The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
The melodies of our lives crisscross across the maps of our emotional terrain; they are the paths by which we chart our inner journeys.

If we peek between the notes, we find Time working its mysterious fingers through every tune. While rhythm imparts order to the musical experience, melody gives it a sense of continuity. It is the line that connects the dots, connects the performer to the audience, connects us to each other and to the transcendental experience of music.
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By Simone Dinshaw, Issue 24, Melody: A Different Tune
A bushy tailed ferret-like Mink and a soulful Madboy met at either a screen test or a party, depending on who’s telling the story. Each an eclectic, electric artist in their own right, Imaad Shah, a.k.a. Madboy, and Saba Azad, the Mink, don’t always agree on everything, but they do share a pure and unpretentious love of music. Shah had been producing his own tunes for a while when he first heard Azad sing at an informal late night jam session. He immediately enticed her to lend her vocals to his sounds with promises of doing the dishes, and a groovy kind of magic was born. With a debut EP and a string of tours in the pipeline, this fresh duo is all set to bring more of their trademark sound, guaranteed to incite even the most bashful wallflower to bust a move. Turn up the love.

The Fuschia Tree: Tell us how it all began…how did the two of you meet? Do you remember what you were wearing/thinking/holding when you first became aware of the other?

IS: We met at a party that we were both bored of. Saba was wearing a little yellow dress and I was holding a bottle of JD.

SA: We met at a screen test for this English film. I don’t remember what he was wearing, thinking or holding. What I do remember is that we were supposed to enact a scene in which Imaad had to pretend to go down on me. That pretty much left little or no room for formality and awkwardness.

TFT: In addition to being musicians, you're both actors. What draws you to performance based art?

IS: I've been part of a theatre company (Motley) since I was a child, and we travel a lot with our productions. Film and cinematography is a major medium for me. I've made two short films that have gone to festivals abroad and I'm editing another one these days. I’m also writing for other, more ambitious stuff in the works. By now, I don't really think about the answer to that much. I guess work is life. When you gotta do something, you gotta do it.

SA: I don’t know, I never really gave it a thought...I guess there is a level of absolute vulnerability and uncertainty as far as any performance art goes, which can be addictive. It’s a moment of complete honesty; when you put yourself out there you can’t ham, you'll be caught bad. It takes guts, and the rush is through the roof. I’m a dancer and choreographer as well. I perform occasionally, keeping myself in and out of classes and workshops to keep the dance fiend in me satisfied.

TFT: Tell us about your personas as Madboy and Mink.

IS: Madboy’s an old pet name of mine. I’ve been blessed with a name that means ‘pillar’ but sounds like iMad. People have told me I should sell my name to Macintosh, maybe I wouldn’t be so broke then. Anyway, Madboy is the moniker I produce under for my solo project, and we just thought a straightforward name would be unpretentious and cool.

SA: A friend of mine, who also happens to be one of my favourite music producers in the country, used to call me stuck. As far as I know, a mink’s a little bushy tailed ferret-like creature known for its resemblance to the squirrel. Now I don’t quite know what that says about my persona, except that I may climb trees and nibble on the occasional crayfish.

TFT: How did you start making music together?

IS: Saba used to come over and listen to my old disco-punk productions. Our first couple of collaborations were on unreleased, incomplete old tunes of mine. I heard her sing for the first time at this loud, raucous party and her voice hit me from across the room. I immediately struck a deal with her – you sing on some of my tunes, and I’ll cook and do the dishes for you.

SA: We did a play and figured we work well together, and we had so many things in common, so it just happened organically. We jammed a few times and knew we had to do seemed like the most obvious thing to do!

TFT: What inspires you?

IS: Hmm...the sea. Fresh, bitter black coffee. Clarinet jazz. The battle of the sexes. 40s film noir and femme fatales. The Amen Break. Hardboiled detective fiction. Chris Doyle's Hong Kong cinematography. Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. U.P. Urdu literature. Black music. Black boxing. Woody Allen. Painted walls. Prince. Fresh fish and clams. Comic books. Jean Paul Belmondo and the French New Wave. Morrissey. John Cassavetes. That’s enough for now, or I'll go on all night.

SA: Dog food.

TFT: What does music mean to you?

IS: It’s the most evocative and sexy force of nature. It's like a smell. It can transport you back and forth in time. Among so many other things, it’s also nostalgia. Nostalgia, because for me it’s been a huge part of my life through my childhood and adolescence. I have an album (most often, a few) associated with almost every phase of my life. For me, it’s also the most visceral and groovy form of creativity. It's a dense jungle of soundscapes at my disposal. And thus, it’s also a huge responsibility. Words would never do justice to answer this question – it’s a field of unending and blissful sociological research.  

SA: It’s my language. It’s a pure means of communication. It’s possibly the best way to chart my life; the phases I went through musically describe every bit of who I've been at a time, and that I may not notice it, but I am changing. It’s my oldest memory and my newest experience. The possibility of music is a large part of why I don’t wish to be deaf in this otherwise meaninglessly noisy world. And yes, sometimes it’s all I need.

TFT: Take us through your process of making music…

IS: Ah, some secrets are secrets...

SA: It’s mostly cartwheels and backflips in the studio. We lock ourselves in for days sometimes, and what happens inside, stays inside. Capisce? Good!

TFT: It isn't always easy to collaborate creatively, especially in the studio. What's your secret for making it work?

IS:  Bribes. This is India, you see, corruption is rampant.  

SA: Look, any duo, especially an opinionated one, will tell you that it isn't all hearts and teddy bears. There are arguments and fights and disagreements, times when you leave the studio swearing, and then there are moments of complete harmony and bliss when you realize, “This is the reason I collaborate with this amazing artist!” It’s a mix, but the jostling is so worth it when those moments of genius happen, and really, that’s what keeps things fresh and keeps us on our toes.

