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The massive outpouring of grief over Amit Saigal's untimely death due to drowning on January 5, 2012 is only testament to the fact that this Indian rock guru accomplished more than even he ever thought was possible. We put rock stars on a pedestal and give charismatic frontmen tons of acclaim, but it's rare to see a behind-the-scenes music man who was held in such high regard and so universally loved and respected.
There is no man in the Indian rock music scene more deserving of this tribute than 46-year-old Amit Saigal, the mastermind behind the uber-hip and timeless 'Rock Street Journal' (RSJ) magazine and doyen of the Indian independent music scene.
The Who's Who
His Wikipedia profile describes him simply by his qualifications and calls him, "an Indian rock musician." "Saigal founded the music magazine 'Rock Street Journal' and promoted alternative music in India," it says.
With all due respect to Wikipedia, even this entirely true summation doesn't do justice to this incredible man whose infectious energy affected everyone involved in the music scene. A few impersonal paragraphs can never sum up Amit Saigal's impact and the far-reaching effects of his life's work.
The Early Days
Not only was RSJ India's first such music magazine, it was also the most revolutionary one. Saigal used every resource at his disposal to make sure it survived and even thrived.
In 1993, when even the very concept of rock music was alien to India, he took it upon himself to start a quality publication that was dedicated to furthering the cause of rock music in the nation. In the process, he ensured that the genre was given due coverage and respect.
The first 2500 issues of the first publication were printed at his family's printing press in Allahabad. Legend has it that he only managed to sell six copies of that first print run at college festivals while the rest were distributed free of cost to music enthusiasts. But this began a rock revolution that grew exponentially over the years.
Initially, all of the articles were written by Saigal himself, who was based out of Delhi. However, as production began picking up pace, more and more rock enthusiasts from across the country began to contribute. While several of these writers became permanent contributors, Saigal remained the driving force behind the operation.
Another interesting thing about this magazine was that despite its basic production values, all criticism was kept at bay thanks to the incredible writing and obvious effort that went into every word that was written. This coupled with the fact that it was the only media outlet giving talented rock musicians a voice made RSJ an essential component of the Indian rock scene.
Decoding RSJ, The Brand
Amit Saigal may have been a utopian, but he was under no delusions. While he put his passion above profit, he was also savvy enough to identify the potential of an underground magazine. It took some time, but by the early 2000s, the circulation of RSJ was high enough to spawn new business ideas and events. From the Great Indian Rock Festival (GIR), Jazz Utsav and Pub Rock (which quickly spread all over India) to the Indian Music Week, Saigal's ideas were taking shape all over the place!
Every one of these annual music events have become an integral part of the independent music scene in India. They also serve as a platform for local musicians to showcase their talents. Innumerable big names like Parikrama, Indus Creed, Orange Street and several other metal bands owe their success to this man's vision and faith in them.
A Peep into Papa Rock’s Persona
Amit Saigal was a universally loved man. From his closest friends to his acquaintances, he was clearly a man who created a lasting impression--and a very pleasant one at that.
With his trademark, shoulder-length, grey-peppered locks, his characteristic gait and infectious energy, he was the personification of the term 'chilled out.'. He never seemed burdened by negativity and failures. He just loved everything related to rock music and created a genre out of it in this country by starting with just a dream and a truckload of passion and drive.
Unsurprisingly, Papa Rock's passing has brought about a rather poetic outpouring of grief from members of the music community, both from those who knew him personally and those who were simply grateful for all his dedicated work. Here are some of the most fitting quotes that truly honor Amit Saigal:
A close friend and one half of the Vishal-Shekar duo, Vishal Dadlani tweeted just hours after Saigal's death was announced, “Amit Saigal, RIP. Wherever you’ve gone, I hope they have beer, good maal, and an acoustic guitar. Rock on, brother.”
Drummer and producer Aditya Ashok (aka DJ ox7gen) spoke from the point of view of today's generation when he said, "I must have discovered RSJ when I was all of 15 years old and it gave me a large part of the ammunition I needed to believe I could do this. There's a real place for musicians now, a future, a 'scene' and we owe it all to this one man. As for the international acts like Tesseract he managed to bring down, people are and will continually be eternally grateful to him for it."
Rahul Ram, Indian Ocean band member and close personal friend of Saigal, highlighted Saigal's approach to music by saying, “Amit would say coolly, ‘It’s okay. I listen to everything.' This is what young guys want. So this is where the music is at. He was open to all music. I’m not that way.”
Raghu Dixit, a respected musician wrote an honest and telling article about the man just days after he passed. In it, he said, “He might have got several things wrong but he made several musicians in India believe that it was possible. Every Indian rock musician at that time either developed his career through RSJ and GIR or probably was inspired to pick up the guitar for the first time.”
Ehsaan Noorani of the renowned trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy said, “He was a visionary with his magazine. It takes a lot to be a part of this movement (rock music) in a country that hardly has any promoters for it. I’m a blues rock guitarist and I knew I could always call Amit to seek his advice. I valued his friendship and I’m deeply saddened by his death.”
And finally, the RSJ eulogized its creator with the following moving tribute:
"It was the early nineties in Allahabad. A fair and lanky boy with long auburn hair, bursting with life and a zest for doing something different, had an idea in his head that the world had to sit up and take notice of the talent that India’s independent music scene had to offer. The only glitch was that there was no ‘scene’ at that point of time.
Over the next two decades he single-handedly built, defined and created that very ‘scene’ that today has a multitude of world-class artists, bands and independent musicians. We wish to confirm with great heartache that, that very man, the creator of Rock Street Journal, the one and only legend, often referred lovingly to as ‘Papa Rock’ by the entire Rock loving community of India, has passed on to the other side.
Our hearts and prayers are with his immediate and extended family in this time of need and we hope that his great legacy carries on forever."
Given his influence on the Indian rock scene, ‘The Father of Indian Rock’ passed on as a legend in his own right.
RSJ became and still is something of a rite of passage for budding rock musicians. Amit Saigal was one of those rare mavericks who simply burst onto the scene with tremendous passion and somehow managed to reach the forefront of his field.
He lives on in RSJ, every single rock gig held in the country, and the hearts of every Indian musician playing the music he helped legitimize! RIP Papa Rock.
-Pictures courtesy rsjonline.com and wespeaknews.com-
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