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Wonderwall CEO Sumesh Lal’s huge festivals turbocharge indie music scene in South India

Motherjane at Indiegaga. Photo by Wonderwall
Motherjane was at Wonderwall Media's first Indiegaga festival in Kochi. Photo by Wonderwall Media.

Fans of the band Oasis know all about an imaginary friend in their song “Wonderwall”. The chart-topping single refers to a person who’s “gonna be the one that saves me”.

It was popular around the world, including in South India. And it inspired a Kerala-based creative director to name his company after the tune.

“We are a production house handling events and festivals, mostly,” Wonderwall Media CEO Sumesh Lal tells Pancouver over Zoom from the Indian city of Kochi. “We also do talent management.”

This entails promoting the artists, organizing tours, and providing content for TV stations, especially music-related shows.

So why did this music industry veteran brand his company as “Wonderwall”?

“I’ve always been a fan of the song since my early days,” Lal replies. “Wonderwall basically means your ‘favourite person’. It feels good in a city when you have my Wonderwall.”

Lal’s company is having a big impact on the South Indian music scene—and making music fans feel good—with its open-air Indiegaga music and art festivals.

Wonderwall launched this celebration of indie music in Kochi in 2019 with six bands and six artists. Among the acts were the rockers Motherjane, thrash-metal band The Down Troddence, and the pop-rock oriented The Local Train.

It’s since been staged in Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

“There’s another one coming up in Kozhikode,” Lal says. “We did Bangalore [a.k.a. Bengaluru] last weekend. We have Dubai lined up in the second week of December, and Sydney and Melbourne in April.”

Indiegaga Photo by Wonderwall Media
The first Indiegaga festival attracted an enormous crowd. Photo by Wonderwall Media.

Lal will speak at Jade Music Festival

Next year, Wonderwall’s Indiegaga will add the giant South Indian cities of Chennai and Hyderabad to its schedule.

“All the festivals so far have been a one-day affair,” Lal explains. “We play eight to nine bands… We would like to take it to other cities and do a couple of days as well. It depends how it goes.”

To date, the festival has mostly booked indie bands from South India, but he’s also included some groups from other parts of the country and one act from the U.K., Dronningen.

On Thursday (December 1), Lal will be in Vancouver to speak at two Jade Music Festival events. The first will focus on international music at 10:15 a.m. and include music-industry executives from several countries. The second at 2:50 p.m., is called Amplify Canada in Asia. Both take place at the Annex.

“As a company promoting talent, getting invited to the Jade Music Festival in Canada has been a huge honour for me,” Lal says. “I would like to explore ways to take the Indian talent to Canada. That’s something which I’m looking forward to.”

TD is presenting the Jade Music Festival. It runs from November 28 to December 3 and aims to establish Vancouver as an international centre for Chinese-language music production. The festival—organized by The Society of We Are Canadians Too—is also stimulating partnerships between Canadian and Asian music-industry executives.

Wonderwall Media CEO Sumesh Lal
Wonderwall Media CEO Sumesh Lal has staged large indie-music festivals in several Indian cities.

Indie music on the rise in South India

According to Lal, Wonderwall launched its first festival, called Mojo Rising, in 2016. This was done in tandem with Kappa TV in Kerala.

“There was a platform on the channel called Music Mojo, where different artists would showcase their music,” Lal says. “It was something like a studio session. The musicians would perform there on the show.”

Some of them became very popular, which is why Kappa TV decided to launch its festival arm. Lal was involved in two more Mojo Rising events before starting Indiegaga in 2019.

He concedes that the music industry endured difficult times in 2020 and 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Indiegaga has enjoyed tremendous success again this year.

“We consider this as an international festival where we want to actually bring in musicians of all genres from different parts of the world,” Lal says.

Traditionally, the Indian music industry has been dominated by the film industry, both in Bollywood and in South India. But Lal says that this situation has evolved in recent years with the rapid rise of indie music.

“We have close to 50 bands—independent bands—in a small state like Kerala,” he reveals. “Now, the filmmakers are taking independent music into their films, which helps them grow.”

As a result, the indie musicians’ work is being exposed to mainstream audiences.

Wonderall’s biggest act is Thaikkudam Bridge, a rock group that integrates pop, electronic, folk, and classical Indian sounds.

Wonderwall oversaw North American tour

Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India—nearly 100 percent. A large number of the state’s residents speak English. Plus, South India is the centre of a very vibrant tech industry.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that English-language streaming platforms like Spotify have become incredibly popular. However, Lal points out that people in this part of India also listen to music in many Indian languages, including Hindi and Tamil.

Wonderwall is no stranger to North America. Lal says his company organized a tour last month of 12 cities in Canada and the U.S., including Toronto, Ottawa, and London.

“We’re looking forward to a lot of cultural exchanges as well,” Lal says. “We want to take international artists along to our festivals.”

TD presents Wonderwall Media CEO Sumesh Lal at two Jade Music Festival events. at the Annex in Vancouver on Thursday (December 1). At 10:15 a.m., he’s on a panel focusing on international music. At 2:50 p.m., he’ll speak at an event called Amplify Canada in Asia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.