TFT: Your music has been described in various permutations of electro, funk, swing, pop, nu disco, anti aesthetic…what draws you to mash-ups?

IS: I think our music comes out of a huge love for Deep Funk. It emerges in various ways; we have a take on sound that’s quite modern in terms of sound design, but with its roots in the era of the fathers (and mothers) of funk and soul. It's very interesting to take these roots and place them in an electro-driven universe. We also love the swing groove, because it’s the most primal and unpretentious form of dance music, going back to the manic era of the Harlem speakeasies. Electro swing isn’t exactly your awkward-shuffle your feet-techno. It’s a ballistic genre, and it’s very new. So basically what emerges is our trademark sound, which owes allegiance to none of these things, but is inspired by genre, and tries to flip it on its head.

SA: I think more than mash-ups it’s our influences that vary. We don't want to be boxed into one kind of music; we listen to and love a thousand different artists and genres of music. Why restrict yourself to a single type in composition?

TFT: Do you ever feel like your tunes feed a niche audience? What's your take on the current music scene in India?

IS: No, it’s not a niche audience. At least, not ideally so. We are as interested in playing to small towns in U.P., M.P., Punjab, everywhere, as we are to play in other parts of Asia, the West and Europe.

There is interesting work being done by many of our peers, and creativity is far more democratic for today's youth than it was for yesterday's. But, as always, a 'scene' is of little significance. Channelizing community and creative energy, on the other hand, is everything.

SA: I hope not. We want to make unpretentious music; music that isn't making you move because someone else thinks it’s cool, and you don't want to look like a tasteless fool, so you move anyway. We hope to create music that compels you to shake it and if it doesn't, don't move, we don't care, we're going to keep doing what we love anyway!

The music scene is in somewhat of a transitory state at present. On one hand, the festivals have multiplied exponentially, but the venues, especially in Bombay, have gone down to a handful, what with the taxes on live acts. It’s going to take a few years of a concentrated exodus towards the counterculture for a musician to be able to stay clear of the commercial Bollywood scene and earn his bread from just doing gigs. Slow and steady, slow and steady!

TFT: How does working in-studio compare to performing live? What's more fun?

IS: The studio is definitely more fun. Nah, just kidding! Of course, we love playing gigs and love all the people who come to our gigs. We love sharing the love.  

SA: They are entirely different processes. You spend months on a song sometimes and performing it is what you're working towards, so you can say it’s a sort of fruition for your toil in the studio. Neither is complete without the other.

TFT: What's your favourite Madboy/Mink track, and why?

IS: These days I think it's 'Soulboy'. I guess it captures something I wanted to capture.

SA: ‘Lemonade’. I think it describes us best musically.

TFT: If you were a drink, what would you be?

IS: A really old, smoky single malt.

SA: A whiskey sour.

TFT: Describe your partner-in-rhyme in five words or less:

IS: Logical. Hot blooded. Fierce. Free flowing. Physical.

SA: Chaotic. Calm. Manic. Genius. Kook.

TFT: If you could play anywhere in the world, where would it be?

IS: Underwater at a coral reef.

SA: Bulandshahr.

TFT: If you could jam with any musician, living or dead, who would it be?

IS: Wow. I'd happily play swing rhythm for Django Reinhardt. Oh yeah, and bass for Prince.

SA: I’d kill to jam with Jack White and the band Morphine.

TFT: Name one talent you wish you had.

IS: I wish I was a better diver. My sinuses have been used and abused...

SA: I wish I was a contortionist.

TFT: If you were traveling the world with one book and one song or album, what would they be?

IS: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez or Ham on Rye or anything else by Bukowski, and Úberjam by John Scofield or Rocket to Russia by The Ramones. I don't know why, I just have some great memories associated with those albums.

SA: Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera and Sticky Fingers by the Stones, oh and Our Endless Numbered Days by Iron and Wine.

TFT: What's in store for Madboy/Mink in the future…

IS: We're working on our debut EP, something we're very excited about. It's been cooking for a long time now, and we're more or less just waiting to plan the right tour and campaign around it. Also, decision making among the ton of tunes that we have is another factor. We're a really new act and are building up a following through touring; we just want to keep that momentum going and be really hard on ourselves as musicians and producers.

SA: Making more music, travelling more...we plan to release a bunch of singles and an EP soon along with an EP tour. We also plan to put out a video by the end of the year.

TFT: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give a younger version of yourself?

IS: Get your hands dirty! I would give myself a sound lecture about learning. I think when we are younger, we hope or wait for a mentor. This attitude doesn't work for me anymore. My vision, style and instinct are so much a product of a DIY – learn everything yourself – lifestyle. I have huge respect for people who know more than I do, however no one can ever teach me my aesthetic. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have no guru, but I have learned a truckload of stuff on the job. I’ve worked on all kinds of sets, environments and studios, and, for better or worse, my tools of work are mine, so I have a sense of humour and irreverence about them. I'd also advise myself to drink less and play more drums.

SA: Well, perhaps to have spent my years of education learning things I was genuinely interested in, as opposed to wasting precious time on what seemed like the right things to learn at the moment. Also, to take a lot of the seemingly complex situations in life more lightly. They seem so inconsequential now.

TFT: Finally, what's the one thing you can't live without?

IS: Wicked humour!

SA: Dance, dance, dance.

As told to Simone Dinshaw, a newly minted scribe from Bombay.

Imaad Shah is a musician, actor, writer and, whenever possible, diver.

Saba Azad is a musician, dancer, actor and aspiring-contortionist.

Together these multitalented artists form the dirty electro-funk duo Madboy/Mink.

Also in this issue

Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.