You know that feeling when you catch yourself with your jaw hanging open after watching something mind-boggling? That’s often the experience of countless people when they first hear and see bass virtuoso Mohini Dey.
Still in the early stages of her career (though she started gigging at age 10!), she has accomplished bass guitar mastery few can reach. The depth and scope of her musical output and influences make her a unique artist on the global music scene. The sheer array of musicians she shares the stage with and musical styles she works in, from funk to Indian classical music, demonstrates her artistry.
Child prodigy turned established pro, Mohini Dey continues to stretch musical boundaries. And, her collaborations read like a rock’n’roll hall of fame. Her playing seems phantasmagorical. However, when you look at her musical bringing, and the influences that continue to shape her musical journey, it’s easy to see how she became so good.
Family and background
For someone whose destiny is music, Mohini Dey was fortunate to have the best foundation to nurture her extraordinary gift. Coming into the world in 1996, she is the daughter of a mother who is a classically trained singer and a session bassist father. Her father, Sujoy Dey, worked as a session bassist for Bollywood composers such as Laxmikant-Pyarelal and performed in jazz fusion groups around Mumbai.
Dey’s father noticed the first embers of her musical ability when she was around three years old. While he practiced bass, her father would give her headphones and watch her tap to the rhythms he played on the floor. Soon, he realized she had an ear for music and decided to teach her.
Being a jazz fusion bassist, Dey’s father exposed her to pioneering recordings by artists like Miles Davis, Weather Report and the great Jaco Pastorius, Chick Corea, the Yellow Jackets, and many others. Before handing Dey her first electric bass when she was 10, her father built her a small, makeshift bass guitar out of wood.
Dey’s early exposure to the music scene
Even before getting her first professional bass, Dey would join her father at recording sessions, concerts, and even Bollywood functions. Dey was fortunate to have exposure to the inner workings of the music scene. She even had opportunities to contribute to songs, such as the time when her father was working for T-Series on a spiritual album and he asked her to play on the recording.
Another turning point for Dey came when she met veteran musician, composer and producer Ranjit Barot. Once Barot heard Dey play, he took her under his wing, performing shows in Mumbai and featuring her on Barot’s 2010 album, Bada Boom. By 13, Dey was established in the Mumbai music scene, performing with keyboardist Louis Banks, renowned tabla player Zakir Hussain, sitar maestro Niladri Kumar and jazz musicians Floyd Fernandez and Karl Peters.
The next leap in Dey’s journey was when she met renowned film composer, singer and producer AR Rahman. Not realizing it at the time, Dey did a recording session on one of Rahman’s songs, and after sharing the experience with her father, she soon learned how much a big-name Rahman is in the Indian film music industry. A day after the studio session, Dey got a call from Rahman to join his band for Coke Studio. Since that call, Dey became a part of Rahman’s band for eight years.
Joining Rahman’s group came about at a time when Dey faced three big life decisions. Despite her monstrous musical talents, Dey had dreams of being a fashion designer and was accepted into a well-known fashion college.
Next, she was offered a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music, and then the job with AR Rahman. Though she ultimately took the gig with Rahman, fashion design is still part of her life, designing most of the outfits she wears for her live performances.
It was not long until Dey’s playing made waves in the media, and she quickly developed a following. Not long after, leading musicians and producers began to take notice. She collaborated with other respected Bollywood composers such as Arijit Singh and Salim-Sulaiman. Before long, the world was taking notice of her bass-playing prowess.
The YouTube days
In 2017, Dey started posting regularly on YouTube, and she soon caught the attention of many fans, bass players, and artists. It can be difficult to stand out as a female bassist in the music industry, but Dey’s skills ensured that she would be noticed. It wasn’t long until she was traveling all over the world to perform with a host of artists.
Being fearless in her pursuit of new sounds and pushing bass technique to the limits, Dey has explored many genres, from jazz fusion to metal and even pop. Yet, her Indian roots are where some of her greatest innovations have taken place.
Her exposure to the various traditional music forms growing up and working with top Indian musicians gave her a language that she continues to transform and make her own.
Konnakol and learning bass guitar
Mohini Dey is herself a melting pot of influences and musical traditions. Growing up in India, she was exposed to the rich musical traditions of Hindustani and Carnatic music. Not to mention the jazz-fusion recordings she consumed as a child and all the studio sessions she attended with her father.
