What is Kaber Vasuki to the Tamil indie rock scene?

Singer Kaber Vasuki begins his maiden tour, Oorvalam, in the city amidst crowds that swoon and laugh on command. In this interview, he goes over song writing, being authentic and learning his audience

May 07, 2024 08:13 pm | Updated May 08, 2024 11:03 am IST

Kaber Vasuki

Kaber Vasuki

At Kaber Vasuki’s concert in Chennai, the first stop of his maiden tour titled Oorvalam, everyone is friends with the artiste. At least that is what it feels like. What else can explain elaborate conversations and silly little jokes between the artiste and his audience of over 400, as the guitarist changes patches on the side?

The audience and performers seem fine braving the heat while waiting for some sea breeze to settle at the Bharata Kalanjali Natya School in Taramani at 7pm on May 4. Despite the oppressive heat, nothing seems to deter the crowd, which watches the concert while singing ‘Suthanthiram oru dabba’ (where freedom is a box) sometimes with their eyes closed, sometimes to Kaber.

Even before he has gotten to fan favourites like ‘Rasathi’ and ‘Rockstar’, everyone is impatient. They prompt Kaber, and begin singing these songs on their own accord. Kaber interjects to ask, “Naa padalama? (Can I sing?).” Everyone is in on the joke so the audience laughs and allows him to continue. It is no longer Kaber’s concert. It is theirs.

Kaber’s passionate audience often comes for all his gigs and has a penchant for sharing. Very few are first time listeners. After concerts and meet-and-greets, one can see a posse waiting to tell the artiste tales about how he has impacted their life. “Last year at a meet and greet in Chennai, a young woman came up to me, hugged, cried and left saying she will speak to me next time. She was going through something. That one incident stayed with me for a long time but other such incidents of varying degree of intensity happen too. I didn’t know what to do. I am sensitive too,” the artiste says, after the concert.

Kaber Vasuki

Kaber Vasuki

Kaber says that people often discover his music when things are not working out for them. “They tell me that the music helps. If we were to classify me as an artiste in a Jungian sense, I would be slotted under ‘the healer’, but I didn’t intend for things to be that way.”

While the artiste’s impactful lyrics and vivid imagery provide solace for most, Kaber’s tracks are also riddled with mischief, often eliciting jeers. He says that before releasing his independent songs, he often asks himself “Is this who I am? Is this what I feel?”.

Is it this authenticity that makes him among the most celebrated rockstars in the Tamil indie music scene?

Cheeky lines that are sung in an instance however, are not written on a whim. Kaber says that his songs often stew and marinate for a while. He scrawls lines on his notes app or in a book to keep track and pulls it together when it vaguely resembles a song. ‘Suthanthiram oru dabba’ was written over two years, he says, with bits of the pallavi and charanam fighting for a place in the scheme of rhythm and meter.

Lyricists like Kannadasan, Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram and Vaali have influenced him. “My father and uncle are huge [former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister] MGR fans. Songs from that era are accessible. The words are not from Sangam literature, but the ideas behind the songs tend to punch you in the face,” he says. He adds that early music influences including rock bands, and rappers like Green Day and Kanye did not try to be extraordinarily literary. “They wrote in the language they spoke, and that is what worked,” he says.

In his 10th year of being a musician with records and albums, Kaber now knows that there are enough songs for tour that people are familiar with. “I am doing this now because I can,” he says. The singer is ready to perform in Coimbatore on May 11 and Bengaluru on May 18 and complete the full circle of the tour next year with a concert at a larger performance venue in Chennai.

At Oorvalam’s first pitstop in Chennai

At Oorvalam’s first pitstop in Chennai

While he is continuing to work on films after Captain Miller and Aelay, he is ready with four new independent songs that will be released by KYNrecords. Several surprise collaborations can be expected, he says.

What is life like shuttling between Chennai and Canada over the last five years? “Moving there forced me to do other things. I produced, arranged and directed about eight songs there. It didn’t reach the audience and I wondered if it was all over, if I was forgotten. But I experimented and thought differently about writing,” he says.

Coming back this year with the tour ought to have boosted the artiste’s sense of self though. It answers the looming question of who Kaber Vasuki is to the Tamil indie rock scene. Here, “Ooru poora parakudhu annan car-u. Annan dhan da rock star-u”.

On May 11 at Kasthuri Sreenivasan Auditorium, Coimbatore and on May 18 at Medai - The Stage, Bengaluru. Tickets can be purchased on www.bookmyshow.com

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