Chennai-based band Yodhakaa might defy definition, but their music leaves its mark

When words fail at defining Yodhakaa’s sound, only their music can help. Think of the poetry of the famous Ganesh slokam Mudakaratha Modakam. Think of it again – with the addition of swing jazz. Or the ancient words of Swetambara, backed by the drone before flowing into the rhythmic dip and flow of Brazilian samba. This should tell you what Yodhakaa is – and what it isn’t.

“We aren’t a fusion band,” says Yodhakaa’s founder Darbuka Shiva emphatically. “Fusion is a preconceived notion of East meets West. Like when the Beatles played with Ravi Shankar. We don’t fall into that category either.” He rejects the tag of world music as well. “World music is something America uses for any sound from overseas. We don’t call rock and pop from the U.S. ‘world music’. So neither are we.” Contemporary Indian music? That will do.

This motley crew of five twenty-somethings have been making waves across the country with their new brand of sound. All musicians in their own right, the five each come from very different backgrounds, which probably makes Yodhakaa the melange of music that it is. Shiva, for example, taught himself the drums when he was very young. Instead of going the usual drummer boy way and joining a rock band in college, he looked at other modes of expression. African and South American beats drew him in, and soon became his voice.

Eclectic works for Yodhakaa. Vocalist Subhiksha Rangarajan is a Carnatic singer with years of experience in the classical and film circuit. Vocalist and slideguitarist V. Pradeep has similar Carnatic roots, having learnt for over fifteen years. Divyan Ahimar plays bass while Donan Murray is their guitarist, although the band’s line-up itself is mostly fluid: other members come and go depending on time commitments.

Pradeep brought in the Vedic influence that has come to characterise the group. Until then, the group had stuck to playing covers of world music groups, which was getting very dull. Pradeep had been parallely working on an album of Sanskrit chants. The album itself fell through but the sound worked for the group. “Shiva kept telling us that we had to find our own expression and sound,” says Pradeep. “This seemed to be it.”

Yodhakaa has come a long way, having played in formidable venues in Chennai and Delhi. For Shiva, their first concert with their official new sound was the most memorable. “It was a very typical Carnatic music sabha in Chennai. We didn’t even know what we were doing there. Our crowd consisted of maamas and maamis looking very sceptically at our drums and instruments, as if we’d landed in the wrong place. Then we played and they actually seemed to enjoy it. It was an incredible surprise.”

For whatever it’s worth, this is a sound you’ll want to take home.

(Yodhakaa will perform as part of the Friday Review November Fest on November 11 at 7.15 p.m.)

‘Expect something soulful'

What can Hyderabad audiences expect from your concert?

Something really soulful and fresh, or at least that's what we've been told. Especially since all our members are incredibly different.

Doesn't this make it hard to work together?

While this might seem like a challenge, interestingly it is and it isn't. Our varied musical tastes seem to converge at one point. Everyone works on different possibilities and then figure out how to develop it. Sometimes a song will start from one single percussion beat, one bass line or one groove line, and we never know where it can end up. It's very random.

Why Yodhakaa?

Yodhakaa means ‘warriors', and our music speaks for itself. It works for us.

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