Swarathma’s Blog

Taking on the Topiwalleh: Supporting Anna Hazare

Sanjeev and Varun get into the groove with 'Ee Bhoomi' at Freedom Park. Pic: Rohan Arthur

It is not every day that you get to be part of something larger than yourself. So when we received word from the folks at India Against Corruption about their efforts to support Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast to bring about changes to the committee that will determine the nature of the Jan Lokpal Bill, we didn’t think twice. We were on tour, coming in from Hubli overnight by the tour bus which we took straight in to Freedom Park in Bangalore. Changing in the bus and doing the morning ablutions at a public toilet were adventures, but they were totally worth it. Check out what we did thanks to Anju Maudgal Kadam.

It’s hard not to be cynical about imagining a world without the deep rooted corruption that is India today. Politics is shunned by the ‘educated’ youth, people like you and me who love moaning about the problem but do nothing about the solution. We’re too caught up in our own lives to bother about anything that falls outside our own interests. Which was why it was incredible to see how Anna Hazare managed to ignite hope for change in a nation as inured to corruption as ours. To be sure, nothing is perfect, and the proposed bill is not going to cure all the evils, but at least it is a step.

India Against Corruption are the folks that put together the SAAKU movement (‘enough’ in Kannada). We couldn’t make it for the event, but we did send in our support via this video. You can join their facebook page here.

This fight has just begun. The Topiwalleh are many in number. But they’re not as powerful as they think.

Text: Jishnu Dasgupta


Behind The Real Firestarter: Pavan ‘Superstar’ Kumar
April 7, 2011, 4:24 pm
Filed under: Experiences, initiatives | Tags: , , , ,

' I am the Firestarter, I say!'

Those who know of The Prodigy’s recent India Tour for the Invasion Festival will remember the Real Firestarter video that went insanely viral with over 10,000 hits in less than a week. It featured Superstar Rajnikanth, or someone just like him. The man beneath the wig and the apoplectic dance moves percussionist Pavan Kumar speaks of his experiences as the REAL Firestarter. This is the first part. Watch the video here

It all started while I was watching the film ‘No one killed Jessica’ at the cinema theatre. I got a message from Vasu saying ‘Do you want to act the character of Rajnikanth?’ Suddenly I started seeing Rajni on screen! I immediately replied back to him saying that I would love to as I am one of the hardcore fans of the ‘Superstar’ and that it would be my tribute to him. Vasu told me in detail what this whole project was. I came to know that this was a promotion for the band The Prodigy’s India tour. The next day Shreyas (OML Digital) called me and said that I’ve to organise costume and makeup for my character. I made a list of the make up guys and after many calls, I found one guy at Yeshwantpur who seemed to have the kind of coat, wig and moustache I was looking for.

On the day of the shoot I along with Montry went to get the costumes. On reaching the shop I gave him the specifications and showed Thalaiva’s pictures and told him that the wig has to be as close as possible to that of Rajni’s. That man asked what was the shoot about and also who’s the actor. When I told him that it was me,  that man laughed and said you are the production in charge and also the actor! After trying out a couple of blazers, wigs and moustaches, I selected one white coat, a wig and told him to shape the moustache  according to my face, which he did. Then he told me what should be told to the make up artist, when I told  him I’ve to do the make up myself, he couldn’t believe it!

By the time I started from the costume shop Vasu had finalized the location. He along with a couple of  cameramen had reached the location. On the way from the costume shop Montry and I watched the Prodigy Firestarter video and decided on a couple of moves to be done in our own way. And I managed to shave in the car. The location was Ejipura, near Koramangala. It was right outside our earlier jam pad. This was chosen to avoid traffic. It was told that the whole shoot had to be done in about 20 mins. Before people start gathering we should finish the shoot. So I had to mentally prepare myself for it. After reaching Ejipura we parked the cars opposite to the Temple. People were busy in their work and had not noticed us yet. We knew the  moment cameras come out it would start grabbing attention. That’s what exactly happened when the   cameramen started taking test shots. The people – especially the kids, started gathering. I went inside the car and started the make up. Until I was outside, people were least bothered to look at me. Once I came out fully loaded with costumes, the kids first shouted “Ley, avne kanla hero!” (Hey, look he’s the hero!)

