Sandunes, who is better known to her friends and family in Mumbai as Sanaya Ardeshir, is putting the finishing touches to her newest and most ambitious EP to date, ‘NOLA Dreams’. This release, which will be out independently later this year, will see the multi-talented electronic producer come full circle and return to her first musical love - jazz - via a fruitful stay in the city of its birthplace, New Orleans. But she hasn’t abandoned her questing take on contemporary electronic music, which has been influenced over the last six years by R&B, deep house, G funk, UK garage and ambient; rather she is combining all of these things both electronic and organic into a thrilling, 21st Century gumbo.
Sanaya had what she describes as a “hills and forests” childhood in the underdeveloped, eastern industrial town of Jamshedpur, but one that was full of music, thanks to a blues playing father and Americana singing mother. Her own musical journey began at the age of nine, when she first started trying to mimic Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck; pressing pause on the CD player and rushing to the family piano and trying to recreate what she had just heard.
While at college, her love for the blues, jazz and funk slowly started to morph into something quite different. After a period obsessing over “synthesizer heavy” post rock by groups such as Mogwai she came to trip hop of Portishead which made a deep impression on her. She admits she had a “negative lens” for electronic music before she made it herself because she was lugging “a massively oversized keyboard” in a case “that looked like a coffin” to regular gigs just to lose money. She would see other students putting on electronic nights with a lot more ease and she had to admit to herself: “It looked like a lot more fun.”
But ultimately her curiosity about how electronic music was made got the better of her and Sandunes was born in 2011 while she was studying production in London. This coincided with an exposure to UK Garage which she loved because of its “jazz chords, two step groove... the way that it was lo-fi but so tasteful… It was so appealing, seductive almost.”
Despite the fact that this doesn’t resemble your stereotyped view, this is still very much Indian music but this is my version and voice of what India is.Sandunes
Likewise, on her last tour of North America, local sounds bled into her practice, and her last album, Downstream, bears some of the sonic hallmarks of L.A. and Canada: G-funk, contemporary R&B and transmissions from the Vancouver beats scene.
She admits the local region where she happens to be when she’s recording exerts a big influence on the music she makes, something apparent in her upcoming New Orleans inspired EP. In August 2015 she hooked up with an “extremely friendly and gracious” set of musicians, covering Rhodes, drums, upright bass, horns and guitar. She describes the resulting sessions where she directed them as “a gift” adding: “It will sound very different to my last album Downstream. Almost like it doesn’t come from the same universe.”
But wherever she is in the world, she is clear that she is making Indian music - it’s just that it’s a completely idiosyncratic and self-generated iteration of what that means: “I’ve tried to mainly just use the material that was generated in New Orleans and if I have to juxtapose it with anything, I used found sounds from Bombay [Mumbai]. So it’s like viewing New Orleans but from a very local Bombay-based lens.”
Of course, not everyone will immediately understand what she means when she says she is making Indian music, as her productions don’t hit certain traditions or stereotypes: “I used to play in a Bollywood band as a session musician to earn money and that was a very useful, clarifying experience for me. It made me realise what I don’t want to tend towards sonically, aesthetically and musically… I’ve been on the receiving end, so many times of people having an assumption that because I’m an Indian producer that my music should have these elements [tablas, sitars etc.] in it. And it’s almost like a pushback for me to say: ‘Despite the fact that this doesn’t resemble your stereotyped view, this is still very much Indian music but this is my version and voice of what India is.’”