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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Armed with solar panels, rechargeable batteries, specially designed gizmo guitars and a unique drum kit, they are no cyborgs from the future, but the world's only solar-powered music band, 'Solar Punch'. They play songs of peaceful activism to spread environment awareness.

The New York-based band enthralled the audiences on their India tour by playing popular A.R. Rahman's numbers.

"We are interested in the cultural aspect of humanity and our impact as artists is only going to be around till the human race exists. If we don't help ourselves to maintain the environment right now, we might not be around," said James Dean Conklin, one of the founder of the band.

Conklin, a video producer and an animation designer, along with science educator Alan Bigelow formed Solar Punch in 2007 to start a musical environmental movement to spread the message that solutions to climate change are here now.

Solar technology is the only source of power to their instruments. "The sun is the simplest way for us to connect and demonstrate that there are some immediate solutions to the environment problem and the climate change crisis," Conklin said.

The band keeps back-up resources for bad weather as well.

"In some parts of the world, we don't get ample sunlight; so if we strategise, we absorb as much sunshine as is possible. We have an overall large battery that we try to keep charged and each of our amplifiers has rechargeable batteries in them," he said.

Once charged, the band can play for around six hours at a stretch.

Other regulars in the band include bass player Andrew Mattina and drummer Frank Marino. Apart from them Cairo-based bass guitarist, urban-planning scientist Thomas Henry Rassam Culhane and rhythm guitarist and singer-actor Paul Lincoln among others, fill in gaps as a part of their swap protocol during tours.

Solar Punch was in India and collaborated itself with the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) as part of the 2009 Climate Solutions Road Tour.

The tour kicked off on 2nd January in Chennai and ended in the capital on 5th February after traversing through cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai in three electric cars, a van powered by solar energy, another van running on waste vegetable oil and a truck running on biofuel.

The band created a flutter among listeners with its songs like 'Plastic' and 'Spinning around' to name a few, but they didn't stick on any particular genre of music.

The band insists that it plays peaceful activism songs and a lot of American folk that speaks about the environment and good social practices. "We have more than about 10 originals apart from songs by John Lennon, Miles Davis and Grateful Dead," said 43-year-old Conklin.

The band also believes in striking a chord with the people of the country they visit by crooning hits in the local language. In India they chose music maestro A.R. Rahman's compositions like Ghanan ghanan, Yuhin chala chal and Ru ba ru.

"It took a couple of months to understand the Hindi lyrics. They didn't come naturally to us as we speak English. It took a lot of memorisation and practice but the music part of it came together pretty easy as we are also musicians," explained Conklin.

The band was also upbeat about Rahman's conquest at the Golden Globes for the best original score for Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire and his three Oscar nominations for the same.

"We're honoured that we are even able to get through our version of Rahman's songs. I think it's absolutely delightful that we came over here and got through his songs in broken Hindi as well as we could and still managed to entertain people," Conklin said.

Solar Punch also had its message for India. "Do your thing but find a green way to do it. Just remember, we have the solution, we are the solution," he said.


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