Bands that make Tamil rock

Grasshopper Green was the only band in Chennai, and one of the very few in India, to play only original compositions since the late 1990s.  

There is a reason why Anthony Hariharan vividly remembers Grasshopper Green’s recent concert at Hard Rock Cafe in Chennai. “We were performing ‘Taani Taani’ and more than the people who had turned up for the concert, the waiters were tapping their feet and enjoying our music,” he smiles.

Grasshopper Green was the only band in Chennai, and one of the very few in India, to play only original compositions since the 1990s. Calling themselves a jam band, Grasshopper Green plays rock, funk, and folk, with a mix of English and Tamil lyrics. But the inclusion of Tamil lyrics in compositions is not a conscious decision according to Sunil Philip. “When conversing, most people in Chennai, don’t talk fully in English; a little bit of Tamil creeps in. That’s exactly how we approach our music; it’s conversational. You don’t rehearse before you converse,” says Sunil.

Such bands are not new to India. Apart from Grasshopper Green, there’s Agam that calls itself a contemporary Carnatic rock act, Avial that blends Malayalam with contemporary alternative rock and Oxygen that mixes Irish, folk, Hindustani, pop and rock. Incorporating Tamil lyrics is a trend that is fast catching up and is a sure-fire way to get noticed.

One question that really nagged Josh Vivian was the lack of boy bands in the city or as he put it, “Yaen namma oorula boy band illa (why is there no boy band in the city?)?” and that gave rise to Namma Ooru Boy Band (NOBB), featuring Josh and Varun Parandhaman. Josh describes NOBB’s music as “international Tamil pop” with 90 per cent lyrics in Tamil.

“If we want to connect with the local audience, it makes sense to incorporate something that the people here will appreciate,” explains Josh.

Formed in August 2011, Jhanu is a Chennai band that plays “mojo rock”, which the members describe as “music that encompasses energy, power, mass, belief”. (Perhaps, an easier way to describe it would be Tamil rock.) While they are a recent addition, they say that the integration of Tamil lyrics isn’t new. Curiously, Jhanu has found an appreciative audience outside Chennai too, especially in Kerala. Says Sandeep Sridharan of Grasshopper Green. “Music like ours is like creating a sculpture; it takes time. It’s a slow process but it’s gratifying.” His band mate Anthony makes a point about how the popularity of film music in Tamil Nadu has overshadowed other genres of music. “Though there are Carnatic music concerts and film music-based shows, the energy that a rock band brings to the stage is different,” he observes.

“And it’s not just Tamil lyrics but a sound unique to the region that adds flavour. All of us like Carnatic and Hindustani music and the influence of Ilaiyaraaja and MSV is inescapable too,” he says. When Jhanu started out, the members found it difficult to reach out to the audience. But the Tamil lyrics helped build a rapport.

Sunil sums it up well. “Latin music is accessible largely because it is a combination of Spanish and English. And that’s what we’re trying to do.” Anthony chips in with the last word, “We’re open to performing anywhere and we hope to connect with people on the street with our music. We’re hoping this will catch up in a big way.”

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 2:55:21 PM |

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