Dey mentions in interviews how soul and feel, knowledge of harmony, and above all else, time are essential for any professional bassist. What better way to explore the limits of time and time signatures than delving into the tradition of konnakol.
Her 2022 video with drummer Marco Minnemann titled “Konnakol Games” brilliantly illustrates the use of this ancient technique in modern music.
Konnakol is a South-Indian Carnatic percussion technique that uses the voice to perform complex sets of rhythmic syllables. It is one half of the solkattu tradition, where the other half counts tala (pulse or meter) with the hand at the same time.
When it comes to rhythmic subdivisions, konnakol technique is an advanced way of feeling and performing polyrhythms. In konnakol, there are beat cycles that one can think of as time signatures. Although, in the case of beat cycles, the time rarely changes in the context of a song.
For Dey, internalizing konnakol technique allows her to transfer how she creates rhythmically complex bass lines and polyrhythms on her instrument. Her impressive slapping technique demonstrates her mastery of complex beat cycles and creating polyrhythms over standard time signatures.
One of the reasons for Dey’s rise in the bass world is how she applied konnakol to her slapping technique to achieve lightning speeds on the bass. You just have to do a simple search on YouTube to witness loads of videos showcasing this impressive feat.
Mohini Dey: Fastest bassist ever?
Music is full of examples of musicians pushing the boundaries of human capabilities. Shredding guitarists, drummers playing drum strokes as fast as a hummingbird, and of course, bass players whizzing around the neck equal to guitarists.
Mohini Dey has garnered attention not only for her sense of time and groove but the impressive speeds she reaches on the bass. But she did not get there overnight. As she started very early in life playing music, she was practicing constantly for many hours. The kind of performance schedule she maintained forced her to learn fast and keep up with the masters.
Dey mentions in interviews how whenever she had spare time, she slept. Between school, studio sessions, and live performances, she had no time for much else. Her life was music in every way possible. The push and support she received from her father gave her the grounding to develop her jaw-dropping speed and control of the bass.
Being able to play at almost any speed means Dey is in demand with multiple artists spread over different genres.
Here’s a clip of a very popular performance at NAMM.
Who Mohini Dey has worked with
A proficient, versatile bassist that can improvise over anything is worth more than the gold in Fort Knox. Mohini Dey’s resume already reads like a who’s who of the music industry; she has broadened her scope from playing jazz to fusion, and even metal.
Back in her home country, she has worked with many well-respected musicians and producers in the Bollywood scene. We have covered some of the names already, but there are a host of international artists who she has worked with over the past several years.
Some artists she has collaborated with include legends such as drummers Dave Weckl, Marco Minneman, Vinnie Colaiuta, Chad Smith (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), Dream Theatre keyboardist Jordan Rudess, and guitar greats Steve Vai, Mike Stern, and Guthrie Govan.
Mohini Dey’s bass and gear
Being a modern-day bass goddess, Mohini Dey has been endorsed with several brand names. Below is a list of Dey’s current gear selection:
- Mayones Basses – Comodous MDi 5 with Aguilar pickups
- S.I.T Strings – Rock Bright Nickel
- Mark Bass amplifiers and cabinets
- Her pedalboard – SoundBlox Pro envelope filter
- Boss OC-2 octave
- Alpha Omega preamp – Darkglass
- Hall of Fame – TC Electronics
- BrainWaves – TC Electronics
- Rush booster – TC Electronics
Mohini Dey: Final thoughts
One common thread we find with all great musicians who push the boundaries of their art form is how they make no compromises for their authentic voice. Mohini Dey’s unique musical upbringing and ferocious work ethic propelled her into a music career where she not only plays with exceptional mastery but does so with fiery personal flair.
In an interview with Bass Musician Magazine, Dey shares how when people ask how she gets her sound or plays the way she does, she replies that all she is doing is being herself. It’s the way she has always approached her playing and feels natural. Gigging from a young age and learning on the job allowed her to develop a unique approach to her sound and how she creates music.
Mohini Dey, although still young with an exciting career ahead of her, is in the rare position of having done the work early and has no need to prove herself. With all the collaborations ahead, we’ll wait in anticipation for what she creates next.