Swarathma’s Blog

Dewarists track by Swarathma and Shubha Mudgal – Duur Kinara – Lyrics and Translation
November 29, 2011, 10:31 am
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , , , ,

Duur Kinara

Shubha Mudgal and Swarathma

Written by Shubha Mudgal, Vasu Dixit, Pavan Kumar KJ and Jishnu Dasgupta

Vo gaye balam

Vo gaye nadiya paar

Aap toh paar utar gaye

Hum toh rahe majdhaar

(Fragile memories,

Snatches of sound,

Faded photographs

Feelings unbound,

Birds flying in a V,

Homeward bound)

Doorada oorina katheya

Kelide nanna hridaya

Ee gaaliyali, nadiyalli

My heart has heard the tales of that faraway land

The tales that waft in the breeze, and flow in the rivers

Taayiya madilalli

geleyara nageyalli

Naa kandenu katheyannu

In my mother’s lap, I’ve heard these tales

In the laughter of my friends, I’ve seen these tales

Re gehri nadiyaa

Naiyya jhanjhari, duur kinara

Us paar saajan hamaara

Re gehri nadiyaa

(Fading photographs,

snatches of sound,

fragile memories,

feelings unbound)

Kanasolagina kanasali naa kande aa ooranu indu

In a dream within a dream I’ve seen that faraway land

(Translated from Kannada by Jishnu Dasgupta)


Three Days Down :: Notes from Swarathma in Studio

These pictures tell the story of our time in Empire Studios, Mumbai. People say that recording an album represents a watershed in the life of a band, as you come to terms with both your songs and your ability (or lack of it) in playing them. These are notes from that process.

The chai is one of the best things about Empire. Brewed in plenty by the canteen here, we have endless glasses of this invigorating fluid. Pic: Santosh Swami

Montry's drum setup is expansive and wowsome. If the studio sound is anything to go by they're going to sound big and full. Various indie scene drummers have helped - JJ of Something Relevant, The Demonstealer and Sid Coutto of ToT/Zero come to mind. Thanks guys! Pic: Nitin Joshi

What we had for lunch is irrelevant. What is remarkable is that it got Sanjeev's fountain going. Young children can also learn about the concept of night and day by this picture. Pic: Santosh Swami

An extreme-ish close up of Jishnu's Musicman bass during a warm-up session prior to the day's recording. Bass and drums were tracked together, live! Pic: Nitin Joshi

Just to give you an idea of the size of Empire's recording hall. It's MASSIVE. The height of the room gives some solid depth to the live drum sound. Pic: Nitin Joshi

Getting Lucky with Sennheiser!

The brightly coloured topis tend to make you smile. Swarathma jamming for Lucky Ali at Sennheiser's showroom.

If there’s one thing that Swarathma loves its getting together with musicians of any shape or size and JAM!

There’s something really incredible about the spontaneous combustion of two highly inflammabe musical ideas in the same room. The result is frequently magical! We got a chance to make this happen at the Sennheiser Experience Zone launch at Bangalore, and we got our favourite bands and artists together for a day long jam!

Lucky Ali began the day with a deftly snipped red ribbon that declared the showroom open. But things really got underway when we played for him “Topiwalleh” with him wearing a fluroscent blue and white bad boy and grooving along. It was a dream come true for us when we picked Vasu’s guitar up and jammed with us on “Anjaani Rahon Mein” a song I’ve heard since I was in school.

The Solder boys showed up soon afterwards to kick off the open jam. If you haven’t heard them yet, head over to their Facebook page for some stright up honest alt rock peppered with boyish charm. And then they just kept pouring in: Sachin from Parvaaz, Rauf from Ministry of Blues, everyone from Aks came in, with

Solder and Swarathma come together. Rock x (Alt + Folk) = Awesomeness

musicians picking up whatever instrument that was lying around to join one long massive jam. Sandeep Vashistha dropped by with his flutes as did Bindhu whose vocals added so much colour to the rainy afternoon. It was also great to have our old cohort Rahul Pophali on the tabla.

To end, you realize that you don’t really need a lot to create memories with music. Just a space where minds can come together and feed of each other’s energies. And Sennheiser’s showroom was just that.

Swarathma endorses Sennheiser wireless in-ear monitors and microphones.

Pictures: Santosh Swami (full set) | Video: Sameer Sahab and Vasu Dixit | Text: Jishnu Dasgupta

“If You Want to be a Cool Violinist, Shave your Head” :: Sanjeev Nayak on his Weapon of Choice
March 22, 2011, 3:42 pm
Filed under: Live Setup, Music | Tags: , , , , ,

Sanjeev Nayak has been variously described as the ‘aathma’ in Swarathma, the Bald Genius and plain ‘hot’. Here he goes behind the scenes to decode what being a violinist in a band is all about. After all it is not every day that you find the bow taking to strings in a rock band setup! Read on for influences, gear, inspirations and more.

