Let’s Jam at AF Trivandrum!
The bimonthly Jam sessions are an integral part of the cultural mosaic of Alliance Française de Trivandrum. They are a part of an initiative entitled Focus sessions wherein interactive sessions focussing on one theme such as Science, Literature etc. are organized. The guiding principle of the Jam Sessions is fairly straightforward : organizing musical events in which random musicians can meet with one common purpose: playing music. Then, they have “a jam” meaning that they improvise and play music together.
These events bring together people of all ages from different walks of life. The participants play many different styles of music – mainly Rock, Folk, Blues and Jazz but also Rap, Electro, traditional Indian music and sometimes even Classical music. The Jam sessions are not just limited to the French language – other languages like English, Hindi, Malayalam, Spanish etc. also find expression here. It is an open stage which is not judgemental.
These Jam sessions are an easy way of encouraging young talent. Most musicians bring their own instruments. To throw more light on the Jam sessions at AF Trivandrum, we interviewed Mohan Subramaniam and Biju John – the man who introduced the concept of Jam sessions in Trivandrum and a musician who attends these sessions frequently.
Please tell us a bit about yourselves.
Mohan: My name is Mohan Subramaniam and I am from the United Kingdom. I came to Trivandrum in 2014 because of my job in Techno Park. I just turned 60 and I play the guitar, keyboard and drums.
John: I am John and I am 46 years old. I am a doctor by profession but have retired from hospital practice. Currently, I teach postgrad students. In terms of musical instruments, I can play the drums and the guitar. Since playing the drums was too noisy for my neighbours, I switched over primarily to the guitar. I try to incorporate both of them in my performances though.
What kind of music do you play and what are you musical influences?
Mohan: I like all sorts of music but am influenced primarily by the music of the 70s. I like Rock and Blues. I also listen to Folk, Jazz and Progressive Rock. When I shifted to Trivandrum, I realized that there is a vacuum for Blues music. I started playing at various musical events and found that people loved what I played. Eventually, I even developed a small, dedicated following.
John: I mostly like Soft Rock and Classic Rock. I cannot really cope with the new rock era. I am a fan of the Eagles and the Scorpions. Also, I am essentially a soloist and do not play with a band.
Why did you choose to collaborate with AF Trivandrum for the Jam sessions?
Mohan: Sometime around mid-2014, I attended a musical event at AF Trivandrum. I had brought my guitar and sang some songs. It was at this event that I met Alice [Gauny – the Director of AF Trivandrum] and we talked about having regular events to encourage musicians, singers, poets etc. to perform. Alice liked the idea and suggested that we try it once every two months. The initial plan was that if these bimonthly sessions got popular, we would continue. She also wanted me to lead the event to which I gladly agreed. We decided to called them “Jam” sessions. At that time, many people in Trivandrum did not understand what jamming meant. Despite the lack of awareness, AF Trivandrum received a lot of enquires about the event so the first “Jam” was very successful. I played with another guitarist friend to lead and end the show.
John: I met Alice through a mutual friend. When Jam Time happened, she invited me to attend the event. This was three Jam Times ago, and since then I’ve been a regular.
In general, what kind of music, instruments and musicians perform during these sessions?
Mohan: I usually lead the “jam” with me singing and playing blues on my acoustic guitar. But that didn’t look or sound right. Then I met another guitarist who repairs old electric guitars. He had this classic Fender Telecaster which he wanted to sell. I bought it immediately and now perform with him on this guitar. My band eventually grew to include a keyboardist, a bassist, a drummer and a violin player. Other performers usually sing local songs. There are many young men singing English songs with guitars, a girl who performs percussions etc.
John: In terms of performances, we have a lot of vocals – many play to a vacuum track, some soloists, many young musicians etc. The Jam sessions have built a following over time of consistent musicians – this is a slightly older and more regular crowd. We play music with a couple of guitars, a keyboard. Once we even had someone playing a Gunjeera which is a local instrument.
Can you share some memorable experiences that you have had during these Jam sessions?
Mohan: We’ve had several foreigners who have come and jammed with us. Many were surprised and excited to find that this kind of event was being organised. They used to rue the fact that Trivandrum was not a happening place for English music and were really happy when they found out about the jam sessions. One Australian even brought his ukulele and sang his own compositions. Then he jammed with my band in the finale. A young lady brought some percussions (vary rare in India) and jammed with other musicians.
John: I like the authenticity of it – the jam sessions come from the heart, very little technology is involved and it is very raw. Plus, there is no judgement. Particularly for youngsters, it presents a good opportunity to showcase their talent – it can be a launching platform for them. Each Jam Time is different from the others. If I had to pinpoint one specific memory, it would be the time that a girl – Soumya I think – accompanied me with her instrument on a latin version of Hotel California.
How would you like the Jam sessions to evolve in the future?
Mohan: The main intention for the Jam is to give new musicians a platform to perform – irrespective of the art form of their choice. It would be nice to have more variety in the future. Like performing art, poetry and storytelling besides just music. And of course, more Blues music!
John: It would be nice if we could have the sessions more often. Trivandrum has plenty of talent but there aren’t many platforms for people to showcase their skills. Otherwise I have nothing else to complain about : the essence of the Jam sessions is still beautiful, because it is a mix of musicians from different levels and musical horizons.
A Jam Session took place in AF Trivandrum on May 21, 2016 as a a curtain raiser to Fête de la Musique which will be celebrated by the network of Alliances Françaises in India and Nepal in a month’s time.
Alliance Française de Trivandrum