I concentrated on the act. Started imagining Rajnikanth’s moves. I also wanted to mix the moves of our own Rebel Star Ambarish. I had not rehearsed the moves at all. I decided what ever comes naturally to me, I’ll do.

Coming up: What shooting the Firestarter feat. Rajnikanth video was really like!

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Swarathma + Folks

Event Poster Design: Montry Manuel

It’s a terrific feeling when the people who have inspired you over the years consent to share the stage with you, and jam with you on songs that you’ve written. Manoj George, Alwyn Fernandes and Rzhude David are people who are part of the reason why we are doing this. So when it was time to put together a show at Bangalore’s Hard Rock Cafe on 23 Nov, we wanted to make it special for our audience, and for ourselves!

Manoj George is to the violin what the bow is to the string. He uses a western tuning but can conjure up such intense soundscapes that could be from anywhere in the world. Having recently set up his Manoj George Four String ensemble that plays an eclectic fusion-y set, he has inspired our own Sanjeev Nayak in various ways. In fact at many a Swarathma jam session Sanjeev will break into one of Manoj’s better known compositions, just for fun.

Alwyn Fernandes is one of the guitar players that Varun really looks up to. Every couple of times we meet him Varun would tell us a story of what he learned from Alwyn in terms of playing, compising, phrasing and so on. We even checked out his jam pad when we were about to set up our own. (The carpet in our pad is flicked from his, but don’t tell him).  Recently back from a trip abroad, this gig would be Alwyn’s return to the scene in a way. And we were thrilled it was with us.

Though Rzhude David, erstwhile bass player of Bangalore’s own TAAQ, couldn’t make it owing to a stomach bug, I’ve learned a thing or two about bass playing and of the approach to music from him. In one of our sessions Rzhude told me about ‘being in the moment’. Where the only thing that exists is the explosion of the note at your fingertip. I’m going to remember that for a long time, though putting it into practise is a different ballgame altogether!

Sai Babu, percussionist by night and fitness trainer by day came in to fill Rzhude’s shoes. Montry has jammed with Sai on many occasions and the energy that Sai brings to the stage is quite something else, as those who came for the show will remember.

The upshot is that Baawra (feat. Alwyn Fernandes), Let’s Go! (feat. Manoj George) and Ee Bhoomi (feat. Sai Babu) turned out to be real gems. We hope to take the concept of Swarathma+Folks further. Stay tuned!

Text: Jishnu Dasgupta

Calm Like a Bomb – Swarathma and Shlomo the Beatboxing Adventurer
September 21, 2010, 6:07 pm
Filed under: Experiences, initiatives | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

We had to scrape our collective jaw off the floor when we first watched Shlomo’s videos. The man, as it has been established several times over, is brilliant. An impeccable sense of timing with raw talent makes for a heady combination as amply felt by audiences at the Glastonburies of the world. We were struck by his penchant for innovation and his easy going style. When the collaboration got confirmed, we wondered, what’s he really going to be like in person?

Nevil (That Cat Entertainment), Raies Khan (Dharohar Project) and Shlomo under the influence of our Topis, right before the gig.

But we needn’t have worried. Shlomo came across with the lack of artifice generally reserved for old friends. But under all the affable charm was a razor sharp, keen sense of what would work, and how to make it work. It would be the first time he would collaborate with a full band on his tour, with the previous gigs being with the likes of Sidd and Gaurav of ToT and Ujwal and Suhail of Advaita. It was good to see morchang madcap Raies Khan with whom we’ve jammed with on our tour of Jodhpur last year. He’d put on weight and picked up a few more tricks along the way. The rehearsal post-soundcheck wasn’t world-beating, I must say. We didn’t find the feel, and when we tried to bring voices together under Shlomo’s direction it felt a little ‘exposed’ in the man’s own words. We wrapped up with the idea that you cannot rehearse spontaneity. It was now up to the God of Jambands to see us through.

