“Being a songwriter, one gets influenced by many styles of music. I had wished to create a singer-songwriter project of my own; separate in style and in influence from what I had created with MAP,” enthuses New Delhi-based singer-songwriter Manta Sidhu. With this vision in mind, The Manta Sidhu Ensemble was created—an acoustic singer-songwriter harmony group—Sidhu’s newest outfit that she formed with musicians Jazmine Saxena, Sherry Mathews, Nathalie Ramirez, Reuben Narain, and Rahul Rai. So, is this a new side project that you are working on? No, not really, it is my main project for now. I have two main projects, none more important than the other,” she highlights.
The Ensemble’s sound is acoustic, easy-listening and lavish, as Sidhu points out. But, we thought they were quite the contrary—complex, engaging and creative. We refrain from adding anything further because we wouldn’t like to paint a picture of them for you, instead, we would like you to experience them through your own creative insight.
We catch up with Sidhu, who tells us more about the inception of the group, their new self-titled EP, working with new band members, and more.
What influenced you to form The Manta Sidhu Ensemble? Interesting backstory to validate your answer, please? Further, is MAP on a hiatus right now?
Being a songwriter, one gets influenced by many styles of music. I had wished to create a singer-songwriter project of my own; separate in style and in influence from what I had created with MAP, which is an edgy pop-rock band. I began writing songs envisioned to be raw and acoustic in vibe, story-telling in purpose, quirky in their presentation, with a unique mellow personality of their own. While I began giving the final shape to these songs, I decided that I needed to add something different in terms of sound and arrangement, to complement the meaning behind these songs as well as in pursuit of creating something striking and unusual.
At this point, I, along with Reuben Narain, who plays percussion and drums, along with wearing the cap of the producer in this project; thought of shaping this outfit as a vocal ensemble. The voices would lead the music, embellish it, and offer uniqueness to the sound. I am extremely privileged to have two tremendously talented singers, Jazmine Saxena and Sherry Mathews, join me in this project. The music is further uplifted with Nathalie Ramirez beautifully complementing the vocal arrangements with the flute. Reuben Narain, in addition to playing the drum set, has picked up a variety of traditional percussion instruments including the Duff, Darbuka and the Cajon to add to the singer-songwriter/folk ambience. And, I have two super talented musicians, Rahul Rai and Bhaskar Gurung play bass for this project.
As for MAP, all five of us from the band are close and the best of friends. We continue to play with each other for various other projects. Jishnu Banerjee, the guitarist, was the mixing engineer for The Manta Sidhu Ensemble’s debut EP, which released on the 24th of May, 2017. Rahul Rai (bass) and Reuben Narain (drums) play with the new Ensemble. Shivam Khare (keys) and I continue to play together as well, with him also being featured in the Ensemble’s very first single release ‘Wild Flower.’ MAP will hopefully be back to making new music and back on stage by the end of this year, while we offer time to the Ensemble to get rolling.
Choosing members for a new project can be tricky at times, in that context, how did Jazmine Saxena, Sherry Mathews and Nathalie Ramirez make it to the outfit. How and why did you think they fit the bill?
The foremost reasons for them to have been invited to be a part of this outfit was their remarkable talent as musicians and their immense experience in this field. I met Jazmine many years ago through common friends and we gelled instantly. I had been following her music through the years and saw her grow and shine as a gorgeous singer and songwriter. As for Sherry, I saw him perform about a year ago at a concert and remembered him for his exquisite voice and skill set. When I invited him over for a rehearsal to hear out my music and consider joining the Ensemble, was the first time that the two of us met. Nathalie joined the project much later, once us three singers had worked on the songs and decided to add a melody instrument to enrich and strengthen the vocal arrangements. With the flute being so similar in texture and impact to the voices, it was to be a beautiful addition. After hearing Nathalie play across the circuit in recent times, since she moved to India, she was an evident choice and I wasted no time in giving her a call.
Although it has been less than a year since the four of us took up this collaboration, there is a balance and connection among us that has undoubtedly led to a creative surge; which is extremely fulfilling for a songwriter.
The self-titled EP has five songs; can you take us through them? The meaning and inspirations behind each of them?
The songs are manifestations of my thoughts and impressions from everyday life—what I see, hear, imagine, opine, and imbibe. It is difficult to point out a single direct source of inspiration to each song, as each song is likely to be a representation of an amalgamation of various disconnected thoughts. Yet, I would be happy to talk about what each song portrays in the broader sense and what their meaning inclines towards.
Little Ringing Bells – The opening song of the EP, is similar to a prelude. It gives a sense of the ambience created by the vocal ensemble in this project. Pay attention to the lyrics, and one would uncover a story symbolising the prominence of a social evil in disguise.
