Ragas find new resonances in Agam, the Carnatic rock band, which will perform in the city
Agam was seven youngsters’ search for their inner self (that’s what the name of the band means) through gentle classical notes and hard rock rhythms. Harish (vocals), Praveen (lead guitar), Jagadish (rhythm guitar), Vignesh (bass guitar), Ganesh (drums), Swamy (keyboard) and Sivakumar (ethnic percussion) formed a band to blend, blur and transform sounds. Agam has been making waves on the music circuit with Carnatic ragas finding new resonances in rock music. It is a poly-cultural concoction stirred by a passion for personal music styles and influences from world music.
You call yourself a Carnatic rock band. What was the inspiration behind using classical as the base for rock music?
There are a lot of well-known bands such as Shakti and Dream Theater that have inspired us to do what we believe in. We are also heavily inspired by compositions of the Trinity of Carnatic music. Some of the best melody structures are found in their compositions. A tryst with genres also means a sincere approach to the diverse styles that you dabble with. You cannot skim the surface but need to travel deeper to convey the nuances in your own distinctive way. Agam’s unique and vibrant sound manifests our devotion for Indian classical music and love for rock.
Are all the members classically trained? And how do you retain the classical flavour in your modern compositions?
Some of the members in the band are classically trained, while the rest have a great affinity towards classical forms. We do not make songs that take away the beauty of classical music, but make an effort to convey them in our own way.
How have the responses been to your performances? Have you ever been criticised for ‘distorting’ traditional music?
The response to our performances have been overwhelmingly positive. Our experimentation with traditional music is to bring the elements of Carnatic music in its entirety to orthogonal forms such as progressive rock. Agam's effort is never to fuse two styles and the music that we play is not fusion. We play contrasting styles together to create an eclectic sound which celebrates its diversity than to force fit them into something un-natural. Our song ‘Swans of Saraswati’ is a progressive rock infused rendition of Saint Thyagaraja's composition in Raga Hamsanadham. This track is a classic example of the soundscape that we are trying to create.
You think Agam is an effort to draw youngsters into the classical fold through rock music?
From what we have seen, our music does appeal to all generations. The beauty of Carnatic music is that, it’s a complex, lucid and a beautiful form of music. Presenting it in a fashion that doesn't adulterate the form, but making it more accessible to the younger generation is something that we aspire to do. And, we believe every music form has adopted elements from other styles through the years — we are just carrying it forward.
Anything special that you have planned for the November Fest concerts? Can you elaborate on the repertoire for the performances?
Playing at such a prestigious event and sharing stage with some of the most well known musicians from around the world, gives us immense pleasure, and inevitably, also creates a pressure to perform well. What the audience can definitely expect from our performance is some good music, driven by strong vocal melodies and Carnatic guitar solos. We are thrilled to perform some of our most experimental songs — ‘Dhanashree Thillana’ and ‘Swans of Saraswathi’ to an audience used to hearing them as traditional Carnatic krithis.