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From Tennessee to Jharkhand, a band empowers voiceless

New Delhi, July 14 (Calcutta Tube) Belting out groove rock, country-style soul ballads and native folk music, the American band UnNamed Servant lends a voice to people on the fringes, from Tennessee to Jharkhand. On a month-long tour of India, its members say they believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘ideology of ahimsa’.

‘Last year, we had played live at a human rights rally in Jharkhand. Some local politicians who had heard us liked our music and wanted us back in the state on this tour,’ Gregg Garner, lead vocalist and songwriter of the band, told IANS.

‘We will return again to Jharkhand in December this year because we have a corporate sponsorship to tour the region – for music as well as social work.’

Based in Nashville, the mecca of American folk and country music, the band has as members Paul Llson, Robert Munoz and Skylar Aaseby.

The band that shares an umbilical rapport with India believes in Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘ideology of ahimsa, Indian culture and uplift of the downtrodden’.

‘Two years ago, we boarded a train to Bihar (Patna) just after the floods. We deliberately chose a general car because we wanted to experience the real India.

‘On the train, I wrote a song, ‘Anything’… The lyrics of the track reflect what I saw of the provinces en route to Bihar. ‘The needs plague me/I want to close my eyes/ But all my solutions require money/But can money save a life…,’ said Garner.

The band played in the capital Sunday night after an opening gig in Pune last week. The stops on the band’s incredible Indian itinerary include Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Formed eight years ago on the campus of a local college in Nashville, Tennessee, the band hit the charts with their single, ‘How Much It Cost’ and stayed in the loop with ‘Save the World’ and ‘If You Want’ from their album ‘Introduction to Exile’.

It has four studio albums and the fifth will be released by Sony Music this yearend.

The band upholds Christian faith. It sings of Biblical myths, human sufferings and blends music with ear-to-the-ground philanthropy across the world with the help of a Nashville-based non-profit group, the Global Outreach Developments International, which engages in health and social reforms.

The band works for better public health delivery mechanisms, gender justice, food safety and alleviation of destitution.

UnNamed Servant is concerned about ‘erosion of culture in developing countries like India and China’.

‘I fear identities and culture of the ethnic minorities will be wiped out because of the rapid permeation of Western ethos,’ Garner said.

The song writer said ‘the band assimilates music from cultural traditions across the globe’.

‘A few weeks ago, we were at a village, Nawatoli, in Birmitrapur in Orissa for a dental health camp. We met some local residents and doctors who sing traditional folk songs. We have included them in our repertoire,’ Garner said.

The band was in the Philippines, Uganda and Kenya before touring India. ‘Their cultures may be different but the issues are similar. The streets are full of children with no homes and poverty is endemic,’ Garner said.

The band members say their music has been ‘influenced by political issues like racism, immigration, under-representation, sexism and empowering the voiceless and the diaspora. Our lyrics and music are philosophically structured,’ he said.

‘We have a track titled Alien for the diaspora in the US. The lyrics flow thus … ‘If my card is green/I live with strife/Why is blue a passport to better life/… They call me an alien…, ‘ Garner said.

‘The diaspora works so hard to make a life in America and support families back home,’ the musician said in defence of the plight of immigrants abroad.

The band is working with think-tanks from Lucknow University on gender justice and an adult-literacy curriculum for older girls who cannot attend school, he said.

The band is trying to Indianise its sound. ‘Our drummer Paul Llson is learning to play the tabla and I the sitar. We want to give our band a multi-cultural identity in the future,’ he said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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