Push­ing the Li­fafa

Suryakant Sawh­ney’s band, Peter Cat Record­ing Co., has ma­tured, while his own rein­ven­tion as Li­fafa has taken off

India Today - - LEISURE -

It’s Oc­to­ber of last year; Suryakant Sawh­ney, aka Li­fafa, is play­ing an in­ti­mate gig at Delhi’s Bar Cat. This is the city’s own play­ing it up in the back­yard. Li­fafa takes his time build­ing up the tempo, pe­ri­od­i­cally tak­ing drags on his va­por­iser. The fans light in­cense sticks; this could very well be Jim Morrison’s Parisian grave. He’s just risen from the dead. The air is thick with the cloy­ing smell of straw­berry. The dance floor erupts in joy.

It’s 2019 and Bar Cat has va­por­ised. Sawh­ney, though, hasn’t. In Jan­uary he drops his first full-length solo al­bum, Jaago; in June, his band Peter Cat Record­ing

Co. (PCRC) re­leases Bis­mil­lah, on vinyl and dig­i­tal, on the French indie la­bel Panache. The two mark a water­shed of sorts for In­dian in­de­pen­dent music. With a re­lease in Hindi and English each, Sawh­ney wears a new crown: the bad­shah of bilin­gual­ism. In a world in­creas­ingly hedged in by iden­tity pol­i­tics on the lib­eral side and chau­vin­ist na­tion­al­ism on the other, Sawh­ney is a sym­bol of free-spir­ited plu­ral­ism.

Jaago be­gins with the lines ‘Doob raha hai ye desh/ Jee lo yeh zindagi/ Ya chhodo ye jawani’. For the course of the al­bum, nudged and winked along by self-ref­er­en­tial elec­tron­ica chess moves, one is re­minded of a Guru Dutt film: ‘Ek aandhi / Ka tha in­tezaar /Bar­baadi / Ka main rishtedaar.’ There is not a hint of frip­pery. Some­where along the way, one de­tects a trace of Nitin Mukesh’s despair from Tezaab—‘So Gaya Ye Ja­haan’—es­pe­cially on ‘Ek Naghma’: ‘Ja­haan se aaye they/ Woh to bhool gaye / Aur ab hum / Jaayein ka­haan’.

When in­dia to­day reaches out to Sawh­ney, he’s on va­ca­tion in Ber­lin. Dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, he point­edly avoids us­ing the word ‘evo­lu­tion’ and sticks to ‘ma­tu­rity’. This new-found ma­tu­rity is show­cased in Bis­mil­lah, con­veyed in Sawh­ney’s trade­mark coil-an­drelease sing­ing style.

This is PCRC’s most accessible al­bum, not least be­cause ma­tu­rity begets clar­ity and a fear­less di­rect­ness: ‘Walk with me/ My soul­less friends/You are what I need/ You al­ways bend’ (Soul­less Friends). There are whips, bruises and blood on Freez­ing, the op­po­site of blitheness on Heera,‘This is how it ends/ No money/ No friends/ And I just got a hard-on.’

“The test now is how quickly we can write music, ex­e­cute it, put it out. Each band mem­ber is now in a

strong artis­tic space as an in­di­vid­ual, with their own song­writ­ing skills,” says Sawh­ney.

Li­fafa is more “philo­soph­i­cal than po­lit­i­cal”, he says, and al­lows him “to sing as a woman”, even as PCRC has “started to re­spond to the world around, not just in­ner tur­moil”. He rails against the “ab­so­lute sex­ual de­pri­va­tion” in In­dia, which re­mains undi­luted by mar­riage: “Grab two birds and stick them in a cage; they have no choice in the mat­ter.” He talks about class, “In In­dia, peo­ple like us are in the mid­dle, not rich or poor. One feels em­pa­thy but also a sense of help­less­ness.” He be­moans “the flat-lin­ing of music in the West, where the per­son­al­ity of the mu­si­cian is erased”. He sticks his neck out: “The fu­ture of music is an act that doesn’t have a na­tional or cul­tural iden­tity.”

Till that hap­pens, PCRC will be the In­dian act to watch out for this sum­mer as the band plays fes­ti­vals in the Nether­lands, Bel­gium and Eng­land, not to for­get Rock en Seine west of Paris, where they will share the bill with Aphex Twin and The Cure. Mean­while, a new Li­fafa al­bum is due out end of this year.

With a re­lease in Hindi and English each, Sawh­ney wears a new crown: the bad­shah of bilin­gual­ism —Palash Kr­ishna Mehro­tra

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