The 2013 Spitalfields Summer Festival: Ranjana Ghatak of Open Souls

Calling all music lovers! This weekend marks the beginning of the 2013 Spitalfields Summer Festival – a three week celebration of world class artists in some of East London’s most unusual venues.

The festival which takes place from Friday 7 June – 22 June will see some of the East End’s most varied and quirky venues come to life.

Oh So London chatted to Ranjana Ghatak, lead singer of classical Indian inspired three-piece band, Open Souls. She told us about their latest track Ram Bhajan, why she loves vegetarian restaurant Jai Krishnaand what makes the Spitalfields Summer Festival stand out from the rest…

Ranjana Ghatak, Open Souls, London

Lead vocalist Ranjana Ghatak

Tell me a bit about Open Souls – how did you form? Open Souls came together in 2011, almost be accident! Seb (Sebastian Rochford) and Jason (beatboxer Jason Singh) had met a few times, and really liked each other’s sound. They’d arranged a jam in April 2011 and we’d all arranged to see a concert that night at the Southbank Centre. I went to Seb’s house (where they were playing) to meet before the gig. On arriving, Jason handed me the mic and I joined it. Seb was luckily recording the jam, so on listening back we all liked what we heard. We decided there and then to form as a band!

So what are the band members’ backgrounds? I was born and raised in north London, and my parents are originally from Kolkata, India. They moved to London 46 years ago. I was very lucky as I grew up listening to many different styles of music. I also began singing from the age of four.

Jason was initially a dj, and grew up in London and Manchester. He’s worked with some incredible musicians (including Rokia Traore and Nitin Sawhney) in additon to creating a name for himself as a sound artist and beatboxer.
He’s amazing to perform with. We’ve also done a lot of education work together, running Indian vocal and beatboxing workshops with young musicians. It’s always really inspiring and fun.
Seb  grew up in Aberdeen and has been living in London for over 10 years. He’s an incredibly creative and sensitive drummer and I feel privilidged to be playing with both him and Jason. Seb’s worked with a huge array of musicians (Including Adele, Yoko Ono, Brian Eno and Babyshambles) in addition to leading his own band Polar Bear. He’s always been interested in a wide range of musical genres and we met through our shared interest in Indian Classical music.
Did Open Souls have a clear idea of the type of music you wanted to create from the start or did your sound grow organically?
I’ve always been searching for a particular sound and Seb and Jason had a rough idea of what we wanted to create. It felt like it came about very naturally as soon as we started playing!
Open Souls - Jason Singh, Sebastian Rochford and Ranjana Ghatak, Spitalfields Summer Festival

Open Souls – Jason Singh, Sebastian Rochford and Ranjana Ghatak

….So how do Open Souls describe their sound?

We’ve described it as creating a canvas that allows the skilful improvisation of classical Indian structures and driving rhythms, married intricately with atmospheric and ethereal sounds!
Wow! That’s a great description! So do you try to keep an Indian element in all of your tracks?
It’s not something we deliberatly have tried, but having grown up and trained in Indian vocal music it’s something that naturally happens!
Which London venues do you usually play at? Do you go for the intimate gigs or the bigger crowds?
We’ve played in a range of venues, from the Exhibition Road Festival for the cultural olympiad, the London Jazz Festival (at the Purcell Room), and then of course the Bishops Institute at the Spitalfields Summer Festival. So it’s been a mixture of both big and small.
How has the London music scene evolved and do you feel London is particularly good for finding festivals and pop-up gigs to perform at?
Yes. The London music scene is amazing! It’s so open and we feel very lucky to be living here and having so many opportunities. It feels like the audience are very good listeners in London and they are open to new sounds, which is always a bonus!
Is this the first time you’ve played at the Spitalfields Summer festival and the Bishopsgate Institute?
It’s the first time I’m playing this festival. Seb has played before with Polar Bear.
What is different about the Spitalfields Summer festival and why should people go?
This festival is very diverse and has a wide range of events, form classical to electronica in addition to a lot of family and participatory events. The event is free for people living in the borough too. It brings a wide range of artists from very different backgrounds to a lot of different venues. What I also love about this festival is that they really make use of the buildings in the Spitalfields area. They’re always searching and discovering hidden gems to set up small and intimate gigs, to large ticketed events.
Where do you rehearse as a band and where do you get your inspiration?
We often rehearse at Seb’s home as we can play loudly without complaints! He lives in a live work space that used to be a Jamaican take away.
When you’re not rehearsing, writing and touring, what do you like doing in London?
I love London – I’m not sick of it yet and just love eating out in London’s great restaurants!
I discovered an amazing Bistro called Juniper on Blackstock Road near Finsbury Park recently. It’s really good food – locally sourced and unbelievably tasty. It has friendly staff too – definately worth going to!
I also love going to Jai Krishna – a vegetarian restaurant on Stroud Green Road. It’s really good value for money, It’s Bring Your Own alcohol and it’s always buzzing with people. I always bump into other musicians there!
I love Zigni House – an Eritrean restaurant on Essex road in Islington too.
Seb likes going to these places too and has also made a great discovery of a restaurant in Seven Sisters. It’s at the back of the indoor market, serves great Columbian food. The only thing is he doesn’t know the name!
Thanks for the recommendations! Oh So London loves finding a hidden gem!
So do Sebastian and his band Polar Bear have any recommendations for watching live music acts?
Some of Seb’s personal favourites are the Roundhouse in Camden, Cafe oto in Dalston, Scala in Kings Cross and Vortex jazz club in Dalston which are all venues he loves and they’ve personally played in.
So he’s a North Londoner at heart! What can people expect from Open Souls’ gig on Friday night?
We have just recorded a free single that we released two weeks ago. That is some of what Friday is about – improvised, very rhythimical, electronic, drones, an Indian voice and some fun!
Sounds great! Finally, what advice would you give to new musicians in London trying to get onto the music scene?
Play as many places as possible. Connect with other musicians, and know that you’re in an amazing city that does welcome you!
Until next time x

Listen to Open Souls’ latest track Ram Bhajan here: Ram Bhajan by Open Souls

Spitalfields festival for Oh So London The 2013 Spitalfields Summer Festival runs from 7-22 June

Led by Associate Artists,   Early Opera Company and Scanner, the Spitalfields Summer Festival aims to ‘change lives and  inspiration’ through music.

For tickets:

Bishops Gate Institute:

Nearest tube stations: Liverpool Street, Aldgate East,  Whitechapel and Old Street. 

Check out the Open Souls Facebook page