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 Delhi-based ska outfit Ska Vengers couldn’t get a better wholesome front-woman than jazz aficionado Miss Samara C. Born and raised up in New Delhi, she grew up listening to and being influenced by jazz from her early age. Her sensual vocal rips the air with a subtle concoction of jazz, blues and rock steady rhythms, coupled with oodles of confidence and of course a treat to watch. Samara C discussed her love of ska music, her work with Emperor Minge, Ska Vengers and the special gig in Tihar jail with Hennessy Artistry India as she prepares to gig this weekend at Ice Bar in Bangalore.
For someone who has never listened to ska music before, how would you describe the music? If you had to give someone three songs from the genre which ones would they be and why?

Ska music originated in Jamaica in the ‘60s before the arrival of reggae and just like reggae, it came from the ghetto. It’s fast-paced, energetic music that can have a rebellious streak to it. I may be wrong but I think that the rude-boy character was first articulated in ska. What is unique about Caribbean music is that it can talk about the dark aspects of life, about oppression, but make you want to move your body and dance at the same time. If I had to pick three songs for the uninitiated I would have to put Toots and the Matyals’s ‘54-46 was My Number’ in there. It’s a rock steady anthem that always brings the house down. Few people know that the tune was actually dedicated to Nelson Mandela: 54-46 was his prisoner number. Another absolute classic is Desmond Dekker’s ‘007 Shanty Town’. As a third, I would Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ perhaps.

 What did Stefan Kaye say that convinced you to take up singing for his band Emperor Minge? What kind of discipline does it require to take up singing again?

All Stefan had to do was to ask. I hadn’t sung in seven or eight years. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into and neither did I have a plan. It was one of those few times in life when one just moves forward with curiosity and abandon. I embraced many new things at that time and singing was one of them. I was never really formally part of Emperor Minge but used to jump on their set from time to time. Things really clicked for me with The Ska Vengers.

Just like with any art form or discipline, one must practice and tune one’s instrument. This entails not only singing but listening to music as well. I am still an untrained singer but I’m looking into getting formal training.

 How much of work did you have to put into the performance element of your act on stage?

My performance on stage is a result of a very organic process. Regular performances and (initially) regular rehearsals have shaped us into what we are. Other than our attire very little is pre-determined.

 Who are your top three singers who are equally great performers?

In reggae, I would say Sizzla or Capleton have the ability to generate tremendous energy and they are also great songwriters. Erykah Badu also is great. She has a very unique stage presence. I don’t often get a chance to see people perform live, to be honest.

 What was the Ska Vengers gig in Tihar jail like? Stefan Kaye has said in the documentary of the gig that it was largest ever audience for the band. Did it play at the back of your mind that you were singing for prison inmates?

Of course, we were conscious of the fact that we were performing inside a prison. At the same time, on one level it was a gig like any other gig. We are there to entertain people and represent our music (This time to a largely Hindi-speaking crowd. We sing in English). It felt very refreshing though not to be in the regular club / stage setting that we’ve becomes accustomed to. I enjoy those kinds of gigs a lot. They put things in perspective.

 Are there any gigs in the season that you are looking forward to? Any acts that you are keen on checking out

At the moment, I’m looking most forward to the Ska Vengers album launch. We’ve been waiting to put this out for way too long now and I can’t wait to get it out.

 Tell us about your work in television…

A majority of my work in television has been with NDTV Good Times, where I’ve hosted and written for shows on yoga, alternative therapies, photography and filmmaking. My most recent project was a show called ‘Yoga Sutra’, which I hosted wrote and choreographed. I have also worked freelance for the Discovery Channel where I travelled extensively in Chattisgarh, India.