The concept of a one man band is a relatively new term for the people here in Odisha. When full fledged bands find it difficult to survive, it’s surprising that a one man band is out here and performing. Now a one man band is basically just one person playing a number of instruments simultaneously using every blessed part of his body and also incorporating various mechanical devices to aid him.
We stepped into a certain Mr.Alok Kumar Jena’s abode in a lazy morning and were greeted with huge massive speakers spewing music. A man of classic tastes, a purist, his rack consists of cassettes ranging from Beegees, Tom Jones, Air Supply, Carpenters, Dire Straits, Guns n Roses to Seal, Madonna, Tracy Chapman , Paul Anka and Duran Duran. Such is the ambience in his house that even his 2 year old daughter Svetlana (Russian for Sweet child, a reference to Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns n Roses) sleeps comfortably within a couple of minutes when Dancing Queen by Abba is played to her. Yes, we saw that happen!
Excerpts from the interview:
A guitar is a loner and so is a guitarist. I chose the guitar because something about it parallels my life. It is my companion now and we work together.
On his musical influences:
It has to be Michael Jackson. He led the invasion of west on our homes at faraway places in India. (Which explained, the huge THIS IS IT poster in his bedroom). Though our previous generation had a radar for Elvis and Beatles, it was not until Michael Jackson happened that Indian mass stood up and took notice of the music in west.
How can you compress music? It loses all the charm. Cassettes are gone you see, there are no cassettes now, but they had much better quality than mp3. I am eagerly waiting for the day when mp3 would be discarded. Get vinyl back instead.
On peer pressure:
There is insecurity amongst people. If I can do what 5 guys are doing then of course people will get me. I am not complaining. I am more bothered about my end than some guys’ caustic remarks. When I take a job that earlier needed 4-5 guys in a band, then naturally there would be a cold vibe floating around. Some people are jealous of me, yes !
You won’t find any Michael in Puri Jagannath temple. An Alok Kumar Jena in music doesn’t sound good either. It’s about fitting in. Alok Kumar Jena is sidelined. Ronnie is me. I took this name because it’s a different person in me now, who belongs to music.
On current scenario in Indian music:
Indian Classical music is in coma right now. Punjabi rap is on the rise, god only knows why. Hindi as a language in our music has taken a seat somewhere backstage. There is more confusion than fusion.
On bands in Orissa:
There are quite a few really nice bands working here in Odisha. But the thing is that they have to keep their ego aside. I have seen numerous talented bands split up just because of ego clashes. Its up to them to make their talent count and keep pushing their way.
On his journey so far:
I did my schooling in Berhampur and then moved to City College before going to Chennai. I worked in Hyundai for a few years. That was before I developed Double Vision and I was no more qualified for my job. Double vision risked my safety and of others as well. That was the phase when music shifted gears from being interference to a much more controlling aspect of my life. I started playing guitar and met many people here. We 4-5 guys resurrected the band Glass and named it Glass Revival. But then people moved on to other jobs and I have been performing as a one man band ever since.
After one helluva session of just free conversation, we asked Ronnie candidly
whether the music scene in Odisha has got it or not, to change the norms of
substandard music and start creating art that music is. Ronnie replies “People
have to get out of singing Atif Aslam stuff. That is happening here in college
bands all the time. What they can do is write something by putting a thought
into it. After the words are there, they get some influences from reggae, blues, jazz
or even country music and I believe that would be a first step towards ushering in
change. The talent is there, hopefully it will show up someday too.”