A group of boys — primarily students of BITS (Pilani) — started off with jamming sessions in college. It continued even after graduation, into an apartment studio, where they started experimenting with various compositions of music. The band — Agam — was eventually formed and their musical journey of Carnatic rock has rocked our minds and music systems alike.
Agam’s journey started with their first album — The Inner Self Awakens — that was released in October 2012 at Hard Rock Cafe in Bengaluru, then Bangalore. The trajectory has been consistently upward for the band and a large part of that success could be attributed to their debut album.
The Carnatic rock album has six tracks — each one has the blessings of the God it has been named after. The opening track, Brahma's Dance, in lead singer and violinist Harish Sivaramakrishnan’s vocals are transcendental to say the very least. His pitch-perfect invocation of Ganesha and Guru Brahma, along with the sublime melange of Praveen, Jagadis, Suraj on the guitars and the violin makes Brahma’s Dance one of the best opening tracks for an album, more so of a fusion genre so diverse in its scope. The track incidentally is the shorter version of the band’s first-ever composition from 2004.
While the puritans may not agree, the new crop of musicians who are experimenting in alternate styles of music have unique interpretations that may not always be a replica of the roots. For instance, take Agam’s interpretation of the famous Dhanashri Thillana composed by Swati Thirunal. Let us forget the rest for now, we know that the Maharaja of Travancore would have been proud had he been alive to hear this interpretation of his composition in which the rock guitar rocks the track.
If midweek blues are getting the better of your lethargy, the track that will work better than a punchy punch of black coffee is Rudra. The third track in the album is all metal, Shiva, rock and energy. The band mellows after that power-packed punch, to the Boat Song. It is a Malayalam folk-rock fusion track. While it sounds a little predictable and commonplace, but it carves an identity of its own that is attached to the Vallam Kali (the traditional boat race in Kerala) songs. These songs are sung to keep the team spirit up and a rhythm to the rowing in the boat races.
There is a raga called Hamsanadam. It literally translates to the swan’s song. And swan being the mount of goddess Saraswati, this track in Hamsanadam rock is aptly named Swans of Saraswati. Harish’s voice and Praveen’s guitar own this track as they give the classical Hamsanadam a rock makeover with the perfect rendition of Bantureeti kolo by Thyagaraja. The album ends in style on the popular note of Malhar Jam that was Agam’s Coke Studio number.
In fact, such a hit was The Inner Self Awakens that it went on to become the top-selling album on Flyte and Oklisten. The band has come a long way since then and each of the members have matured in their music. However, the debut album remains a charm.
Do listen to it. It is the perfect midweek dose of music you need from a band that knows what it is doing when it blurs the lines between classical Carnatic and progressive rock.