Behind Parvaaz’s month-long Toronto tour

The Bengaluru, India-based psych band have been packing in as many shows as they can fit and their itinerary just keeps growing

PARVAAZ at the Hideout (423 College), September 7 and 9, 9 pm. $10. And at Small World Music Centre (180 Shaw studio 101), September 10, 2:30 and 8 pm. $15-$20.

When a band from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru comes to play Small World Music Centre, the show brings certain expectations. Attendees might expect sustained sitar twangs and intricate tabla tricks. Maybe some party-happy Bollywood beats. 

So those who attended a Toronto concert by Parvaaz last week might’ve been left surprised. Instead of “world music,” they got soaring guitar chords and extended drum solos – influences drawn from Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Indian folk traditions all mashed up with sublime Kashmiri and Urdu poetry.

“After the show, two elderly Caucasian women came up to us,” says Khalid Ahamed, Parvaaz’s lead vocalist at Bombay Street Food on Bay (where they played an acoustic set yesterday). “One of them thought our music was very visual. She said she had friends in Toronto who are filmmakers, and she would bring them to our next show.” 

Toronto, in turn, has also surprised Parvaaz. 

“At that same show, I saw Haniya,” says Ahamed, referring to the Pakistani musician and composer Haniya Aslam, who is now based here. “I saw her on [popular Pakistani music series] Coke Studio. And here she was in Toronto at our show! That was amazing.”

There’s been plenty of opportunity for the city and Parvaaz to get familiar with each other. Currently in the midst of a month-long local residency that began August 18, they’ve been building up to a hectic final week of performances after playing Brampton, India Day at Nathan Phillips Square, Small World, two nights at Poetry Jazz Cafe in Kensington Market and an acoustic show at Bombay Street Food.

Still to come are two shows at the Hideout, two in Hamilton, a TIFF gala for Anurag Kashyap’s The Brawler on September 9 and two at Small World on September 10. (Their itinerary keeps growing.)

Depending on the success of this tour, they hope to return to Canada next year, and maybe extend into America’s east coast.

“We’ve been planning this tour since February, talking to music festivals, trying to develop relationships with venues,” says Gokul Chakravarthy, co-founder of Purple Patch, a boutique event management and media consultancy company based out of India and Canada. (Chakravarthy also moonlights as a filmmaker and has been documenting Parvaaz’s journey.) 

Chakravarthy first discovered Parvaaz in 2014. After a friend twigged him to the band, he attended their album launch in Bengaluru and was blown away by what he heard. As it turned out, his childhood friend and co-founder of Purple Patch, Chaithanya Kommamuri, had moved to Toronto in 2003. 

After Kommamuri watched Parvaaz perform at a New Year’s gig on a Kerala beach, Purple Patch decided to put together a Toronto tour for the band.

The extended trip is partly a way to grow their audience here, and partly a way to sell their uniquely progressive indie rock sound, which was primarily developed through jam sessions.

Take, for instance, their song Gul Gulshan. It started with lead guitarist Kashif Iqbal playing a riff that sounded a lot like rabab (a lute-like instrument from Afghanistan), says Ahamed. It reminded him of a poem by Kashmir poet Mahjoor. 

“That poem had been in my head. I heard it everywhere at home [in Srinagar]. On radio channels. At social functions,” says Ahamed. “That poem was meant for that riff.”

The band was formed after Ahamed and Iqbal, childhood friends in Kashmir, reconnected as students at an engineering university in Bengaluru. Initially playing college competitions, the band coalesced around 2010 after Sachin Banandur (drums) and Fidel D’souza (bass) joined. They released an EP, Behosh, in 2012, and – after a successful crowdfunding campaign – their first album, Baran, in 2014. 

After their month here, you might find some Toronto influences in the band’s future songs. Like the inspiration Ahamed took from his customary tourist trip to Niagara Falls. 

“He wanted to shoot an hour-long video of the light show to make it into their next music video,” says Chakravarthy.

“Those lights, they looked psychedelic,” says Ahamed. “Kind of like how we make music.” | @aparita

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