The Journey to Now
A musician with over a 15 years experience in the industry, Ajay Srivastav has had chart success in two continents, toured the world and worked with legends.
But for an artist whose work has crossed so many boundaries, in the end "it all comes back to the Blues..”
To know what bought him to the steps of the temple, Blues guitar in hand, read on....
Ajay’s story begins in North London where he grew up with a variety of musical and cultural influences. Indian parents, Irish neighbours and English friends all having their effect in different ways.
Music was a big part of the house he grew up in as it is with all traditional Indian families. There was faith music and folk songs being sung by his parents as well as Bollywood music blasting out from the kitchen stereo. Regular visits to family in India meant pilgrimages to holy sites and a re-enforcement of his cultural awareness of all things Indian.
Stepping out the front door of his home in London meant soaking in all that the outside world had to offer but it wasn’t until his teenage years that Ajay had the life changing experience of discovering Blues greats like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Howling Wolf. And then digging deeper to find the Delta Blues originators like Robert Johnson, Son House and Bukka White.
Originally picking up the guitar to play songs by his 60’s pop heroes like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Ajay dug further to find out who were the musicians that influenced them. Always one to go direct to the source, Ajay took a musical time trip all the way back to the Blues and came back with his own musical voice and he began writing and performing his own material.
A meeting with an A&R man at a jam night in the late 90’s led to session work with artists like Jamiroquai, The Brand New Heavies and Reggae icon Gregory Isaacs. At the same time he developed a following for his 5 piece Funk band ‘Maya’ performing self-penned songs at venues across London like the Jazz Café, The Forum and The Garage. Maya gigged successfully and were featured on DJ Gary Crowley's TV show: City Mix on ITV.
Always wanting to learn more about the music making process, Ajay worked at the recording studios of the Acid Jazz label and whilst there, developed and produced the now legendary Swaraj (1997) album and offshoot club night. The album celebrated the diversity of musical styles and sounds being adopted by club based artists of the day, in particular those from the Asian Underground scene. The club night ran successfully at the Blue Note in Hoxton and along with the album became a bit of an institution which launched and supported careers of everyone from Bobby Friction to Nasha Experience, Earth Tribe and even gave Panjabi MC his first bit of mainstream coverage.
His natural curiosity for blending the music he had grown up with alongside the music he had discovered, led him to the World Music scene where he worked with artists like Jah Wobble, Apache Indian, Zakir Hussain and Sister India - for whom he wrote and produced their signature song ‘Out of Place’.
Gigging at World Music festivals around the Globe opened up further doors of inspiration for Ajay and he soon took to writing in Hindi language. Bi-lingual since childhood, Ajay wrote and recorded a few original songs in Hindi purely as an experiment in the mid-noughties. On the insistence of a close friend, he officially released them under his own label – Scion Records. Songs like Aaja Sajana, Kasam Se and Sapnay became airplay chart hits on Asian radio and TV stations across the UK and made Ajay a successful Hindi-pop artist in the UK’s thriving Asian music scene.
It wasn’t long before there was interest from T-Series, India’s biggest record label to whom he was subsequently signed and released his debut album: ‘Aaja Sajana’ (2006). Ajay was the first British Asian artist to be signed to the label and the album was a top 5 hit in the Times of India charts with individual songs topping the airplay charts on FM radio stations across India.
Basing himself temporarily in Mumbai, Ajay’s success allowed him to drop in and out of recording studios across the city imbibing the sounds and styles of local musicians and music directors. And it opened the door to sessions with Bollywood legends including the actor Shah Rukh Khan. Most importantly though, it sowed the seeds for his next great musical adventure which fused Bollywood music with 60’s Rhythm & Blues.
Ajay's love, understanding and working experience of both Eastern and Western music styles led him to create a musical link between Ray Charles and RD Burman in 2009. Founding and fronting a multicultural, multi gender and multi ethnic Soul band dedicated to spreading the gospel of Bollywood music.
The band ‘Botown’ (named in reverence to Bollywood and Motown) became a runaway success that continues today. Dubbed as “Bollywood’s answer to Sly & the Family Stone”, the band carved its own niche with dynamic live shows which attracted a diverse and passionate audience.
Asian newspaper Eastern Eye, credited Ajay with inventing a brand new genre of music and the band headlined at legendary venues such as The Jazz Café, The Theatre Royal, Rich Mix and Trafalgar Square and received rave reviews from press and music fans alike. Their single ‘Roop Tera’ (2012) topped the BBC Asian network sales chart as well as the iTunes World Music charts. The album 'The Soul of Bollywood' (2013) was a top 5 hit on Amazon. Botown’s music also featured on BBC1’s leading soap ‘EastEnders.’ The band is still rocking venues with its joyous fusion. Check out more at www.botown.co.uk
Using his ability as a multi-instrumentalist and his experiences from working with Bollywood music directors Ajay also developed his skills as a composer for theatre and film. His credits include: ‘Cymbeline’ (2013); ‘The Perfect Ganesh’ (2011); ‘Power of Dance’ (2010); ‘The Ballad of Layla and Majnoon’ (2009) and the award winning documentary ‘Flying Sikhs (2009). You can take a listen to some these sounds at www.ajayhq.com
So from Blues.. to Funk, to Asian Underground, to World Music, to Hindi-pop, to Musical Theatre, to Bollywood and Soul. From a bedroom to a North London pub, to a festival in Europe, to a club in Mumbai and a theatre in rural England. Ajay has taken his Blues wherever his passion for music led him. It kept him steady, but now with the uncertainties of life and a world in distress weighing heavy upon him Ajay is seeking solace for the future by delving into the sounds of his past.
So here he is, sitting on the steps of a temple, singing about what he sees, what he's learnt and what we've lost. An open letter that asks questions about identity, truth and faith.
Stark, simple and searing.. this is Delta Blues by way of his ancestral home of Varanasi .
Listen in.. you’ll hear a lifetime between these notes.