"I just wanted to say my thing,” says Ajay Srivastav, of the motivation behind his fiery, spiritual and sublime second album, “Powerless”. “I was tired of listening to other people talking – I want to speak, and this is what I have to say. And I hope people understand where I’m coming from.”
His message arrives in the form of ten powerful, soulful, stirring songs that are the product of a crossfire hurricane of influences, drawing equally from the Mississippi Delta that sired the blues and the Varanasi Ghats where prayers, birth-rites and coming-of-age ceremonies are performed beside the Ganges. It’s an album where Ajay’s resonator guitar and glass slide channel the karmic thunder of Muddy Waters and Son House and the lithe grace of the sitar – but one where his aching, wise vocal sounds like no-one but himself. An album that’s unapologetically political, reflecting a turbulent era, but one that closes with a Sanskrit mantra aimed at delivering a much-needed peace of mind.
The title track is the album’s emotional and philosophical anchor. “Powerlessness, for me, is not being able to hit back at whoever has knocked you down. So we knock someone weaker than ourselves down. We’re seeing that all over the place.” It’s an album beset with images of war, of struggle, of injustice. But it’s also an album possessed by an indefatigable sense of optimism, in how it distils the anguish into beautiful, uplifting, righteous blues fusion music, and tales of triumph against those forbidding odds. Music that’s unabashed in its spiritual essence (the beautiful interplay of violin, tabla and guitar on Holy Mother) and its feeling for joy (Golden, which sounds like Chuck Berry navigating his giddy way across the Indian subcontinent, whispering “We are golden because we’re alive”).