South Indian Carnatic progressive rock band AGAM talks about Gudi Sambaraalu from Hyderabad,
One of the world’s greatest artists, Pablo Picasso, once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” AGAM, a Bangalore-based band, have brought the painter’s words to life over the past 12 years by breaking the idea that Carnatic music is a codified art form and bringing it to the contemporary world by fusing it with rock progressive – in a genre- bending heritage. The band are the pioneers of Carnatic progressive rock and know both genres well so they can break the molds set by cultural purists. He has come a long way from his first gig in Bengaluru with a crowd of just 25 till now touring the US, UK, Middle East, South East Asia and cities from the south with crowds pouring in by the thousands.
The South Indian group come to perform in the City of Pearls for Paramparaa’s Gudi Samabaraalu, a temple dance and music festival. He observes performances by virtuoso musicians and representatives of classical dance who invoke the divine, in some of the most spiritual places in Telangana – Ramappa Temple, Edupayala Temple, Venkateshwara Swamy Temple and other similar sites. Excited about their performance, band member Aditya Kasyap, who plays bass guitar and backing vocals for AGAM, talks to us at length during a call about their upcoming live show. Starting our conversation on an elated note, he said, “We are coming to Hyderabad after quite a long time and we are very happy to be here! We expect many music lovers to our show. Playing in a festival of this scale is going to be extremely exhilarating because he appreciates art and culture. The band will perform their past playlist for a memorable date.
Push the limits
AGAM was scouted by none other than music composer AR Rahman in 2007. He declared them the winners of a TV talent hunt show and thrust them into the limelight. Since then there has been no looking back, with the band performing at high octane music festivals alongside distinguished bands like The Raghu Dixit Project, Indian Ocean, Avail and more. They starred in the second season finale episode of the hit radio show Coke Studio India in 2012, and also appeared on TV shows, taking indie music to the hearts of Indians back home. Their music is praised for a heady mix of Carnatic combined with rock influences as seen in popular albums like The Inner Self Awakens (2012) and A Dream to Remember (2017).
Telling us about the group’s ideology, Aditya shares, “When we started, we all knew Carnatic music in one form or another due to our upbringing. Then we went to college, we moved on to different backgrounds, where someone chose guitar, drums or other instruments. But we all agreed that we wanted to play music that is close to our hearts, i.e. Indian classical, but in a way that resonates with a wider audience. Over the past 10 years we have tried to modernize the genre and bring our interpretation to it.
People don’t usually associate spirituality with a rock band, but AGAM’s style makes it possible through their evolved interpretation of Carnatic music. That makes it unique and that’s why we love it. If it were restricted, it could not have the power to integrate with other art forms. Its global nature allows groups like us to exist. Also, we feel that no form of music is so rigid that it can’t adapt to other influences or evolve over time,” he says. While the band left cultural purists frowning with their raging success, they moved classical music stalwarts like sister duo Ranjani and Gayatri, Aruna Sairam and Kaushiki Chakraborty who have come forward in the past to collaborate with them. . career,” recalls Aditya.
According to purists, Carnatic music is strictly regulated by rules on ragas (melodic formulas) and talas (rhythmic cycles) with archetypal use of instruments like Saraswati vina, came flute, mridangam, ghatam, violin, tambura and more again. Although the group knows them well, its members Harish Sivaramakrishnan, Swamy Seetharaman, T Praveen Kumar, Sivakumar Nagarajan, Jagdish Natarajan, Yadhunandan and Aditya also use modern instruments like violin, guitar and drums to create tunes that end often with a reminder. .
invoke the divine
For those who are still wondering how a modern day band is invited to perform at a spiritual festival, AGAM’s logo and ethos has a lot to say. Its rust-red Theyyam logo – a dominant folk art form in northern Kerala and parts of Karnataka – depicts the divine connection between man and nature and man and divinity.
The band’s name translates to ‘soul’ in Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam, because that’s what music means to them: the essence of life and prayer. Aditya shares how music is a way to express their spirituality that is not religion specific. “Although we sincerely believe in a higher power, we are not religious, but spiritual. One way to see our logo and the music we create is to see it as an invocation to the divine. But another interpretation is that we try clarity of thought and purpose. We try to find who we are with music. Time and time again, AGAM has featured songs that evoke the divine. Tracks like Dance of the Brahma and Swans of Saraswati that feature intense rhythmic percussion to Subrahmanyena based on the composition of Mutthuswamy Dikshitar who worships Lord Subrahmanya – they remember the divine with seraphic joy rendered by their art.
Walk through audience
Although rooted in culture, they are not archaically traditional, thanks to their global influences from troupes like Metallica, Dream Theatre, Pink Floyd and AR Rahman. They recently performed in Dubai post-pandemic and plan to tour Australia this year. This kind of East meets West, classic meets rock, and local meets international ethos that makes them appealing to kids, adults, and seniors alike. Aditya expands on the same: “We were touched to see young children, as well as people in their 70s, flocking to our concerts. For many children, this is their introduction to Carnatic music. Nowadays, their parents come to tell us that their child is interested in discovering Carnatic music after listening to the melodies of our group. The fact that our music is able to instill that interest is truly humbling.
Does it give them validation as an artist? “We didn’t start with the intention of having people validate us. We just explored the music that came naturally to us. Now, when people come to tell us they have a renewed interest in classical music, that’s a legacy we want to leave behind,” Aditya tells us. Since they travel domestically and abroad, we asked them what is most valuable on the roads, especially in a foreign country, and Aditya told us, “It’s the Indian Diaspora love. Secondly, we also have many Europeans and Americans who tell us that they started listening to and appreciating Carnatic music for the first time in their lives after attending our shows. It’s one more step towards why we embarked on a musical journey.
The best of both worlds
Although live gigs are their forte, they are open to lending music to movies, but time is a hindrance given that the band members have Monday to Friday 9 to 5 jobs. But they love their work as technicians as much as they admire the music. “The idea of doing just one thing full time never crossed our minds. What we do professionally helps us kind of tell people that maybe it’s not a binary choice and that both professional and personal interests can be followed. When we say we love our corporate jobs, that’s not comforting from an income perspective, but rather about loving what we do on the job front. I run home care at Hindustan Unilever, Harish is the face of a UI app, Praveen is product manager, Jagdish is with Airbnb. Many of us have tried to get an education in some of the best universities in the country and we love to use this knowledge in the professional sphere. So we work on weekdays and create music on weekends,” says Aditya.
Most of the group members are from high-end institutes like IIM and BITS Pilani. Upcoming album The band have a new album coming out in 2023 where they have taken influences from jazz and tried to infuse Carnatic with Caribbean percussion. This got us wondering how Carnatic, which is deeply rooted in South Indian culture, could blend with African-influenced rhythms and Aditya’s response blew us away: “The basis of Carnatic music is not only the well-defined rhythmic structure, but also lends itself beautifully to the progressive rhythmic structure. Western music is codified where the use of polyrhythmic patterns is relatively new whereas Carnatic has had polyrhythmic patterns for centuries. We can therefore see the latter as the origin of polyrhythms. At a fundamental level, they (Carnatic and Caribbean) are both from the same family and ours is a humble experiment to see how they sound together.
So 2023 will be more about experiencing inherently different raga families and observing the melodies they create. The theme of the album remains unknown, but it will bring what AGAM does best: convey the soul of music.
AGAM performs at Parc du Lac de Gandipet on January 7 at 6 p.m.
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