Why does a band need a violinist? The answer is quite simple – to play music!

I can assure you that the chances of you meeting a violinist that plays for a band, are not very high. Trust me, there are far fewer violinists out there than guitarists or drummers! Now, that’s a good thing, as it directly puts the violinist into a group of small but interesting breed of musicians!

A few months ago, I was in Amsterdam on some work and there I met a colleague who happened to be an amature musician himself. The moment he realized I was a violinist that played for a band, he thought it was cool and we joked about forming a band together. He was like “after I finish singing my first verse, mate, it’s time for you to unleash that wicked Bach violin solo!”. Quite cool indeed!

Traditionally, the Violin, and instruments that belong to its class, are what make up the string section of an Orchestra. Vioinists play different roles in an orchestra – the first violins play the melody, the second violin and the rest of the string section normally back up with harmonies. However, in a band setup, its role is somewhat different. Various people have adapted it to suit their musical styles. I believe that when the violin is used sparingly in a band, it stands out. In Swarathma’s music you can hear the violin playing different roles – during solos, it’s loud and takes the center stage, sometimes it whispers in the background playing harmonies. There are times when it plays nothing at all!

Jun Luc Ponty has a brilliant style of phrasing, and enthralled the audience in Bangalore a few years ago. I was there! And what is striking about his style is his total non-usage of vibrato!

Many technological innovations have occured since the times of Bach – one of them being the electrified violin. This again, was born more out of necessity. In an predominantly electric setup, to get the violin’s sound level up there with other instruments like electric guitar, without having to go through that nasty feedback loop on stage, choice of a solid bodied electric violin seems entirely logical. It’s not a new phenomenon, Jean Luc Ponty, a virtuoso violinist I totally admire, pioneered it in early 70s with his Zeta Jazz Fusion violin. Ponty was among the first to combine the violin with MIDI, distortion boxes, phase shifters, and wah-wah pedals. This resulted in his signature, almost synthesizer-like sound.

NS Design CR-5 Electric Violin

Electric violins come in different sizes, shapes and colors! Moreover, you can tweak their sound using pedals to add more textures. Many a times after the show, people come to me and ask what was the instrument that I was playing – is it violin they want to know. I’m almost tempted to say that it is an instrument from another planet!

I use two electric violins on stage: NS Design CR-5 (pictured) and Zeta Jazz Modern 5-string. Both are tuned differently. With a little reverb and acoustic blending, I get the  tone I like. But tone is again something one is never satisfied with for too long! I keep looking for new violin sounds and styles.

Finally, I don’t think its about what instrument you play. One can be a violinist, a guitarist or a pianist, but what matters most in a band is how the instrument is used to enhance the sound of the band.

P.S: Did I tell you this? If you want to be a violinist and look cool, shave your head 🙂

Rhythm Gurus II: Montry Manuel on his Teachers
March 14, 2011, 5:12 am
Filed under: Experiences, Music | Tags: , , , ,

The heart of Swarathma’s feel-good vibe is powerhouse drummer Montry Manuel. In the second part of the series on his teachers, he writes about Jeoraj Stanley George, acclaimed jazz drummer from Chennai who has mentored Montry over the years.  Read on to learn more about Jeoraj, his life and music and impact on Montry.

My mentor, JEORAJ “Jo” STANLEY GEORGE was my second teacher who helped me take my skill set one step  ahead. I met him at the Unwind Centre, Bangalore where I had joined a class for Pro Sessions.

My Mentor Jo recording in studio

The most hardworking artist, he learnt his skills from the DRUMTECH Institute, UK and was awarded the best student, the year he graduated from there. He was also trained by Joe Boy for his advanced skill set before joining Drum Tech. He came back to India and settled in Chennai where he started his struggle as an artist. After all his achievements, he had to put in more hard work to get himself noticed in this industry and within a few years he made it big. He has toured with Keith Peters and Carl Peters, Madhav Chari Trio, Amit Heri and Group who specialize in Indian Fusion. He has also toured with AR Rehman. He is also a very well known Session Artist and has been called in as a Guest Artist on many occasions.

Jo's drum setup


He had helped us a lot during the recording of our first album. He was the one who helped me polish my sound, my drum beats and rhythm for songs like Patte Saare, Jaana Kahan Hai Mujhe, Bolo Kya Hai, Yeshu Allah aur Krishna and Barsenge. He taught me the grooves of rock and reggae and the basics of samba beats which have helped me develop better sound for the album.

Get a taste of his music here

On his various visits to Bangalore, we always get together to discuss music and get some tips to learn new tricks to develop a better and more refreshing sound.

