The Musical Mosaics of Maati Baani: Redefining Collaboration in a Technological Age

To say that the Indian band Maati Baani is pioneering the new music scene would not be an over-statement. The spirited couple that is Nirali and Kartik, who hail from Ahmedabad, recently came into the limelight as their cover for Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ became one of the most widely shared music videos to emerge from India, ever, with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ken Kragen lauding it. What was striking about this song was that it brought together 45 child prodigies from around the world, solely through online collaboration. We see here an altogether new way of making music – where communication and rehearsals all happen virtually. The final musical piece is essentially like mosaic-work, but bases itself on the powerful universality of music.

Music as Connection

Giving a simple example to illustrate how universal music really is, Nirali describes, “If I’m at an airport and I meet a musician and I tell her ‘let’s jam’, we’ll be jamming the very next moment. Can you imagine this in any other profession?” The joy of this connection is what prompted the duo to make collaborations with other musicians the basis of their work. Their approach is truly path-breaking in many ways because they are evolving a new working style – one in which street musicians, common people and folk artists are involved in their process. Every creative person knows how difficult it is to relinquish some control over one’s work and allow room for improvisations. But the duo has somehow cracked this open-ended process.

And their fascination with creating music that is open-ended reflects also in the choice of settings in their videos. The street musician is often a prominent figure because they love to see how an ordinary and dull setup can be enlivened by a sole individual who is smiling and playing music. It’s this need to use the power of music to generate positivity that is, in fact, a unifying thread in their work. Nirali explains,

“We’re directly or indirectly experiencing violence in our daily lives. As artists, it does affect us. Because you require a lot of positive vibes to create something, but then you wake up to news of a kid being affected by war and it shakes your being from inside. So as musicians we do believe that we have some power to reach out to people.”

The ‘Heal the World’ cover lives up in every way to this aspiration. Various articles floating online have come with a statutory warning that hearing the song may induce tears and goosebumps in unwitting viewers. As Susan Sontag had said, “music is at once the most wonderful, the most alive of all the arts,” and the Maati Baani duo are striving to tap into this very power to resonate with the world.

Maati Baani's Kartik and Nirali
Maati Baani : Kartik & Nirali

Music as a Movement

Their unconventional method of making musical mosaics expresses a willingness to confront certain expectations and standards in the world at large. “We are living in an age where commercialisation and capitalism want us to think in a uniform way. We want to break away from that,” says Nirali.

And though they don’t exactly describe themselves as activists, their desire to transcend boundaries reflects also in their running theme #bordersnobar – which is evident right from their fun fusion song ‘Balma’ to their cross-border duet with Pakistani singer Komal Rizvi. But though their songs combine global sounds and rhythms, they are usually rooted in Indian classical music or folk music. Nirali explains why, whilst breaking free from external expectations, this is still important to them,

“You can have your own voice only while you are connected to your roots otherwise you are always thinking what others want you to think. So if you’re connected with your language and with your roots, then you will have a unique way of thinking. And at the same time you will speak a contemporary language – thereby also connecting with a larger audience.”

And the response from the Indian classical music fraternity has been heartening so far for the duo. Mainstream radio stations, however, continue to remain largely indifferent to a burgeoning independent music scene, prompting bands like Maati Baani to creatively think of content that will draw audiences towards their music of their own volition.

Music as Instinct

It is this creative instinct to think up new ideas that prompts the duo to come up with an incredible range of themes from song to song. Until an idea absolutely consumes them, however, they do not work on it. The road towards being independent musicians has not been easy but Nirali discusses how it’s possible to recognise and pursue your labour of love despite the struggles that you may encounter.

“There will be so much fire in you that that fire will give you sleepless nights. But you won’t mind this because you will know that this is what is taking you to your core.

So we’ve never been afraid of following what our vision demands. And now we know how we’re able to impact other people’s lives by what we do. That also drives us.”

The unexpected outcome of now having a ‘viral’ video in their pocket has come as a gift to the duo, opening up doors for them to reach out to more musicians, and reinforcing their confidence in their own instincts.

Nirali of Maati Baani in Mumbai
Nirali in her studio

Intriguingly, the instinct that propelled them to explore musical mosaic-work, while based from their studio, was their love for travel. They were inspired by the ‘Playing for Change’ movement – which travels the streets of America with a mobile recording studio. “What we see in PFC is the remarkable palette of musicians that they bring together,” says Nirali. “But we found a way to collaborate with musicians without travelling. We work totally online.” This unusual path that they have chosen means that they take months to record a single song.

So how do they make such a complex process work? “Kartik is a great editor. He has everything mapped out in his mind,” she says, referring to his extraordinary ability to visualise how various artists will come into a song, like individual pieces of a mosaic. And yet the process is not just technical, for people are somehow deeply moved when they see the eventual videos.

Maati Baani’s courage and humility to include diverse ideas, sounds and styles in the process of making their music reflects a deep-seated belief that music is by everyone and for everyone – that it is really the language of the earth, as their name suggests.


Images Courtesy : Maati Baani

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