Thermal and a Quarter (TAAQ for short) have been on the Bengaluru music scene for so long, even the origin story for their band name has an urban legend quality to it: Long long ago in a land called Christ College, there were three Malayalis and a quarter-Malayali; they formed a band and it was called Thermal and a Quarter.
20 years and a fair number of line-up changes later, frontman Bruce Lee Mani and drummer Rajeev Rajagopal are still there, playing together, and getting ready to write their 8th album with current bassist Leslie Charles and guitarist Tony Das. But in all these years, says Rajeev, theyâ€™ve had little time to feel old: â€śWeâ€™ve been living pretty much from gig to gig, setlist to setlist. In between some things have happened, but this feels like we havenâ€™t even begun, like thereâ€™s so much to do.â€ť
Pioneers of a blend of rock, blues, funk, jazz, punk, and other genres with an unmistakable local twang that they call â€śBangalore Rockâ€ť, TAAQâ€™s songs have always been uniquely insightful about the middle-class Bengalurean condition â€“ speaking in four tongues but thinking in English and living in a world where Asha Bhosle and the Beatles jostle for equal space, as the lyrics go in â€śLook at Meâ€ť in their second album, â€śJupiter CafĂ©â€ť.
Rajeev might dismiss two decades as just a beginning, but admits that the live music scene in Bengaluru has changed massively. â€śWhen we were starting off we knew just about every musician in Bangalore. If a band was formed, we would know,â€ť says Rajeev. Today, even as naysayers predict the doom of live music thanks to the rise of electronic dance music (EDM), the duo say theyâ€™ve never seen more people playing, forming bands and doing live gigs.
Some of the credit for creating this growing culture in Bengaluru must go TAAQâ€™s way, thanks to TAAQademy. Thatâ€™s the music academy the band inaugurated in 2010, currently boasting over 200 students taught by 35 musicians. Says Bruce, â€śWe have musicians from all over the country, who come here because you can finally make a living as a music educator.â€ť
Besides, Bengaluru now boasts of enough venues that the average band can find four to six gigs each week, he says. This makes the city one of the best places in which to be a musician outside the film and jingle industries.
â€śThere are so many active musical lives here. Most of our students are putting together school bands, college bands, corporate bands. Our teachers have their own bands, thanks to a day job that is a musical job and a workplace that actively encourages them to pursue their own projects,â€ť says Rajeev. â€śThatâ€™s what is creating a space here unlike in any other Indian city today.â€ť
And now, with their â€śNo Wall Too Highâ€ť campaign, TAAQ wants to take the benefits of music education to 1,500 underprivileged school children in three Bengaluru schools. â€śTaaqademy is a premium school, and the clientele we get is also upper-middle class. But for us, music education has always been something that should be available to everybody in school,â€ť says Bruce.
TAAQâ€™s programme will systematically expose students to aspects of music theory, music appreciation and composition, as well as instrumental training. These will be conducted in a combination of classroom and after-school sessions.
â€śThe aim is not to create star musicians,â€ť explains Rajeev. â€śIf that happens as a byproduct, thatâ€™s fantastic. But the main aim is to give students all the benefits that come from learning music â€“ creativity, team work, confidence-building.â€ť
Adds Bruce, â€śThere are circuits in your brain that are wired differently when you learn music, and that makes you a better person. These kids need to develop different aspects of their personality to get through their day and the challenges they face. Sometimes learning things like music or sports gives them better techniques than just studying history, geography or science.â€ť
While theyâ€™ve felt the urge to push their efforts in this direction for a while, the question of how to make such programmes sustainable kept coming in the way. â€śTo support yourself while only playing music is so hard, that for you to think that youâ€™ll do free work on top of it is impractical, and not sustainable beyond a short time," says Bruce.
Then came the suggestion for crowd-funding the entire programme, which will cost around Rs 10,00,000 â€“ paying for instructor salaries, transportation costs and equipment purchases. Although others had suggested crowd-funding for producing new albums or music videos, TAAQ couldnâ€™t make their peace with the idea of taking other peopleâ€™s money for their own profit. â€śBut when we came up with this campaign, we felt there couldnâ€™t be a better reason to ask people to contribute,â€ť says Bruce.
Bruce explains that while the overall cost of the programme might seem high, it works out to just Rs 56 per student per month. He adds that one of the ways the programme aims to be self-sustainable is by identifying students who can be taught the skills to become instructors or teachers in their turn. â€śItâ€™s how we set up and made TAAQademy sustainable too. As long as you can keep passing on the skills and the knowledge, you can help build something bigger,â€ť he says.
And for people looking to give willingly to the â€śNo Wall Too Highâ€ť campaign, the band also has some exciting rewards on offer. Besides free passes to their 20th Anniversary concerts being played every Sunday at the Indigo Live Music Bar till December 4, donors also have the opportunity to have the band play at their house party or even co-write a song with the band, which will appear on a special album recorded and produced by TAAQ.
TAAQâ€™s â€śNo Wall Too Highâ€ť campaign can be accessed here.