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Published on 26 January 2017

Photo: Jeff Low (

Home-grown band Flame of the Forest champions world fusion music. By Daphne Tan

When people think of the sitar and tabla, they usually associate it with classical Indian music. Home-grown world fusion music band, Flame of the Forest, which uses the sitar and tabla as their main instruments, has made a name for itself infusing multiple genres with traditional sounds, creating whole new musical sensibilities while keeping things recognisable.

Started in 1986 by three friends — Kenny Tan, Nantha Kumar and K Subramanian — Flame of the Forest may be more than 30 years old, but new blood and ideas keep their  work fresh.

Inheriting the band from their father are brothers Krsna and Govin Tan. Having been musically trained by dad from the age of five, both brothers became virtuosos in the sitar and tabla respectively, each becoming the first non-Indians to win the National Indian Music Competition in each category.

Innovation runs in the blood: the brothers have carried on the tradition of their father’s band, blending Eastern and Western sounds, while continuing to keep up with the times. “Music and composition ideas move with time: that is the key difference between our music and that associated with our father’s time,” says Krsna.

Both brothers experimented with their instruments — Krsna added guitar pedals to his sitar; Govin mixed other percussion instruments with his tabla. Over time, other musicians joined in and, together, created a bigger sound for their music. The eclectic collective include Caleb Koa on the keyboard, Christopher Johann Clarke on the mandolin, Jeffrey Tan on the violin, and Arthur Adika Wiyono on the Electric Bass.

Performing the new and reinterpreted comes with challenges. “As a band with an unusual take, we receive both praise and criticism,” shares Krsna. “Be it positive or negative, we take it seriously, as it helps us improve as a whole. At the same time, finding the right musicians to perform with us can be a challenge. Not everyone is keen to perform fusion and world music.”

Photo: Sharon Ye Ge (

Mixing musical genres doesn’t just add to the music scene, it injects new life into it. “Younger generations must allow themselves to experience other types of music rather than be boxed into current trends like pop and electronic dance music. Trends constantly change but good music can last decades.”

Good music is precisely what the band intends to keep putting out. Producing more original material, performing overseas and promoting world music in Singapore are all in the books.

What else is on the band’s wish list? “More collaborations and showcases with other types of music and art disciplines,” says Krsna. “We strongly believe it will help more people get out of malls and their homes and enjoy these performances.”

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