Music

Ten years on and Avial is as popular as ever

Tony John from the alternative Malayalam Rock band Avial   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Avial’s first ever, full-fledged live concert as a band was in front of a packed audience at the Eastwind music festival in Delhi, a few months after the official launch of their self-titled music album in February 2008. Ten years later to date, the band continues to rock every stage with their pioneering brand of ‘alternative Malayalam rock,’ whether they are performing in Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai or their hometown, Thiruvananthapuram. Few bands in the contemporary indie scene in the country have been able to sustain that momentum, transcending language barriers, on the back of just that one album as have Avial.

“It’s been a rocking 10 years. It’s the audience that keeps us going,” gushes Tony John, the band’s lead vocalist. Apart from him, Avial’s current line-up features Rex Vijayan (guitarist), Mithun Puthenveetil (drums) and Binny Issac (bassist). “We do try and play new and different tunes but the audience always clamours for the songs that made our album famous, Chekele..., Karukara… and of course, Nada, Nada...,’” adds Rex.

Guitarist and composer Rex Vijayan

Guitarist and composer Rex Vijayan   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The band has been on song for 10 years ‘officially’ but they’ve been making music for much longer. The men are rather vague about the exact dates, facts and figures; “Call it a creative haze,” explains Tony, with a laugh. By what we can piece together from them, they’ve been on track since at least 2003, when a bunch of “like-minded” musicians, got together to “reimagine” what became Avial’s signature track – Nada, Nada… Among them were Rex and Tony and Thrissur-based musicians John P. Varkey (who tuned the initial version of the song for his band, Jigsaw Puzzle), Anandraj Benjamin Paul (former lead vocalist of the band) and percussionist Jophy.

Written by veteran lyricist Engandiyoor Chandrasekharan, one of the best things about the cult song is the ambiguity of its lyrics and its rhythmic allure. Tony, for instance, likes to think that “Nada, Nada… is about carrying on and moving forward, whatever adversaries may come you way. It’s a song and a lyric for the times.”

Rex, on the other hand, prefers to dwell on the rhythms in the lyrics. “I rarely look into the meanings of songs. Since that first time I heard Nada, Nada..., I have been hooked onto its sounds, its potential and its satire,” he says.

“I lived in John’s house in Thrissur for two years, learning from him and reworking the song,” adds Rex, then a guitarist with Mother Jane. Tony was the percussionist for Karisma, a local band and Anand of the distinctive voice, meanwhile, was vocalist of Thrissur-based band Overdrive. Tony and Rex were also musicians with the Daksha Sheth Dance Company here in the city. “It took a further couple of years of re-working before we were all all satisfied with the song,” says Rex.

The turning point for the re-imaginators was a video deal with SS Music. “Pradeep Kalipurayath, then a producer with SS Music, happened to hear the song and encouraged us to make a video,” says Tony. Needless to say, it was an instant hit and Avial soon became Avial.

“Avial created a new language in music,” Engandiyoor had said in an earlier interview with MetroPlus. Rightly so. At the time Avial burst onto the scene, indie music was the domain of bands singing English music. With their heady mishmash of indie rock, earthy Malayalam poetry, flavoured with amazing guitar chords and funky electronic music, the band caused quite the stir. “There we were, a bunch of cocky 20-30 somethings, with a platter full of music that was strikingly different. People didn’t know what to make of us!” says Tony, reminiscing, with a laugh.

Rex adds: “We were lucky that we did not have to struggle to get our music heard. From the moment the video song was released it has been a non-stop ride.”

They did not intend to make a proper album [hence the name Sound Check in the video for SS Music] “Fans started pushing us and we decided to go ahead and make one. Naresh Kamath of Kailasa signed on as bassist for the album and later Mithun also joined our ranks,” says Rex.

The result was a stunningly well-produced album, released by Phat Phish Records, featuring eight original songs. The album went on the sweep the 4th annual Jack Daniel’s Annual Rock Awards. Avial won six awards including song of the year, album of the year, and band of the year in both the popular choice and critics’ choice categories.

The band has since gone on to release a handful of numbers for Malayalam films Salt n’ Pepper (Aanakallan...), Second Show (Ayyo..., Thithithara... and Arambath...) and 22 Female Kottayam (Chillane...). “We decided to cut down on making songs for films because their timelines are crazy and short. All we had were a couple of days to create those film songs! We really can’t work at that pace; our music is more of the organic kind, which flows when inspiration strikes us and it cannot be produced on demand,” explains Tony. Rex, meanwhile, is having a successful, parallel run as music composer in Malayalam, the latest being the soulful numbers of Mayaanadhi.

The much-awaited second album is not in the horizon, at least anytime soon, say the band. Instead, they are planning a single – a video song, to be released sometime in the next few months. “It’s because we put so much time and effort into the debut album that it turned out so good. Honestly, we don’t know if we can recreate that the second time around. That’s why we are testing waters with the single,” says Rex, adding “I’m confident that the next 10 years too, Avial will continue to rock!”

Music matters

Rex reportedly came up with the name Avial in a dream.

The lyrics for Karukara Karmukil... was written by the late Kavalam Narayana Panicker. Engandiyoor also wrote the lyrics for Arikuruka..., while Aadu Pambe... and Ettam Pattu... was written by Sudhi Velamanoor. Chekele... is a popular Malayalam folk song.


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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 1:10:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/avial-plays-on/article22774525.ece

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