Rising fusion music artist, Dhani, brings a distinct liberated edge to the industry’s contemporary genre. Being of mixed Irish Caucasian and Indian descent, where his mother is also Indo-Caribbean, his melodic work doesn’t just bring the defining sounds of a cosmopolitan background, but also a powerful paradoxical signature of playful yet deepest expression.
“What makes good music is the ability to be one’s self and, also by extension, playing with great love,” the laid-back frontman told us. “The band and I, together known as D26, can perform any sort of music or track to a very high standard because each and every one of us are original as well as caring for the craft. We play a variety of songs, and can move respective audiences every time. Personally, for example, I have released a piece with another great artist, Bee2, which is the old, popular song, La Bamba, but with a Punjabi folk twist. It’s always great to see how this masterful blend excites others.”
Dhani’s band plays music from the peppy world of pop and Bhangra to more soulful Latin and Jazz. Dhani has performed alongside fellow fusion artist and icon, Navin Kundra, with whom he has also collaborated. Instrumentally, Dhani is particularly proud of his adaptive percussive approach to the key instrument, and his own speciality: the guitar. “I rhythmically add beats with my hands while I’m playing so there’s always bit of drums in the mix. This is much like Rodrigo y Gabriela: an idiosyncratic Flamenco and Rock duo. It’s a technique that’s evolved alongside my exploration of Bollywood and many other cultural fields.”
Interestingly, Dhani’s current open relationship with music has been shaped by the expansive influence of Progressive Rock, growing up. “Rock really laid the foundation for incorporating other interesting sounds. Not every type of music can capture sentiment the way it does. There is an assertiveness that borders on slight aggression in it too: the words, the vocals and general songs. That made sense to me as a kid.”
In a similar, interconnected vein, or rather tune, Dhani also emphasised that he is “a stickler for songs played in the minor key: people usually associate this with sadness whereas I feel it carries a meaningfulness. There are so many tricks to making happier major sounds moodier to accomplish more layered music too.”
This underlying truth certainly shows itself in the guitarist’s gradual, organic expansion into a wider, indiscriminate range of musical traditions: “basically, I am now in a position where I can play anything for everyone! My band, D26, defines itself through this attitude. Actually, one of my favourite Rock bands”, amongst many loves including Guns & Roses, Avenged Sevenfold, and Metallica, “has been Dream Theatre for using unusual Eastern time signatures.” Typically, Western Rock music is based around firm, hard-hitting, 4/4 arrangements, or four quarter notes for each bar, where “Dream Theatre will delve into the foreign territory of 7/4 and 14/8 time signatures” which are conceptually fluid, “seamlessly interwoven” and more experimental. “I recently took my wife, Sonal, to one of their concerts and she was blown away: she was expecting just ‘moshers’ and jumping around but it’s so much more than that!”
Such flexibility extends to Dhani’s personal approach to life: “I’ve felt the joy of performing from a very young age, and let that passion lead me. One of my musical mentors has been the eccentric and amazing live/session Guitarist from Germany: Florian Möller. I remember my first tour: it was with Kuljit Bhamra and I have also performed alongside such top artists as Sophie Ellis Bexter. I do also teach guitar, and strongly believe all children should be surrounded by music: it introduces such creativity, soft discipline and light. I was shown the beauty in the cot! My dad was a drummer who listened to old-school Rock, while my mother was a singer so it was,” quite literally, “life!”
And so, the professional plurality behind D26 shows how music goes yet further than clear expression of personality to freeing it in the first place. Indeed, strikingly, what has allowed Dhani to tightly integrate such miscellaneous music, sometimes even what appears clashing opposites, has been the carefree grasp of himself that the skill-set has allowed. That he is so talented at the creative profession has only made his pursuits super successful. “To other musicians, I say never be afraid to be you,” he aptly concluded. “It makes all the difference between your audience actually hearing the songs and really feeling them.”
What kind of shows does D26 do?
A vast range of live, stage shows: from concerts, to dinner and dances, weddings and corporate events.
Who have been some others who you’ve performed alongside?
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. I’ve performed for Lakshmi Mittal, the big steel tycoon, at his private residence for his son’s 40th birthday. I’ve worked with the best and some of the world’s most talented, and my band members reflect that.
In terms of contemporary music: electronica is very much in fashion, and very polarising. What is your opinion?
Actually, some of my favourite influences have been musicians who can recreate synthetic sounds with traditional instruments. For example, the sound of a bell without any sampling. It’s impressive in live performance.
In terms of preference for electronica, different people have different perceptions of music. We all take to and hear sounds differently. When I listen, I am sensitive to bass cellos, lower octave piano, woodwind and brass. You might be able to hear the palate that the producer or director has in his mind, but not everyone will respond to it in the same way: what is poignant for some is boring to others.
What have you been proud of evolving in your music?
Diversifying the way people see Bollywood live. It used to just be simple instruments and a three-man performance on stage: nothing like what you saw on TV. It would be a straightforward: Tabla, keyboard sort of combination. I’ve enjoyed adding the deserved colour: bringing in flautists and backing singers and reflecting the versatility thing. Personally, I’ve also enjoyed exploring the spirituality aspect: it’s been amazing to bring people to tears in feeling way that brings good, healing energy. Using the guitar to do this has also been great.
Can you name the central components of good music?
Having a good groove where all the elements are gelling. There has to be just the right synchronisation: the bass guitar locked in with bass drum of the drum kit; not having too many notes on high hat, swapping sixteenth notes for eighths fourths. Melody is important too: conveying the right message.
Dhani will be playing at NEC this Sat, opening for Asha Bhosle!