The Carnatic rock band Agam brought The Hindu Friday Review November Fest to a thundering finish

That Sunday Brahma danced to guitars and drums. The swans of Saraswati moved to the beat of progressive rock! This is no psychedelic trip this writer is on; this was Carnatic rock band Agam’s show as part of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest on November 11 at the Kerala Fine Arts Hall.

It was as fitting a climax the November Fest could get. Day One heard the bluesy-folksy Lahori Blues, Day Two saw the evenly matched jugalbandi (Wind Song) between Bombay Jayashri and Pandit Ronu Majumdar and Day Three Agam rocked the raga and Kochi.

An introduction

Music to blow the mind…that was the Agam brand of music - thundering drums, stunning guitar riffs and some powerful singing. The musician from Kochi and lead singer of the Bangalore-based band and violinist, Harish Sivaramakrishnan introduced the audience to the eight member band - Ganesh Nagarajan (drums), Praveen Kumar (electric guitar), Vignesh Lakshminarayanan (bass guitar), Sivakumar Nagarajan (ethnic Indian drums), Swaminathan Seethraman (keyboards) and Jagadis Natarajan (rhythm guitar).

Agam worked the crowd and the crowd revved the band to push itself. For most of the audience the show was an introduction to the band and they were wowed. The response to the vanchipaatu was proof of the chemistry between the audience and the band, Harish got the sporting audience to chorus thi-thi-taara.

Interspersed with the concert were nuggets of information on Agam (provided by Harish). Of how the band was formed, its musical journey from winning a musical reality show on Sun TV to performing on MTV’s Coke Studio Season 2. The band was born out of a belief that, according to Harish, “certain ideas are worth trying.” Thank God! He gave the ‘idea’ a shot. And that the thumping response the band got was a “validation of that faith.” It has to be said about the audience (of all the three days) that they were a fabulously encouraging bunch of music lovers.

Brahma’s Dance was a high voltage introduction to the band’s genre of music, for the uninitiated. Violin in hand, long ‘rocker’ hair and full throated rendering…Harish made an impressive Carnatic rockstar. Brahma’s Dance was also the band’s first ever song as a band. At the risk of indulging in some serious hyperbole one can say that the performance was fabulously ROCKING. And they had the audience ‘Agamised’ from the word go.

They followed it up with Swans of Saraswati, the rock version of the Tyagaraja krithi Bantureethi kolu in Hamsanadam raga. Guitarists Vignesh, Praveen and Jagadis took the lead in this number and they wrapped it up as well. Playing Carnatic on the guitar is tough but Praveen’s handwork made it look effortless. The trio showed some slick work on the guitar that had the audience rooting for them. The progressive rock version of the Swati Thirunal krithi Dhanasree Thillana rocked the house. The percussion style from the north western part of the country was incorporated into the song along with the inevitable elements of progressive rock. If anything did not work it was the Malayalam songs. The vocals were drowned by the instruments.

In the Carnatic krithis, Harish, as vocalist, did not miss the nuances of the style and he did not dilute its essence. “He has his basics right,” say the experts. In the true tradition of progressive rock the band showed an eclectic range of influences which was effortless – a happy marriage of Carnatic and the rock genre of music. It is not a forced attempt at fusing two diverse genres.

Eclectic mix

While on eclectic, the show wasn’t confined to Carnatic krithis, there were Agam’s interpretations of Malayalam songs and some film songs (the choice was partial of A.R. Rahman and Harish admitted as much) which inspired band members – Sree ragamo… (Pavithram), Uyire… (Bombay) and Dil se re… (Dil Se). During the course of the show Harish acknowledged the work of nammude guitar maestro Baiju Dharmajan, music director Sharreth and Avial. The band also performed their MTV Coke Studio number.

‘Koothu over Coffee’ followed which was a tribute to the rhythm structure of the ‘love it, hate it but hard to ignore’ dappan koothu. This number saw the bass guitar (Vignesh) and Indian percussion (Sivakumar) come together. Harish gleefully added that they played this number at the Hard Rock Café (Bengaluru). Aromale was next followed by the thundering Rudra (the thunder provided by Ganesh on the drums) which wrapped the show. Phew!

WHAT A SHOW!