Text and Illustrations: Montry Manuel, Edited by: Hafsah Parkar, Pics: Facebook profile

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

My Violin and I: The Journey Together
April 11, 2009, 3:13 am
Filed under: Experiences, Music | Tags: , , , , , ,

Sanjeev Nayak

Sanjeev Nayak is arguably ‘Aathma’ in the Swarathma sound. When he is not conjuring magic tricks on the 5 string violin he is a hardcore techie. Here he speaks of his journey with his violin, where it all started, and the milestones on the highway he is on, today.

I still remember the day I picked up violin as a 12 year old. It happened quite by accident – the teacher had brought the violin home with the intention of teaching my sister the instrument. As luck would have it, the teacher changed his mind and taught me the first notes instead!

Kids learn by imitation. My violin classes were no exception. Whatever my teacher played on his violin, I was supposed to repeat – something I got better at with time. It wasn’t just me playing the violin; my sisters were learning Carnatic vocals from the teacher. As is the tradition, the Carnatic violin always accompanies the vocals. This particular skill of being able to play alongside a vocalist, practiced over time, develops a very good ear for music. This is the Carnatic equivalent of the famed Suzuki method!

My aunt had a huge influence on keeping me interested in the violin. She made me practice the violin every single day after I came back from school. Those days, the Nayak household was active musically. Trust me, every music loving parent wants to see his/her kids on stage. Given that, it was only a matter of time before my sisters and I hit the stage. In the Carnatic tradition, a kacheri at a temple is normally the initiation into public performance. If you perform at a kacheri, you’re considered a musician of good caliber. After a few kacheris I guess I had truly arrived in the scene. Here was a kid who could play the violin.

I hated the attention I was getting. I figured I was doing something very few did. Soon enough I realized it was one thing to play Carnatic kritis you practiced, it was quite another to play what people requested you to play. One day somebody asked me if I could play something he knew. That kind of got me into playing something the teacher had not taught. When I presented this to the teacher, he was pleasantly surprised and encouraged me to listen to other forms of music. It was during one of those searches that I chanced upon a tape of Dr. L. Subramaniam.

You may have noticed, Carnatic violinists normally play the violin seated on the floor with the scroll of the instrument rested on the side of their foot. I learnt to play the violin that way. I don’t know the reason behind why or how this method of playing the violin developed. Many people say it helps to play the gamakas which are an integral part of Indian music. To play gamaka, a Carnatic violinist would have to slide his fingers across the length of the string. Of course this is a highly controlled motion and will take years to perfect. The point being that this technique requires a free motion of hand which is possible only when the hand is not “holding” the violin. Western violinists play standing up, but they don’t play gamakas either. I found standing up and playing the violin quite convenient and cool. That day I stood up with my violin and played, and never sat ever since!

lsubramaniamL. Subramaniam has perhaps been the biggest influence on my musical ideas and playing style. I have read almost every article on him, listened to almost everything he has composed and have all his CDs in my collection. Our college band won every award there was in the instrumental section by playing his numbers. If you’re new into fusion, I highly recommend his work on “Conversations” with another great violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Some of the solos that LS has played in this album still give me goosebumps, and I for once, don’t believe anybody else can quite create the same soundscape like he does. To play them is one thing, but to create this amazing body of musical masterpieces is quite another.

During my college days, I was part of the college band. The band didn’t have a name but it had a violinist! It was during this time I got exposed to other musical instruments like guitar, keys, bass, drums etc. and got a general idea of how they would sound together. Out of curiosity, I did try the guitar for sometime but gave up because it was too difficult an instrument to play. It was during those days I came to know about the existence of Electric Violins.

Shakti was another band that influenced me quite a bit. Their music was free spirited, spontaneous and fun. Shakti had another truly great violinist in L. Shankar who is L. Subramaniam’s brother. When you listen to both, you can almost sense the similarity in their musical expressions. Among the two, I find Shankar more flamboyant in his playing – after all it was he who invented the double neck violin. One day I will play a double violin.

After college, the musician in me took a back seat. This was a time when I pursued my other love – computer programming. My work took me abroad and during one of those trips I picked up my first Electric violin. It didn’t look anything like a violin, didn’t sound very bad, but most importantly didn’t feedback on stage. More than anything, it served the purpose of playing at corporate functions. In my next trip, I upgraded – got a 5-string zeta jazz modern violin. I found that the 5th string really made a big difference to my playing. It not only gives you the additional range, but also gives the depth to your musical expression.

Many times people ask me what my playing style is. Is it Western or Carnatic, they want to know. I think my style has evolved over a period of time with influences from different forms of music and from people who created them. My basics are Carnatic, I tune the violin Carnatic way, stance is western, instrument is electric, playing style is a little bit of everything. So I guess it is only befitting that I now play with a band that believes in bringing diverse musical elements together.