Sanjay Maroo stares at me. His image leaps up from the confines of his web site. He looks broody. When I look away for a minute, all I remember is that stare.
If you think about it for a minute, the Internet was created for people like Maroo. People who ignore boundaries. People who aren't particularly happy when confined by time or space. So, I'm assuming that when rediff.com agreed to promote his new album Chaley Jaaon, enabling legal downloads in India for the first time, chances are he may have stopped staring long enough to smile.
Here's the deal. Rediff will enable users to download Maroo's latest tracks for a ridiculously low Rs 9.99 -- less than the price of a polyphonic ring tone. It is a first for both, artiste and portal, as nothing like this has been done in the Indian market before.
It is a huge step. An opening of doors, in a way, that enables any artiste to release an album or music video without intervention or interference by a music company. Used rightly, it could easily change the way music is played, and distributed, across the country. More importantly, it could change popular music by introducing sounds we haven't had access to before. And new sounds are always a good thing.
When asked about why he decided to go with rediff, Sanjay Maroo has a clear-cut explanation. "What freaked me out, initially, was the fact that there were over 500 million downloads and not one official Indian web site offering them legally," he says. "Many established Indian musicians feel that the conventional music marketing establishment needs to take a fresh look at alternate non-film music and give the remix bandwagon a break. I figured the only way out was an alternate distribution method."
Apparently, rediff's viewpoint on the existing music scenario matched with his perfectly. "We mutually felt it was time to make a statement, and signed on the dotted line."
Maroo is no stranger to crossing boundaries. When he was little, he realised he loved drums more than most other things. He played in front of mirrors, he says, backing imaginary bands until his father bought him an old, rusty kit. When he went on to win a competition in college later on, he came home to find a brand new drum kit. A self-taught musician, he went on to compose, write and produce music. The fact that he was a fine singer didn't hurt either.
The first original Indian pop band, Les Boys, found a willing collaborator in Maroo. Later, Rock Machine -- which evolved into Indus Creed -- took him on as drummer/vocalist. A whole lot of live performances followed. In 1994, he joined Divya, India's premier Indo-Jazz fusion band. They went on to perform at major international events such as the 25th Tokyo jazz festival, premier Malaysian Jazz festival, and The Jazz Club, Hong Kong. Somewhere along the way, he also found himself in the company of jazz greats like Giovanni Hidalgo, Dave Valentin, Eric Marienthal and Ernie Watts.
When the MIDI age dawned, Maroo, as usual, evolved. He emerged in 1995 with Fountain of Love, a solo effort in English, written, composed and performed by him. Critical acclaim led to its being the first album to be featured on web radio here. Things took off. Maroo co-produced child prodigy Jeto -- with Dinshah Sanjaan and Ram Sampath -- before getting to work launching the next generation of Hindi-film playback singers selected in a contest held by Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited.
Three years later came Tu Hi Tu, the popular Indipop debut that launched the Times Music label.
Going by his many achievements, it's safe to say that Sanjay Maroo does a lot more than just stare. When it comes to his music, he also has a unique set of rules. A definite point of view. "Experiment and re-invent," he says. "Don't close your ears to any kind of music, because once you have, you've also closed your mind." The greatest risk, for him, is not taking a risk.
Meanwhile, the album in question comprises 11 tracks that tread a gamut of emotive territory. "As a listener, you will be a viewer watching a painting unfold," says Maroo. "The project is also a mirror. For example, I survived a freeway accident in Los Angeles, rode the 911 ambulance and went through hours of surgery to get my hand back. In the same breath, I also had the pleasure of recording with Asha Bhosle at my home studio."
The album marks a number of firsts for Maroo. It was done entirely at home, to begin with. It is also the first time he has taken on the role of Recording Engineer. Parts were recorded at any time of the day or night, whenever he felt the mood was perfect. "My old band mates dropped in at different stages and contributed," he adds. "It was a reunion of musical energies. I also tried my hand at a capella, and this is possibly the only local project around with percussive sounds from the state-of-the-art V-Drums."
What can you expect? Start with Banta Nahin Remix, earmarked for the album's first video. Maroo says it was inspired by "the second class status awarded to original musicians in our beloved country." As for the other tracks, there's Kya Karti Ho ("I visualised a chorus of black female singers rendering the melody while clapping to the groove"), Tum Hi To ("Hot dance floor material"), Chale Jaaon? ("It will de-stress you"), Hone Do Pyaar Hone Do ("A song for lovers, champagne, flowers, candles, kisses") and Teri Baari ("Hear this song loud. Head bangers unite").
"This one's going to be big," says Maroo. And it probably will. Not bad for a boy who started off with an imaginary band.
Sanjay Maroo on rediff.com