With a combination of Carnatic and rock, Agam's unique music certainly sounds good.
A band that attempts, and succeeds in blending intricate Carnatic-style music with the technical appeal of progressive rock; a band, recognised more for its Samaritan ventures, supporting noble causes through the power of music; a band whose members share a delightful camaraderie that is contagious. Agam, the Bengaluru-based contemporary Carnatic rock act, is all this and more.
Speaking to NXg before their recent gig for the Chennai Sangamam, Agam's band members share a few vignettes about their musical journey so far.
Formed in 2003, the band initially comprised vocalist and violinist Harish Sivaramakrishnan and drummer Ganesh Ram who were later joined by keyboardist Swamy Seetharaman.
The current line up also features guitarists Praveen Kumar and Suraj Satheesh, bass guitarist Vignesh Lakshminarayanan and percussionist Shiva Nagarajan.
The band derives its name from the Tamil word ‘Agam' that means “inner-self” and its music encapsulates the boundless and vibrant emotions of the human psyche. “This also signifies the band's quest to identify with their self through music,” says Swamy. Pioneering progressive rock in a new way, Agam is strongly influenced by the likes of Dream Theater, Shakti, Fuzon, and John McLaughlin.
But why Carnatic rock? Harish, Swamy and Ganesh represent one end of the spectrum of Agam that is Carnatic music. Suraj and Praveen bring up the other end being hardcore rock enthusiasts. Harish asserts that it was not a deliberate effort to try out this genre. “When the complete line up was formed in 2007, this genre found us. We became more vibe-centric; we started going more live. People like our unique style of music.” Testament of that would be how the band's carnatic rock numbers were a huge hit when they performed recently at Hard Rock Café, Bengaluru.
Little did Praveen, based out of Gurgaon, know that he would belt out guitar riffs for something that was even remotely close to Carnatic. “If someone had asked me three to four years ago if I was going to play Carnatic, I would've openly laughed at their face. But now I don't see myself doing anything better. I've really gotten to like this style.”
Agam created ripples in the music scene when they were judged the best band by A.R Rahman in ‘Ooh La La La', a band hunt organised in 2007. Harish believes that the competition helped them in evolving better. “We're a huge fan of our country's mainstream music. To have the champion of that style evaluating us was an enriching experience.”
The band could give the twin personalities of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a run for their money. On weekdays, all members are committed to full-time software professions and on weekends they come together for a liberating jam session. And that is their biggest strength. Despite all odds, they have managed to strike that spot of balance between juggling work, family and music. Agam thinks that this challenge has only brought out the best in them.
“We are not lackadaisical when it comes to music. Such constraints bring out the best in us and increases the level of commitment,” says Vignesh.
Agam is synonymous with performing live shows for charitable efforts. Swamy, responsible for bringing charity close to the band, says, “We wanted to paint something positive with our music. Where there is an opportunity, for a cause, we want to do something.”
Searching for heavens is a track made for the Bihar Flood Relief and contributed nearly Rs. 12 lakhs towards the cause.
Live Again with Shreya Ghosal is easily the band's landmark leap towards bringing about a change in society. The song, a step towards better awareness about breast cancer, has crossed over 21,000 downloads, and more than 6,000 people have shared it in a span of four months. “We wanted someone iconic, someone who is representative of what India is today and a brilliant musician. Who better than Shreyaji? She sang it for free, and her extensive promotion was something that was instrumental in its success,” says Harish.
Icons like Sonu Nigam, Naresh Iyer and G.V. Prakash have also promoted Live Again in little ways they could.
But Agam is most gratified because of the response it has got from the people. “I think the Facebook generation plays an active role in promoting our band. We are extremely thankful to them,” affirms Harish.
Agam is on the cusp of a full fledged debut album, all set to release in June this year. Their only personal aim for the future is to keep making music.
But it's goodbye to competitions for now. Harish sums it up the best: “Every band goes through a competition to receive a validation. Agam is now beyond that. We'd still be together, making good music and being a judge of it ourselves.”
Preethi is a III year student of B.A. Journalism at M.O.P. Vaishnav College.