The 'Calm-like-a-bomb' Shlomo directs a mad final jam, Varun and Vasu have eyes transfixed on him to catch the cues (Pic: Rakesh Ayilliath)

The show began with Shlomo showing the audience a thing or two on how its done! Bangalore watched in disbelief as the dude worked his loop station to get insane awesomeness on the road. The somewhat awkward about to be an astrophysicist teenager turned international beatboxing superstar still retains a sizeable chunk of his boyish charm that shone through his topi-topped performance. When it was finally time to collaborate, something clicked. Like a missing piece of the puzzle that unlocks a mystery. We flew with Pilot Shlomo at the helm. It was awesome the way he would direct our playing, almost like a an orchestra conductor, the ebb and flow of a song we came up with totally on the spot. In the end, ‘Hey You Macha’, ‘Ee Bhoomi’ and ‘The Encore’ turned out to be pieces we will remember for a long long time. We’ll also remember the incredulous look on his face when we gifted him squeaky baby shoes. Hope your baby jams a dance with you, brother!

And the final coolness factor? HIs manager Irit. We loved her. Not least because she’s his mom! Can you imagine how cool it is to take your mom on a tour of the world with you?!

New Merchandise :: The Swarathma Ghodi Mask
January 29, 2010, 8:08 am
Filed under: initiatives | Tags: , , ,

We want you horsing around.

On February 23, 2008 there was born an idea from the fevered brain of Vasu Dixit. For the Rajasthani folk inspired upbeat ditty Pyaar Ke Rang, he said he would prance around on a papier mache horse. Now, we were pretty sure no band had done something like that before, and frankly not all of us were kicked by the idea, but we decided to go ahead with it. The show was the one that kickstarted the career in music we have built today – Radio City Live National Finals, New Delhi.

The ghodi (mare, if you will) became an unprecedented success. As far as band mascots go, it became part of our identity. We were taken aback, and delighted by how it quickly became the darling of photographers and audiences alike. When our sets were cut short and we could not play Pyaar ke rang, audiences would lustily request for her appearance.

The last known picture of the original papier mache ghodi, live at The Child Care Home, Kolkata. Pic: The Red Bantoo

Alas, the original ghodi was lost after the show we played in Calcutta at the orphanage. You might be shocked, how could we lose something so huge, but the truth is that we did. What you see on stage today is v 2.0, fibre glass, durable and still lovable. There’s the same big-hearted grin on her face.

We celebrate the Ghodi by giving a little bit of her to you  – in the form of the mask! Enjoy…!

Text: Jishnu Dasgupta | Graphic Design: Montry Manuel

Swarathma Action Replay :: Concerts with Conscience
January 5, 2010, 3:16 am
Filed under: action replay, initiatives | Tags: , , , , ,

Swarathma believes that its music is rooted in a social context. That is why in 2010 we resolve to take ACTION, to take our music, its message and the joy it brings to those who may not get a chance to hear it easily.

Introducing Swarathma Action Replay: Concerts with Conscience. Where few, if any, bands have gone before. Where we will play our hearts out. For free.

The first in the series of Action Replay concerts will be at 6pm on 6 Jan 2010, at the Sumanahalli Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre, that is home to over 120 patients. The society also shelters the HIV+, street kids and abandoned girls, all of whom will be a part of the 300 strong audience we’re expecting at their sprawling, incredibly green campus.

The inmates are on the verge of losing their haven, though. In the 30 years of its existence, the area surrounding the Centre has gone from forest to a bustling suburb and authorities are doing the math on what the property is now worth.

We intend to play more shows of this kind whenever we can afford to. It is called Action Replay because we take a part of our show fee from other paying gigs to self-produce these concerts. Organisers are welcome to produce such gigs  themselves, too.

If you’re in Bangalore and would like to be a part of this event, drop us a mail. Or if you know of another cause worth taking ‘action’, anywhere in the country via music, let us know.

But together, we will make a difference, however small. One show at a time.

Peace, for 2010

and the tweetaway giveaway winner is… @rockstah a.k.a Rohyt
October 23, 2009, 6:25 pm
Filed under: initiatives
Meet Rohyt, tweets as @rockstah - the hands down winner of the Swarathma TweetAway GiveAway. He wins a personalised, unreleased Live DVD!

Meet Rohyt, tweets as @rockstah - the hands down winner of the Swarathma TweetAway GiveAway. He wins a personalised, unreleased Live DVD!