By now, we all know the current generation of musicians are wildly talented. In fact, many of these ‘maestros’ are so young they can neither vote nor drive. Thankfully this year Aditya Bhagavatula, a ridiculously talented drummer from New Delhi, can do both. Having spoken to him on the phone for well over an hour, I’d never have been able to guess his age had I not read all about him a day earlier.
So what does it take to achieve what Aditya has today? I would say resilience over everything else. After all, he does have an impressive resume that would put most ‘20 Under 20’ listicles to shame. He has tracked drums for one of the country’s top acts, The Revisit Project, he’s played with Ensamble Transatlantico de Folk Chileno (an ensemble from Chile), Classical musicians like Zila Khan and Sharat Chandra Srivastava, Pineapple Express, Chizai, Kashyap Iyengar and The Blind Orchestra Project by Dov Rosen (Phew!).
“Only a musician knows how much he’s struggling,” Aditya posits. “When you finally make it to the stage, people can’t tell whether you’ve spent five hours practicing or twenty-five hours. And they don’t care, as long as what they hear sounds good. The fact is, when you’re a musician, you aren’t doing anything else, your only job is to make music. There was a time I was really ill, but I played a gig, anyway. I remember wanting to throw up the entire time, but I continued playing until it was over!”
It was around the age of three or four that Aditya knew drumming was what he was going to do for the rest of his life. It was a time, like for any other toddler-turning-preschooler, where he banged relentlessly on pots and pans. Rather than dismissing the behaviour, as parents might ordinarily do, they presented him with a drum kit.
“From an early age, whenever I’d listen to music, even music without drum parts, I would focus on the rhythm of the melody. That has always fascinated me. We had a lot of music playing at our house including genres like rock, pop, the blues and everything in between. Even ABBA and the Backstreet Boys!”
By now I’m curious about where the 'real' influences came from, notwithstanding ABBA and the Backstreet Boys. His inspirations include drummers like Dave Weckl, Jojo Mayer & Benny Greb as they are not just drummers but musicians who have their own music out. Whereas the '80s had drummers like Phil Collins who were also phenomenal singers, in the modern context Aditya looks up to drummers like Anderson Paak who are also playing drums, singing, and making music.
In November 2020, Aditya released an original song - Beetroot Juice along with Abhin Iype and Birraj Singh. The song not only got added to Spotify editor’s playlist but was also picked up by Rolling Stone’s editor’s choice of the week. And why wouldn’t it? One look at his impromptu jam videos on Facebook and you’d know. Much like his hero and Swiss virtuoso drummer, Jojo Mayer, one easily notices how drumming comes naturally to Aditya - like breathing or drinking water.
“While I regularly play with The Revisit Project, I also have my own project called Beetroot Juice. What works for me is merely to sit and play. In the case of Beetroot Juice, I literally jam with keyboardist Abhin Iype. Basically, what comes out, comes out. There’s nothing more to it and no major thought. On the other hand, with The Revisit Project we usually have a basic idea about what the tune or the hook is going to be, then we play it again and again and finally what comes naturally is usually what it ends up being.” He explains.
Aditya believes music must always be tasteful, something people can sing along to, even if it’s only instrumental.
“You can see how the audience reacts, even if there are no actual lyrics. That’s the whole point to music, it’s community. You can’t just sit in a room and play, it has to be shared.”
The sheer maturity and clarity in his voice are testament to the fact that this young man is going places. Plus he doesn’t think much of his work (Which, humility-wise, is a good thing).
“Children don’t really contemplate the whys and hows, right? They just do what’s in front of them and when it’s gone, they’re either happy or sad. It may be fourteen years since I started drumming, but the fact is, I’m still a kid!”
This reminds me of Sigmund Freud’s 1908 publication 'Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming' which explores the origins of daydreaming, and its relation to the play of children and the creative process (This is in fact the second time a musical artist is reminding me of this essay).
“My journey thus far is not something I’d consider much of a journey, but yes, I have had many small but significant moments in life. One that comes to mind was the first concert I ever attended. It was at the Indian Habitat Centre and had Indian Ocean and Raghu Dixit performing live right in front of my eyes. Man, it was such an amazing experience. I mean, you only ever see this stuff on the internet or hear recordings of it. But to experience it is something else - That journey from mystery, aura and fascination to actually watching them live… it was really cool!”
But life’s not always been a bed of roses for the young drummer. A few years ago, barely at the threshold of the music industry and barely out of school, Aditya had to excuse himself from his half-yearly exams to perform at a Bollywood gig in Mumbai.
“Tough as it was, the school relented and allowed me to take a few days off. I landed in Mumbai only to realise that there was no hotel booking, I had no place to stay and nothing to practice on either.”
It’s a disorganised reality in our music industry that artists unfortunately have to put up with on a regular basis. Yet Aditya prefers to see the bright side of it.
“Rahul Hariharan from Bhayanak Maut was the one to help me out with a practice session. I was really fortunate he was there!” he smiles.
Now, how’s that for resilience!