Guwahati: As a child growing up in 1990’s Assam during a time of upheaval, 36-year-old Amborish Saikia could never have imagined that he would one day make it to Bollywood as a guitarist.
“Never in my wildest dreams, as Bollywood was never on my to-do list,” Saikia tells EastMojo over the phone from Mumbai. “I began my musical journey as a 9-year-old with tabla, before transitioning into more of a guitar player over the years.”
His shaping as a musician, Saikia believes, was largely due to his music-oriented family. His tryst with the guitar, he admits, began only after he was egged on by his mother, also a musician.
“The first ever guitar in my life, an ancient Signature model, was gifted to me by my Aunt Urmimala Barthakur. Although she was a professor by profession, her main interest lay in music and she would sing and perform at family functions,” says Saikia, adding that her husband, Manimugdha Barthakur, who was also a professor, was also bitten by the music bug and introduced him to the expansive world of western music and its myriad genres.
A bit of mastery on the guitar, and he formed his first band in 2000. With the formation of ‘Sweet Venom’, Saikia unofficially became a part of Guwahati’s vibrant rock music scene that flourished in the late ’90s and 2000s.
Of ‘Sweet Venom’, he says: “We were very young and naive and would play covers of Heavy Metal bands like Metallica during school programmes. We were all good friends, neighbours, and classmates and it was all done in good fun.”
Saikia’s next big musical venture would change his world forever. He joined hands with singer-songwriter Rittique Phukan in 2002, forming a band that fused elements of blues with a more mainstream rock sound, finding an instant appeal among the masses. ‘Voodoo Child’ continues to remain a musical force and has released 3 full-length albums: We Own the Night, 20 Years on the Road, and Underneath the Stars, and 7 singles so far.
Getting spotted by Debajyoti Bhaduri, the bass guitarist for Indie-rock band ‘Euphoria’, at a New Delhi show would prove to be a game changer. Saikia would go on to join the band and perform with them in several international venues, including Egypt, Hong Kong, and the United States.
“In 2010, our band Voodoo Child had become pretty big and we went touring pub venues in Delhi. It was during one such show that I was noticed by Debajyoti Da who came up to me and offered me a job as their guitar player,” he says, recalling the turning point with a hint of nostalgia.
Despite all the early success, however, the guitarist’s move to the ‘city of dreams’ Mumbai was delayed by a series of setbacks. Just as he was planning to make the big move, his world was rocked by the death of his father, the late Dipak Kumar, on July 31, 2018.
“Many of my musician friends were already well settled in Mumbai. After initially hesitating, I finally decided to move to Mumbai. My ticket to Mumbai was already booked when I heard of my father’s passing just before I was about to perform a gig in Delhi and decided to stay back. I, along with my wife Kamreen Hazarika who is a lawyer by profession, eventually moved in 2019,” he says.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, Saikia witnessed troubles for a while, but he has been able to shrug it off, like every other misfortune in his life.
Fast forward to 2022, ‘Ram Setu’, where Saikia has played the guitars and plucks, has become his first big break in Bollywood.
“Daniel B. George, who composed the background score for the movie, knows me and we have worked together earlier also. After ‘Ram Setu’, I have two more Bollywood projects in the pipeline,” he says.
Getting used to the ‘Mumbaiya’ vibes now, he continues touring as a guitarist with Indian musical giants such as Richa Sharma, Euphoria, Asees Kaur, Divya Kumar, and Payal Dev. He has also shared the stage with stalwarts such as Angarag Papon Mahanta, Anusha Mani, Ankit Tiwari, and Bombay Vikings.
Apart from Bollywood, he has played the guitar and Assamese do-tara on the track ‘Jajabori’ from the Assamese movie ‘Aamis’ and ‘Baat Salu’ from the movie ‘Emuthi Puthi’, both by composer Rishi Bora.
Saikia lists opening for thrash metal behemoth ‘Megadeth’ and performing live with the late Krishnakumar Kunnath (better known as KK) as some of the highlights of his career.
“I was a part of the band ‘Casino Blu’ which beat out more than 200 bands to win the prestigious Rock-i-lution contest, which gave us a chance to open for Megadeth and Machinehead in Bangalore in their maiden tour to India,” Saikia says.
“It was a phenomenal experience as several other top-billed Indian bands, including Vishal Dadlani-fronted ‘Pentagram’ were in the line-up. After we finished our set, Dadlani came up to me and said ‘good job.’ Of course, I had no idea that Dadlani would reach the very top in the Bollywood music industry.”
The musician also recalls sharing the stage with KK with great fondness and says “no one can be better than him.”
“Not a lot of people know this, but KK was an avid fan of the blues and had very high musical standards. Despite singing primarily for Bollywood, he had a hint of western-ness in his tonality that set him apart from similar artists. As far as his personality was concerned, he was the very best. He was a thorough professional and never had anything bad to say about anyone. To be honest, I miss him dearly,” Saikia says of KK.
So what comes next for this talented musician from Assam?
“Apart from film projects and concerts, I am also teaching budding guitarists via online classes. I am also involved with my bands ‘Late Too Soon’ and ‘Mo & the Shooting Stars’. Currently, I am also doing studio arrangements and live arrangements for other artists and I firmly believe that a lot more is yet to come,” Saikia says.
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