock/metal band. So I decided to do it myself,” quipped Rishabh.
Tweaking the sitar to his benefit
The sitar is essentially used in Hindustani classical music but is now increasingly used in fusion and experimental music. It was never developed to play the notes and riffs of rock music. A sitar can have 21, 22 or 23 strings, and has moveable frets and two bridges.
Rishabh developed a sitar with 24 strings to make it sound more chromatic. Thus help him make multiple key changes within a song. This cannot happen fully on a regular sitar. He has had to adjust his hands to play big power chords, inverted chords, fast riffs that use multiple string changes. He composes song structures in different rhythmic cycles, delivering solos that are equally inspired from sitar players and guitarists.
“I use ragas and rasas to compose all the parts for all instruments with sitar as the only instrument for all SITAR METAL’s songs. I think that in itself is a new wave of composition because now drummers, bassists and guitarists have to learn stuff that was made on a Sitar, rather than the opposite happening,” opined Rishabh.
“I am in favour of every single experiment in music or an instrument. Everyone is like a free bird, fly out wherever you want and just do whatever you feel strongly about.”
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