It's Only Music Now
Montreal Blues Harmonica player Bharath Rajakumar leads one of the better known blues bands in the Montreal area, and he has a story to tell with his music
It starts out with the wild scream of the harmonica, and the drummer answers the call of the harp player with a steady beat of just bass and symbols with a little splash of the snare. The rest of the band follows suit as the bass player takes his instrument for a walk, while the guitarist lays out a clean solo followed by the screech of the harmonica; and everyone's ears take notice. The focus is now on the harp player, and his name is Bharath Rajakumar.
This is blues music, and it is what eats at the core of Bharath's soul. "It moves me," exclaims Bharath. "It's the only music that calls to me. There are no printable words I can choose to describe it." This is something he talks so passionately about, the feeling that this type of music gives him.
It wasn't always like this for him; blues music wasn't always his vice. He talks openly about his early years as a heroin addict since it is something he must face every day of his life.
"I luckily grew up in the poorest part of Montreal, in N.D.G. (Notre Dam de Grace)" he says, but then quickly states, "Well, not all poor, Walkley street is all poor." He began getting involved with drugs when he was thirteen; he refers to heroin as his drug of choice up until fifteen years ago. "Curiosity is what leads you in," he says. "It's just bad luck and hanging out with the wrong crowd. You’ve gotta check the bumps in each road."
He was searching for that feeling, that same feeling he had when he first started doing heroin. "That first buzz you have is the best," he says knowingly. "You spend all of your money trying to get that same high." He continued down his harrowing path, explaining that he was hanging out with all the bad types. He was spending his time on the streets with the pimps, hookers, and ex-cons. "You have this mentality of, 'you watch out for me, and I'll watch out for you,'" he explains. "Then you're in the bathroom with your feet up on the door, keeping out the guy who's looking out for you."
He was angry, but he didn’t have any true ways of expressing his anger. "When you're there, you're dealing with some of the worst possible characters," he says. "You've got to get tough. You can't tell a smack dealer your problems because he doesn’t want to hear it." He was working three jobs in order to pay off his addiction, such as factory jobs and pamphlet jobs. At one point, he was even an informant for B.U.M. equipment. "That guy who had it, he's in jail," he says with a laugh. "Yeah, he was shipping in heroin from China."
"You have this mentality of, 'you watch out for me and I'll watch out for you,'" he explains. "Then you’re in the bathroom with your feet up on the door, keeping out the guy who’s looking out for you."
After all that time, paying off the nasty habit that was his addiction, he decided it was time to quit, and that's all there was too it. "My birthday was two weeks after I quit, and I bought a harmonica." He quickly explains that it's not what it sounds like, that it was the music that made him quit. That he was saved by the harmonica. "It wasn't that I was in trouble and that the music was about it," he says. "I heard blues and I had a harmonica, so I started playing it." This was his means of expression, and it was where his life took off.
Bharath can describe the moment he was first introduced to blues music like it was yesterday. "Someone brought a Little Walter record over; it was called 'Hate to See You Go,'" he says. "The song 'Rollercoaster' came on, and I couldn't hear anything else but the music. I was like 'Damn.' Then I said to myself, 'You do this now, not heroin.'" He was still going through withdrawal symptoms, but this felt great. "The transition was short," he says happily. "But the result was life-long."
Just two months after he first started playing the harmonica, and starting up a blues band, they became a regular at the Mad Hatter in Montreal. During this time, he was still working his three jobs. "I had so much money coming in that I couldn't cash my checks," he explains. "I was off playing." He clarifies that he never made a lot of money, he's never been in debt for more than $5 thousand, but he isn't upset about that. "The more money you have the more in debt you are."
Bharath learns from his own experiences, and he's always kept it that way. "I've only read like seven books in my life," he exclaims. "I want to create my own philosophy." He does have his own philosophy on life, and he's not afraid to express it at all. He feels that at the age he's at now, which is thirty-four, he feels that he is set in his ways. "When you're twenty-nine, you're set in your ways," he explains. "Everything that depressed you in your 20s, you become comfortable with. You miss caring, so much."
He feels that as you get older, you become harder to work with. This doesn't seem to affect how his band works though. "Funny thing about a band, it's like a bad marriage," he describes as the history of his Rhythm Four. "It took me fifteen years of firing and hiring. I'm leading the band." That's how a blues group works, he explains. There's a leader of the band that has earned a name in the business. "It's my project, they back me up," he explains of the group. "If you don’t have a leader, it doesn't work." He's the leader in the sense that he leads the direction of the band. When it comes to who gets the money, he's on the same level as everyone else. "I take the same pay as the rest of them."
"When your twenty-nine, you're set in your ways," he explains. "Everything that depressed you in your 20s, you become comfortable with. You miss caring, so much."
"I was looking for a good blues band," Ben Caissie, the drummer in Bharath and his Rhythm Four for the past nine years, explains. "I was in a band I didn't like, and I was always looking." He's happy now, especially with this band in particular. "This band to me is the best blues band there is in Montreal," he proudly states. "It wouldn't be fair for me to say something else." It's easy for him to play with someone like Bharath because when they play, they're on the same wave length. "It's simple; we're both thinking the same thing, we have the same idea."
"When two people are talking, and they finish each other sentences," Bharath explains, building off of Caissie's statement. "You don't have to say it and he does, but it's exactly what you were going to say. That's what he's talking about, except we're using rhymes, beats, and melodies." He says that it wasn't always like that, but they’ve been playing together for nine years. Bharath says they're tighter than ever.
On this particular night, Bharath and Caissie are playing with their bandmate Colin Perry in his band Colin Perry and the Bluesicians. The floor is filled with a crowd of swing dancers, some of them tripping over each other while others dance smoothly. There is a man dressed in a black suit, wearing suspenders and sporting blue hair. Soon after announcing the band for the evening, he walks in my direction. He soon explains how much he loves Perry, but tonight is the first night he's heard this group of musicians. His voice is the only thing audible over the music when he loudly exclaims, "They are amazing." After the band finishes a song, Fisher stands in the middle of the dance floor and demands from the crowd, "Don’t be shy, give this band some love!"
Bharath sees blues music as a conversation. "If you say something and don't mean it, then the crowd will notice." He sees music as the great communicator, something that different nations can talk through. "A person who's Russian can understand the music like an American," he explains. "When we're talking, we are limited to one alphabet, but with music it's less limited."
Bharath and the many musicians he plays with:
Bharath has many other bands that he has worked with other than his Rhythm Four. He also joins along side his guitar player in his band, Colin Perry and the Bluesicians where he plays alongside his faithful drummer Ben Caissie.
He also played under the name the Catfish Blues Trio for awhile, but after realizing how many blues bands out there with the name "Catfish" in them, he decided to change their name to Bharath and his Rhythm Four.
Blues guitar player Junior Watson joined them on the recording of their latest CD, "Tsunami" which is out on the bands own Recording Company, Regal Radio.
|Copyright © 2001-2008 All Points North. All Rights Reserved. Opening slideshow music written and performed by Ivan Wohner.|