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


Live Photoblog :: Don Bosco Institute of Technology
March 26, 2011, 1:02 pm
Filed under: Tour, Tour Diary | Tags: , , , , ,

It’s a beautiful day. Overcast, drizzling. We gig today at Vismay 2011, the annual bash at Don Bosco Institute of Technology, Bangalore. Special guest today, the lovely Feli Geiger on the harp. There could be a bunch of djembe artists joining us on stage too!

Varun and Deb sort out stuff at the band's jampad at load-out. The lampshades are ghodi masks. The drum kit is resting. Pic: Prateek

The Ghodi crosses the road atop the sturdy shoulders of Vijay, road crew member. Sanjeev follows to make sure she's loaded in good. Pic: Vinay DV

Harp player and special guest from Germany Feli Geiger demos the air harp to an eager audience. She joins us on 'Pyaasi' tonight. Pic: Vinay DV

Jishnu cackles at something banal. Most of our jokes are. But then at the moment they're too funny to not guffaw at. Pic: Vinay DV

“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 🙂

Ab Dilli Door Nahi: Show Poster
March 9, 2011, 4:12 pm
Filed under: Live Art, Tour | Tags: , , , , , ,

Gig poster! Design: Montry Manuel. Click to enlarge

Behind the ‘Rockstar’: Varun on Life as a Musician
March 5, 2011, 3:55 am
Filed under: Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I am writing this blog article listening to one of my favourite artists – Amy Lee (Evanescence). I spend most of my time listening to a lot of music, playing guitar and taking guitar lessons. In the course of teaching I come across lots of people, kids who enjoy every bit of music, working people who come to unwind after a hard days work. And in one such class when I met a friend/student of mine, he asked me what does it take to be a full time musician. I was not quite sure what to tell him. All I could remember was me asking Bruce the same question.

“Guns n roses cannot be the same with just the name, it’s the members who made the difference” - Slash

If I scratch my head trying to think a bit, I can say it was not so long before i decided to pursue music as a career. It was around my 2nd year of pre-university that I got more inclined towards guitar playing. I’d see guitars as my best friend than just an instrument. After dealing with a lot of difficulties playing in a college band, I soon started looking for a good tutor. After a couple of years I met Bruce Lee Mani  and I knew he was the right guy. I cant help mentioning his name in most interviews or blog articles cuz he really crafted my playing and introduced me to different genres of music. Although I must admit that a lot of other guitars players around me have helped crafting my skill.

“If you ever get professional jealousy, then you're losing it. Do not criticize anybode else until you know you can do better, and even then do not do it” - Ethel Beck, mother of Jeff Beck. Pic: Gibson Guitars

As far as my experience is concerned after choosing music as my career, it has been definitely hard but I love doing this . Right from those days doing free gigs just to get it all going, giving all your time for the band, rehearsing to sound better everyday and finally doing all the backstage work from carrying equipment to sleepless nights and being totally broke. Its all been good fun. The band eventually became a family and having said I prioritized it more than other things as a result of which some people thought I literally ignored the rest. But those who really knew me believed that I was doing everything for a reason.

“Playing guitar is like speaking, don’t always play fast and blabber something, then nobody will understand what you spoke” - Alwyn Fernandes

Everything in the band is just like any other family. Yes we fight too! We argue, we crib about things sometimes, we support each other and though we can’t say we are the best of friends with each other, there is still a love hate relationship that keeps you going. And the longer you stick, the better it only gets. I always treat the band with great care only cuz I know what a small mistake can lead into. There is a lot of learning  from the big international bands I admired. I d still say, Slash’s autobiography says a lot, teaches a lot.

I don’t say I follow the quotes that inspired me 100%, but yes I am trying to. This is the way I keep the rock n roll going.

Text: Varun. Pics: Facebook profiles

Biriyani and Back Tour!
January 25, 2011, 8:13 pm
Filed under: Live Art, Tour | Tags: , , , , , ,

It is time to do justice to that plate of wholesome awesomeness.

The prospect of touring Hyderabad opens up delicious culinary corners of the mind. We’re heading for the land of Biriyani. So what’ll it be, Paradise or Bawarchi? Are the boys going to pick up some freshly baked Karachi Bakery biscuits, or are they going to partake of the awesomeness of Famous icecreams?: And what about Eat Street? And if they live to tell the tale, are they going to be able to play the 2 gig dates below?

Jan 27 | Hyderabad | Hard Rock Cafe | GVK One | 8.30pm
Jan 28 | Bangalore | Bengaluru Habba | RMZ Infinity | 7.00pm

Find out, later this week!

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