<%-- Page Title--%> Music <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 128 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 31, 2003

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The Viking's Journey

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

Anticipation grew among the five hundred people gathered at the International Club in Gulshan on Thursday, October 23 for its India Night show, and co-organised by Jetset P.R. Some of them were on the dance floor enjoying the opening act performance of Calcutta's Shane, some were sitting down and eating dinner while others were walking around and “socialising.” The lights dimmed, the crowd waited and a beat pulsed. A man with faded dusty-blue jeans, Nike sneakers, a spiky hair-do and rings on all fingers stepped on stage and started singing. A group of four dancers in sequined outfits joined him on stage as he started the title track on his first hit album -- Kya Soorat Hai inspired from Kishore Kumar's Zaroorat Hai. People sang along as he belted out the words,
“I am just an ordinary guy, I ain't no macho man, I ain't no high-fi.”

Contrary to what he may think (or sing) Neeraj Shridhar, better known to the South Asian Subcontinent as 'Bombay Vikings,' is not 'just an ordinary guy' to his fans.
“Our show was sold out,” says a Committee member from the International Club. “He seemed to be very popular from the turnout. So many people came and seemed to enjoy the show.”

“He has so much energy on-stage, and seems to really enjoy the crowd,” says nineteen-year old Tariq. “He has a wonderful voice and I love his beats. But I wish he sang for a longer time. It seemed a little too short.”

Bombay Vikings also performed at the after party for the BGMEA-sponsored BATEXPO (Bangladesh Apparel Textiles Exposition) at Sonargaon on Tuesday, October 21 and in the Chittagong Club on October 24th. The events were all organised by Jetset P.R.

Jetset P.R. (JPR) is Dhaka's first event management company, originally set up in London by CEO Mishal Karim in 1995. Before Karim brought the company to Dhaka in 2001, JPR organised several international shows and events such as the Elite Model Look of the Year Fashion Show, the Karl Kani Fashion Show and the Bad Boy Record Launch Party.

Having representative offices in Calcutta, Mumbai and London, it is the first company in Bangladesh that organises “international standard productions and has the experience of hosting major functions in New York, Cyprus, London and India.”

Aside from event management, JPR also organises fashion shows, multimedia productions, concerts, product launchings, media consultancies, and international artist bookings.

In Bangladesh, JPR has a client list of multinational companies such as British American Tobacco Limited, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and HSBC. It has also managed events such as the French Trade Commission in March 2002, the Pitambari Show in September 2002 and two consecutive New Year's parties in 2002 and 2003 at both the Sonargaon and Sheraton Hotels. JPR also promotes artists from Bangladesh such as female vocalist Laila and local band Pentagon.

JPR's event list varies from a Russian Ballet held at the Osmany Memorial Hall (co-organised with the Russia-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry) to bringing Indian artists such as Shaan, KK and now Bombay Vikings to Dhaka for live shows.

“Dhaka is great,” says Shridhar. “I live primarily in India and Sweden, and what strikes me the most about Bangalis is that everyone here seems so happy. People are always smiling, even people on the street who may be homeless and poor. It makes me wonder what they have that people in other big cities don't have. All my friends who are originally from Bangladesh have told me about Dhaka but it has totally exceeded my expectations. I'm very happy to be here.”

The crowds in Dhaka also see Shridhar's music as a source of inspiration.

“He is a great example of fusion music,” says twenty-one year old Shazia. “He uses both English and Hindi words, and uses lots of instruments. You can tell that he has been influenced by a variety of artists from both the East and West. It's good for us to be exposed to this kind of music because we also need to get our music and our culture out there, and that someone like him has successfully managed to mix both our kind of music and music from the West means that there is hope for Bangalis trying to make it in the main-stream music world.”

Shridhar, born in a place in North India called Jalandhar, does indeed have both Western and Indian influences. His Western influences include artists such as Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin and Eric Clapton. His favourite Indian artists are Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar.

Shridhar's East/West fusion music brings out his own experiences, as he moved from India to Sweden when he was fourteen.

“My parents saw the possibilities of me growing musically in Sweden because I was always composing my own songs and interested in music,” says Shridhar. “They chose Sweden because my brother, who is ten years older than me also lives there and my parents thought it was best to move somewhere with a relative. I went to school there and studied economics and mass communications at Stockholm University. Because I had to support and finance my studies it became difficult to do music. But I never gave up. I started playing guitar for recording sessions with other bands. But I got sick of doing covers and was still trying to do my own songs. I started a band called Bombay Vikings in 1992. They were all Swedes. I dismantled the group in 1995 because everyone wanted to go their own way and do their own production stuff. It's very hard to keep a band together, and it takes a lot of time and effort. Now it's just me. I kept the name, and I do my own recording, instrumentals, singing, mixing and editing.”

However, it was not always easy for the Bombay Viking to do his own music.

“The thing about Sweden is that it is really rich in music. Competition is really tough there. Out of a population of eight million about six million people are musicians,” he laughs.

As a result, Shridhar could not rely solely on his music for an income. He worked as a duty officer at Scandinavian Airlines. In 1995 he quit his job and formed an advertising company.

“At first, things were very hard because everything new takes time,” Shridhar says. “But by 1997 the company was doing amazingly well.”

So how did “an ordinary guy” go from being an Airlines duty officer to advertising to having three hit albums all over South Asia?

Shridhar was on a train (on his way to rehearse for one of his last shows with the former Bombay Vikings) when an idea hit him.

“I was humming Mere Sapno Ki Rani and couldn't remember the Hindi lyrics. I started singing to myself in English with the tune of the original -- I laughed at the time, but it was an idea. I went home that day and recorded it in my living room, of all places,” Shridhar chuckles. “I still remember I was living in a flat and was always scared that the guy downstairs would bang on my door and tell me to be quiet. In 1995 I recorded a bunch of songs just for fun, such as Kya Soorat Hai.”

In 1999 Sony Music released Kya Soorat Hai and it was “smooth sailing” from there for the Bombay Viking. His next two albums Woh Chali and Hawa Me Udta Jaye came out consecutively in 2001 and 2002.

The albums and songs were well known to the Dhaka crowds attending the BATEXPO Show and the International Club India Night. People sang along, made requests and danced until their feet were sore. The night drew to a close and the Viking said his farewell to Dhaka.




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