As Far As I Know: In Conversation with Artistes Riatsu and Suraj Wanvari
We live in perilous times. As we all remain indoors, introspecting our lives, it is just the time we must align all three — mind, body and soul. And we found this message resonate in the work of the talented electronic music producer — Riatsu and his latest collaborative piece ‘As Far As I Know.’ We got talking to artiste Shadaab Kadri aka ‘Riatsu’ and filmmaker Suraj Wanvari, the man behind the track’s experimental music video, to find out about their creative collaboration and the ideas that drive their innovative expressions.
As we get speaking to Shadaab, you first realise how the artiste has so many dimensions to his personality. He is an indie musician, digital marketer, filmmaker, and a successful video blogger — all rolled into one. He explains, “I like to do a lot of things. I need to be involved with multiple projects to keep my creative juices flowing.” His words belie a revelation later to be found; Shadaab’s website is titled “Idoalotofthings(dot)com”. Shadaab says, “I took on the name Riatsu, which means ‘spiritual pressure.’ The vibe of a place or person is really important to me and my music, so it was a perfect fit.” He further reveals how the word finds its origins in his favourite Japanese Anime show Bleach. Artistic inspirations can resonate in the most interesting spaces.
Shadaab is an emerging face of the independent music industry here in India, having been involved across many domains over the last 10 years. “I went from hanging out with the bands to becoming part of a band, playing the guitar with the Mumbai-based progressive metal outfit Pangea. I worked with Blue Frog for 6.5 years, and then later went on to pursue a fellowship at Musicians’ Institute in California.” This was when his life took a turn, and he learnt to score ambient, atmospheric music for TV and films. This remains a signature element of his musical style to this day, as can be heard even on ‘As Far As I Know.’ Fans admit, Riatsu’s music makes them reminiscence and transports them to distant worlds. “I’ve had fans come back to me after my sets and share how my music makes them think,” he reveals.
As we get talking about the origins of his brand new track ‘As Far As I Know,’ he reveals the organic inception of the first of the 9 tracks from his album ‘Safe With Me.’ “Fellow musician Neil Gomes and I were on a 6-city tour with French electro-jazz virtuoso Erik Truffaz last year, and we had produced this track through repeated improvisations during the rehearsals and live tours. We then shared this track with Erik and requested him to perform on this, and he blessed the track much to our delight. It was a big moment for us as I consider him my mentor.”
The album — Safe With Me — which was released independently on all major streaming platforms late last year, thus came to be. “Music-making is real when the right people collaborate,” he explains, and the natural sounds of ‘As Far As I Know’ stand testimony to that. But, his statement extends further to the genesis of the very music video.
THE VISUAL JOURNEY
As he gets talking about the music video, he claims, “It took me by surprise.” He reveals, “Suraj had mentioned how he wanted to use the track for one of the films, but when he shot the music video and showed it to me, I was completely blown away.” Suraj’s directorial vision saw the organic translation of the music with visuals that took the audience on an experimental journey through places and elements. As trusted partners, Shadaab and Suraj share a unique relationship. As Suraj explains, “He is like a brother and our friendship goes back 25 years. I had always been talking to him about doing something together. When I heard him play live with Erik Trufazz, I knew I had to do something with this. Back then, I was going to use it for a commercial project, but things just progressed and I kept having deeper visions for the track. I wanted the video to become a journey. And it did.”
Suraj’s visions can be etched back to the pivot his life took when he attended the global cult-fest Burning Man. “At the Burning Man, I was witness to a discussion about conscious living and saving the planet. I felt however in that moment, that it was pointless till more people joined the movement. The only way to do so was to create more content that inspires people to follow through. These combined events resulted in me imagining this character walking through nature, having visions, visions that will strike you, visions that will make you question things that really matter to you.”
Suraj Wanvari has been an acclaimed filmmaker within the commercial ad space in India, yet for him “it is a process of translating one’s imagination to a form that can be consumed and resonated with.” He says, “The canvas while creating any kind of film is blank, it is following through on your instinct and discovering where it takes you.” He adds, “I care for the earth and protecting it. I spend a lot of my time pondering about how we can do better collectively.”
Explaining how Suraj visualised the character in the music video, played by model Suzanne Baker, he shares, “The character plays two selves — one driven by technology and consumerism, and the other motivated by nature, spirituality and consciousness. The dual manifestations of the character envision the earth as it is, with paradoxical juxtapositions of beauty, technology, and climate change. The story concludes as the duality comes together as one, to evolve into a better human.” Wanvari admits,” The video realises our reality just as I see as our only chance of redemption — to be more conscious of others, our planet and be more empathetic and loving with each other.” When asked what was the message of the video, he explains, “I had a simple idea to share with people. It is okay to desire, but can we do so more consciously? Can we do it without harming the nature? Can we do it without suppressing others? Can we do it with equality? Unless we merge these ideas and rethink our existence, we continue to mislead our existences.”
Shot by the talented cinematographer Arnab Gayan, the music video is a cinematic journey. Suraj ventures, “Stepping away from the fancy advertising commercials with celebrities and sports stars, and ambitious budgets, I wanted to harness my creative network to create content that would challenge me. I started with a personal passion project every 6 months. This time I wanted to do something that was creatively liberating, something with no boundaries and with a subtle message.”
Ideas take patience, time and resources to manifest. And independent projects are even more strenuous, yet Suraj reveals that the “actual shoot was a breeze, thanks to all the amazing people who just believed in the thought and the idea.” He says, “Everyone cooperated to work within limited budgets. We decided to work with a minimal crew of 10 people and made sure we created the least possible carbon footprint during the shoot. It was filmed just outside Mumbai, and we travelled by ferry boat together, There was no plastic or any regular polluting material used during the timing period. It was a lot of physical hard work as we were lesser people and everyone doubled up. We wrapped up all live filming in a day. A friend from New York let me use his stock account to acquire the stock, as I couldn’t sink in any more money into it. And it took a lot of time to finish editing it. A lot of favours were taken and a lot of amazing people helped finish it together.” This organic synergy manifested itself into making this wonderful music video with a message.
As we part ways, Suraj explains how the mirror plays a recurring motif in the video. “The mirror represents looking within oneself. It is urging both sides to find the answers from within, as the light in the mirror spreads out from the mirror into the world, it represents the path to spiritual awakening. Both selves agree that they cannot separately exist, the explosion results in the self, the evolved, walking not towards a funeral pyre, but walking towards the light. That path is not easy, hence it is separated by the sea. The funeral pyre towards the end, juxtaposes the evolved self as it looks on as the fire burns away in the distance.”
If you haven’t caught the fantastic music video of ‘As Far As I Know’ yet, then tune in here:
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