Ajay Srivastav & Vinod Karai: Blues with a twist

Date/Time Sun 20 Feb 2022 7:45 PM

Price In Advance - £9; Online - £9 + 90p fee; On The Door - £10

Website: https://www.ajayhq.com/

Ajay Srivastav is a London based singer songwriter who plays a genre-bending mix of Indian Folk, Blues and Americana with lyrics that explore issues of identity, loss and spirituality. In an age of cultural division and societal conflict, his performances have been described as passionate, healing and uplifting. His debut album ‘Karmic Blues‘ reached number 1 in the Amazon Blues chart and received rave reviews.

“I just wanted to say my thing,” says Ajay Srivastav, of the motivation behind his fiery, spiritual and sublime second album, “Powerless”. “I was tired of listening to other people talking – I want to speak, and this is what I have to say. And I hope people understand where I’m coming from.”

His message arrives in the form of ten powerful, soulful, stirring songs that are the product of a crossfire hurricane of influences, drawing equally from the Mississippi Delta that sired the blues and the Varanasi Ghats where prayers, birth-rites and coming-of-age ceremonies are performed beside the Ganges. It’s an album where Ajay’s resonator guitar and glass slide channel the karmic thunder of Muddy Waters and Son House and the lithe grace of the sitar – but one where his aching, wise vocal sounds like no-one but himself.

Ajay says he discovered the blues when the ground-quaking swagger of Muddy Waters’ “I’m A Man” materialised on the soundtrack of a documentary he was watching as a kid. “It was pre-internet, so I had to go to the record shop and sing the song so they could tell me what it was,” he laughs. “The blues hit me, in a big way. I was obsessed with it. I’d grown up with pop music and Bollywood songs, and I loved them both. But this was for me. It resonated. I felt like a different person when I listened to it.”

It was the blues that inspired Ajay’s path into music, but the sounds of the elders felt “inaccessible” to him. When he first picked up the guitar, he opted to channel the spirit of forebears closer to home, whose styles felt more within reach – British Blues Boom heroes like Keith Richards and Ray Davies. Those heroes inspired his own early forays into rock’n’roll, leading his own group around the Camden circuit.

But the course of Ajay’s fate has never followed a predictable path, and he has chased his muse in myriad directions, opportunity pulling him in unexpected directions. He replaced Nitin Sawhney in the ranks of legendary DJ and broadcaster Ritu’s world-music band The Asian Equation, touring the globe. He wrote Asian-fusion songs in Hindi and spent some years swimming among the sharks in the shadier end of the Indian music industry, ending up with only disappointment in his bank account. He’s fronted a 60s-style soul and funk revue playing Bollywood songs – the brilliantly named Botown – and displayed a gift for scoring musical theatre.

Drawing upon his experience with the sitar, Ajay developed a style of playing that melded those diverse cultural influences. Hooking up with Vinod Karai, the percussionist from Botown, he explored the relationship between tabla and guitar. It was liberating. “All I cared about was singing my song,” he says. “I wasn’t worrying about the outcomes.” But as he began to gig this material, he won a new following. And when he committed the tracks to tape, in the form of his debut album “Karmic Blues”, the response was beyond encouraging, fans and critics alike responding to what he was doing, and understanding where he was coming from, appreciating this powerful, natural fusion of sounds.

For this evening, Ajay will be joined by Vinod Karai. Here’s an extended video from their launch of ‘Powerless‘: