A South Indian sabha with all its perceived prescriptiveness isn’t the first place you’d expect a young, contemporary band to be debuting their sound. But Yodhakaa did begin in one, with music born of hardly ten days’ practice – and in a year, would be performing at venues all over the world.
And their first album isn’t even out yet.
“It all began with a very different Yodhakaa, five years ago – different people, different sounds,” says Darbuka Siva, one of the founding members of the band. Then early last year, Pradeep Kumar and Subhiksha Rangarajan, voices from the kutcheri circles, happened to meet a band that was looking for a language that could be theirs, for a form that could carry all that they wanted to say. There was Donan Murray, with the guitar, and later, Divyan Ahimaz with the bass.
“The decision to use Sankrit shlokas was made in comparative haste,” Pradeep says, “with only about a week to go for our performance.”
The works were still nascent, tentative. But it worked. “And finally, Yodhakaa had a sound,” he smiles.
It’s a sound that borrows not only from the past, but from the diverse energies of countries as far-flung as Cuba, Algeria and Nigeria, using Sankrit as a bridge over time and space.
Pranava, a musician and researcher, works with the band to help them understand the mood and meaning of the Sankrit verses. “But, what we sing is largely our expression of the shloka, not about the nuances of its possible interpretations,” says Pradeep.
So, for instance, there’s Mudhakara, the invocation to Ganesha, arranged to jazz.
Does that annoy the purists? “When stalwarts such as Dikshithar and Thyagaraja sang, it was as much about the music as about the meaning,” he says. “Besides, these shlokas were originally rendered in three notes alone, thousands of years ago. It was only much later that they were set to classical music. We’re only adding our own understanding to this,” he says.
Siva considers the entire dialogue, and smiles, “If I weren’t from Yodhakaa, I don’t know how I’d react to the music.”
The music label Think Music (of the recent “Endhiran” fame) certainly reacted well. It happened to hear them play, and decided to launch a non-film music wing – Purplenote – and will launch Yodhakaa’s eponymous first album, under their banner by December this year.
The band adds and subtracts members in different permutations, shapeshifting into other bands, thus allowing them space for their individual expressions as well. But for Yodhakaa, as far as we can tell from their music, they lay that creative restlessness to rest, resulting in songs with a deep, still center. There’s an easy repose to their music that begs neither for attention nor approval; seeping in gently through the edges of your imagination. It demands to be let in, not with brute force, but a gentle persuasiveness that renders it far, far more powerful; one that will not take no for an answer.