Manas Jha lives out his dreams with Indian indie’s top musicians as collaborators on ‘Trifecta’ EP
Updated: Jun 21
By Anurag Tagat
It was in June 2016 that New York-based Mumbai-bred musician Manas Jha released an EP called Remote Collaborations. What was originally intended as a means of staying connected with musician friends in different parts of the world soon aided Jha in the light of pandemic restrictions, arguably making him well prepared to take on a collaboration-friendly EP project like Trifecta.
Released song by song and now out as a three-track record, Trifecta features vocalist-producer and guitarist Siddharth Basrur, guitar ace Warren Mendonsa and drummer Jai Row Kavi (Blackstratblues), electro-rocker FuzzCulture (Arsh Sharma) and producer-guitarist Keshav Dhar (Skyharbor). Jha says of his collaborators, “I’ve been a long-time fan of each of the featuring artists. They are some of my favorites from the indie scene back home. And I’m forever grateful for partnering with them on this EP.”
Although India’s independent music scene has often seen a floating audience over decades – primarily due to how most bands played at college festivals and then those students graduated and moved past the culture into jobs and families – Jha swears by his Rock Street Journal magazines, his time spent online at the Gigpad forums and Independence Rock outings. He’s particularly gleeful about scoring faculty passes to gain entry into IIT Bombay’s Mood Indigo festival, while also being snuck in to the now-defunct club Fire N Ice in Mumbai to catch Mumbai’s rock mainstays Zero. “[I was] really doing just about anything to catch my favourite bands from the scene.”
For the last decade or so, the New York resident been more of a remote follower of rock in India, but he agrees things have “grown to be much bigger and better from 20 years ago”. He adds, “It feels like there are so many more bands, regional influences, sub-genres, and great records with high production value. And a lot of these are based out of bedroom studios.” Nevertheless, he acknowledges the hurdles in being heard and finding an audience in the time of streaming and social media culture. “I don’t think anyone could have predicted this surge in social media culture, and people’s dwindling attention span. And not to mention, the proliferation of music streaming and race-to-the-bottom economics,” Jha adds.
Jha knew the versatility and draw of musicians like Mendonsa, Row Kavi and Basrur back then, which led him to enlist them for songs he’d written over time. “The gel that holds the EP together is the stellar talent, and the mindset we all share,” he says about Trifecta. The processes involved going back and forth with collaborators via calls and recording sessions, but Jha says his biggest takeaway from the whole Trifecta experience is “how cool these guys are in real life”, referring to his featured artists. He adds, “Everyone was so supportive throughout the whole process. I’ve been fortunate to get a sneak peek into the candid workings of these great musical minds. It’s been a sheer joy to learn from the best.” As much as distance isn’t an issue given Jha’s method of writing and recording with musicians across geographical boundaries, he does admit, “Given a chance, I would have loved to jam with these guys live!”
The collaborators certainly add their own distinct signature over Jha’s music, but sonically, they follow Jha’s changing interests in different styles of music. Nukkad Closed with Keshav Dhar is a darker prog rock song dedicated to the shocking demise of a Indian-origin restaurateur, while Basrur and FuzzCulture add a chill yet buoyant playfulness to Myrooh, written about Jha’s daughter. The final release off Trifecta was Liberate with Mendonsa and Row Kavi, which is about drug and alcohol dependence. Leaning on grunge overtones, Jha says about working on Liberate, “The song has a dark and moody vibe. And Warren wanted to complement it sonically with layered guitars and Jai wanted a heavy drum sound.”
Trifecta is intentionally a moody listen and it arrives on the back of previous collab-friendly EPs by Jha. Remote Collaborations in 2016, for example, draws from Carnatic as well as hard rock. His 2017 single You Were There with friend Sudeip on guitars dived into prog rock, while the 2019 EP Reimagined took to hard rock, electronica and Indian music elements. He says, “For me, the one constant with music is collaboration… I view each collaboration as a learning opportunity, and there’s so much more to learn.”
Up next, Jha is planning an acoustic EP, inspired by singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan. “I’ve always been amazed at the power of vocals and acoustic guitar. I’m currently lining up an unplugged set of some older songs, and writing some new material. As with prior releases, hoping to collaborate with some seasoned singer/songwriters from the scene back home,” he adds.