Glash: Odisha’s Tryst With Rock Music

Glash was not a melody party but a rock band – the group of passionate, gutsy youngsters would often plead. The dogmatic environment couldn’t see the difference between the two. Odisha and specifically Cuttack had melody parties (orchestra bands) promoted by Odia music professionals, giving public performances during Puja and other social celebrations. These melody parties played Odia and Hindi film and non-filmy numbers.

EDM, Techno, Trance and Indie music had not entered our lives in the 1980s and Odisha was getting into the pop and rock genre sheepishly. Only a few primarily from  privileged backgrounds with English-medium schooling flaunted their knowledge of global rock bands. The  Khati  typically had a minority boasting of their access to English vinyl records and cassettes while the rest gawked and many blindly followed for the fear of being left out. But almost all in the Khati never understood the lyrics and obviously never followed the diction. But urban Odisha, concentrated in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, had an undercurrent of English rock and pop music, confined to listening.

With the dizzy rise of classical rock with Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, AC/DC, Santana, The Police and many others, their posters flooded the market. Hairstyle and dresses changed but mostly for boys. Girls couldn’t do much. A section of the society could stick out and experiment, but prudishness was still the norm. That was also the time when videos made gradual entry and besides listening one could watch the icons for the first time (live or recorded). Video along with audio made deep impact on young minds. Music has always had the ability to create magic. Bhubaneswar was beginning to grow, expand and cosmopolitanise. Cuttack was getting into an archival mood. Video libraries sprung everywhere renting out ‘musicals and blue movies’. Odisha was changing, both urban and rural. Youth were finding channels to vent their energies. Post 1991 (economic reforms) the transformation took a more brazen turn and was in the face. But since mid-1980s one could sense the groundswell.

Glash happened in early 1980s and it was an idea whose time was just right. The urban youth wanted to live the evenings in frenzy, intoxication and gay abandon. TV & videos exposed them to the world where so much was happening. The energy of the performing rock bands made them hungry for action closer home. Four rash, unrestrained scrawny boys who played Hindi numbers in close group musical shows, decided to adopt western because they didn’t get the kick in Hindi music. Glash ushered in the frenzy, the madness that was never seen in Odisha. RoundTable 54 Puri; Spring Fest in REC, Rourkela; IIT Kharagpur; MKCG, Berhampur; SCB Medical College, Cuttack; XIMB, Bhubaneswar; Indo German Club, Rourkela; and, Joda Club were the select places where they performed quite regularly. They were not meant to be any competition to the traditional melody parties, which entertained the common mass. Dido, Lalu, Babuli, Baboo Panigrahi kickstarted the band and practised at Baboo’s house. The quartet rocked the western music buffs across Odisha and certainly at the professional institutions like engineering and medical colleges. They performed pure rock music and the songs of RCE, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Genesis, Queen. Engineering and medical qualification of the children was Odia parents’ ultimate trophy, then. Within the limited world of Odisha urban middle class in the 1980s and early 1990s, Glash for the children was liberation. Young professionals in Rourkela Steel Plant or Joda found their icons in Glash. In 1986, Shiva, the well-known Kolkata-based rock band, and Glash performed at Rourkela Engineering College, Rourkela. Glash got a standing ovation, a thunderous applause, and the heady moniker of a Rock Band. Shiva was referred to as a Pop Band. Even today the Glash veterans mention this with the pride of a start-up which became an instant hit. Glash was a unique start-up for Odisha which immediately caught on. Drummers like Cassius Joseph and Hobert Norris, who came from other states joined the band. Though the video age had started, the irony is that Glash could never catch up to the fast-changing music industry or rather format.

The 1980s showed the early signs and then came the heady 1990s. Liberalisation took off, the tech boom was seeding, and youths were waking up to more choices than before, in everything. This was the time when Indie rock bands were coming into their own, supported by platforms like MTV, Great Indian Rock festival and Rock Street Journal. Sonam Sherpa founded Parikrama along with Subir Malik in Delhi in 1991. Indian rock music scene was ready to explode. By then the quartet had been solidly entrenched, people were getting to know about them, they scored the background score for the Odia film “Jor Jar Mulaka Tara” and the initial impulsiveness was settling down and calming. The band was flirting with fusion and folk rock, combining classical ragas with rock and making their own music. While the band was going through the musical journey and transformation, the band members were also growing up and waking up to the realities of the need for commercial sustainability and business development of the band. Local, immediate accolades often distract greater vision.

Sanjukta Panigrahi, the celebrated Odissi dancer, supported the band and literally mothered it. She passed away in 1997 and the Glash concert at IIT Kharagpur in 1995 was the swansong of the first and celebrated rock band of Odisha. Raw zealots had performed with all honesty and enthusiasm but didn’t quite know how to take the band to higher orbits. Business can keep art alive. Indian Ocean was born in 1990, Euphoria in 1988, Indus Creed in 1993, Pentagram 1996 and the list is long. They were contemporaries but they toiled to  join the TV bandwagon and then travel with the trends. Glash turned relic. The current flavour is Indie pop and most of them rehashed old Hindi film numbers, to suit the club or vehicle ambience.

In about 12 years a promising, rookie turned slick rock band, from the silent state of Odisha became silent. Babuli Bhai, who was the conscience keeper and the manager of the band, says, “It is important to always make the effort to sustain the friendship and chemistry of a rock band. Think of it as a relationship. The last thing we wanted was a breakup, well, unless you don’t want a relationship at all. But that’s another story.” When I watched a Hindi flick Rock On, I was reminded of Glash and its demise.

The quartet gambled with their lives, gave their passion preference over friends and families, and obviously wanted the best music to come from them. I wish they thought early on making their own music, giving more time to brand and band promotion and engage with changing trends in the entertainment industry (read TV) then.

When they celebrated 30 years of Glash on January 9, 2016, I was emotional and nostalgic about the disbanding. I hope to see another quartet preparing on the backstage Glash Again. This is also an idea whose time is here and now. Glash means ‘very cool’ and hence should never dout.

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