More Than That – A beautifully arranged ballad, this song talks about one’s longing to mean something more—to oneself or to another. The story-teller has come to acknowledge the beauty in this world and expresses a desire for his or her own existence to be as passionate, meaningful and complete as all the beauty that surrounds.
Missing Keys – A quirky mid-tempo composition, this number, talks about our search for those keys that would unlock the doors to the other side.
City Speaks – This song is composed and written by Reuben Narain. He writes about the changing colours and fading memories of a city.
Window – This is an unconventional love song that speaks about one’s anxious wait for his or her loved one.
Prior to releasing the EP, the Ensemble released two singles, ‘Wild Flower’ and ‘Fire and Ice.’ These too were released in the month of May 2017. Here are the back stories:
Wild Flower – This lively song symbolises the strength and endurance to keep standing in the face of all odds and to keep going despite the challenges.
Fire and Ice – This tune talks about life being similar two sides of a coin, and about how these two sides work together to push you towards the right direction.
A favourite song from the album? (if any)
My favourites would have to be More Than That and Missing Keys.
Any challenges so far—on and off stage? (with TMSE)
I imagined and stood prepared for various challenges at the onset of this project, during the initial days of conceptualising. However, with the right mix of musicians on board; with the opportunity to record and mix the songs in-house with Reuben and Jishnu at the helm of such events; with two singles and an EP released within the first year of the Ensemble’s existence and; and with songs for the second album completed and ready to be recorded—there is more to thank than worry about.
You are already working on a second album; could you give us a hint on what that might be like? You are a roadrunner when it comes to producing music. How do you work so fast?
I would believe quite the contrary—I wish to work faster when it comes to writing music, recording and releasing. Although, I would not have this ambition come in the way of creativity. The second album is certain to be an evolved representation of the project. The sound that we are aiming to develop is becoming more tangible the more I write and the more we play and practice. A few singles are also planned between now and the release of the second album. Overall, the style of the album remains true to the nature of the Ensemble’s sound—acoustic, easy-listening, lavish!
Every musician has aspects he/she likes like, songwriting, the process, figuring out the riffs, the orchestration and more. In this aspect, what is the thing or things you like the most? Why?
I enjoy every bit of the process; from writing the first note to the first lyrics, from designing arrangements to deciding structures—everything, until it goes to the studio. I hate computers and cables. Although, I don’t dislike the recording process and rather enjoy the challenges it comes with. I just don’t like computers and cables.
How has the music scene in New Delhi changed from the time you started?
The scene is constantly changing and evolving. At times for the better, at times not. There are more venues than before and much more springing up. However, I feel earlier there were more number of venues open to all original music from artists. Having said that, there is enough work for a musician who is committed to being a musician, being professional at it and, being realistic. To do well, it is important nonetheless to be versatile, to be open to learning and performing a wide variety of styles and genres, and to develop the skills to communicate and promote your act.
The things that you like and dislike about your profession?
Things I like – music, creativity, expression, freedom, the stage and people.
Things I dislike – People in the music ‘business’ who claim to be music enthusiasts but believe that jazz music means soft music. Event managers who call us for a sound-check at 4 pm, when the sound-check is to start at 6 pm because they expect the band to show up 2 hours late. We are never late. We are a punctual band.
Apart from being a musician, you are also an animal rescuer. How did this come by? How does rescuing animals compliment your work as a singer-songwriter?
I began rescuing, fostering and nursing sick animals and birds since I was young, as I saw my mother do the same on a few occasions and began assisting her. In 2002 I began volunteering at an animal shelter and learnt much about caregiving skills, medicine and rehabilitation. The family car served as an ambulance whenever we would find a dog, cat, bird, calf, squirrel, bat or a rat in need of medical help. By 2010, I began putting in most of my efforts towards helping injured, sick or orphaned birds. I treat, nurse and rehabilitate them out of a small facility I made at home. Once recovered, they are set free. The decision to shift the focus of my rescue work towards birds happened as a result of a shortage of bird rescuers in the city. There might be no more than three experts in all of Delhi/NCR.
How does rescuing birds compliment my work as a singer-songwriter? Well, there is no creativity where there is no peace of mind. My birds surround me with peace (smiles).
The Manta Sidhu Ensemble is:
Manta Sidhu – Vocals, Guitars
Jazmine Saxena – Voice, Keys
Sherry Mathews – Vocals
Nathalie Ramirez – Flute
Reuben Narain – Producer, Percussion
Rahul Rai – Bass
Follow the outfit on Facebook here.
Grab a copy of their new EP here.