Patrick Sebag and Yotam Agam's music act embraces sounds from around the world with a strong Indian influence. This duo from Israel talks about their partnership, second album and being at home in India
Born in Israel. Reborn in India. That is the story of Patrick Sebag and Yotam Agam, better known as Kartick and Gotam. It is a story about two Israelis finding musical fulfilment in India. Their music act, Kartick and Gotam (K&G) embraces sounds from around the world but has a strong Indian influence.
How K&G grew from a tool the two musicians had devised for their own amusement to a respected music brand is in itself an amazing story.
As sound designer and music producer, Yotam and Patrick had worked together in many big projects before starting K&G. As with all great partnerships, this one was struck at an unlikely time and place. Yotam and Patrick were stranded at Singapore airport, when they saw the possibility of an album together.
“In 2006, when we were working on the Laya Project (a work by global music label EarthSync that focussed on the folk songs of communities ravaged by the 2004 tsunami), we took an overbooked flight to Jakarta via Singapore. In Singapore, we presented our passports at the Indonesian Embassy and applied for visas. The applications had to be processed the same day, but it took three days. We were stuck in a business class lounge, without passports. To kill time, we worked on our laptops and created music. And, without warning, the idea for an album struck us. Even its name was clear to us — Business Class Refugees (BCR),” recalls Yotam.
Following the success of the Laya Project, EarthSync (founded by Sastry Karra, Sonya Mazumdar, Yotam Agam and Kris Karra in 2004) had a string of new projects documenting music native to various regions of the world. As key players at EarthSync, Patrick and Yotam had big roles in these new assignments; and, BCR was put on the back-burner. It took three years for the album to see the light of day. Although produced by EarthSync, this album deviated from the common structure noticeable in the music label's other productions.
EarthSync explores the backwoods in the music world and brings hidden sounds and songs into the open. It largely focuses on folk songs of various peoples around the world. While it ‘treats' these songs with modern music technologies and markets them to a wider world, it does not tamper with their essential aspects.
“As we have to stay true to the original, there is a limit to how much we can innovate,” says Yotam. “While making BCR, we were not shackled by such a requirement.”
“The music is groovy,” says Patrick. The two define it as ‘organic electronica' and electro-folk. BCR has drawn upon the music traditions of South India, but is not devoid of other influences. For example, ‘Boye Boye' is based on a traditional song of Tajikistan that has been recreated with Indian music elements. For BCR, Patrick and Yotam had travelled around South India, not a demanding task considering Yotam lives in Chennai and Patrick has made the city his second home.
It was during these travels that they were rechristened ‘Kartick' and ‘Gotam'. “In a remote village in Tamil Nadu, one guy kept calling me Kartick instead of Patrick. And Yotam was also used to being called Gotam,” laughs Patrick. The Israeli musicians decided that they should adopt these names. Given their deep love for the Indian music traditions, it was an easy decision.
Patrick and Yotam have been friends and music collaborators since 1994, when they met in Tel Aviv. In 2004, Yotam came to India to gain a firmer grip on Indian music traditions. Six months later, Patrick was also in India as a student of Indian music.
“There are many similarities between us — from the structure of our families to our tastes in music. Patrick has three boys and I have three girls,” says Yotam.
“Common friends tell us it is a perfect setting for three arranged marriages in our families,” laughs Patrick.
Besides shared interests and similar backgrounds, their friendship rests on the central pillar of mutual respect. The two don't have disagreements.
“We don't fight over ideas. If one of us does not like an idea, the other does not try to force it on him. We drop the idea,” says Yotam.
“There can be magic in a piece of work only when everyone puts their heart into it. We keep talking about ideas and wait for the magic to happen. Two people can work together in a highly productive manner only if they have mutual respect. For me, Yotam is an elder brother,” says 38-year-old Patrick.
Patrick is more of a musician, who can play the guitar, the harmonica and the keyboard. Yotam the sound engineer “plays with the computer”. Absolutely comfortable in this partnership, they are working on their second album, which promises a greater diversity of sounds. Middle-Eastern and Spanish sounds figure prominently in the work. And of course, Indian too.
“How can we overlook our Indian influence?” asks Yotam. It is not just part of their music but a part of what they are.