Branches To Roots

I had intended this post to be about the music of another artiste but seemingly endless listenings of Agam’s debut album made me strike a different note. “Fusion” was a much used – abused is more like it – word in the world of music in the years of my childhood and adolescence.  Such has been my general experience with music that carries “fusion” as its predominant adjective that a wall built entirely of cynicism rises up automatically around me when I hear that term. The problem, of course, is never with music. It’s always the musicians. To be able to meld two or more dramatically different forms of music requires not just technical proficiency but also cartloads of imagination. And usually, such experiments fail due to a deficiency of the latter. Fortunately, Agam has managed to get that balancing act mostly right on their debut even if the incredibly tacky album title “The Inner Self Awakens”  indicates otherwise. I have mentioned elsewhere that my maternal grandfather was a practitioner of Indian classical music of the Carnatic variety and I’m quite used to the community that dotes on it. It says a lot for Agam’s blend of progressive rock (with just that bit of metallic heft to it) and Carnatic classical music that one elder who had previously been unwavering in her loyalty to the “pure” form wanted the CD after I played it to her. I gave her my copy and bought myself another.

We didn’t get our first cassette player at home till I was about 16 or 17 when I just wore down my father to get one. If you must know – I’ll tell you anyway – it was a Panasonic RX C46. Anyway, that rather late acquisition did not mean that music was kept away from our home earlier. The radio was almost always on and when we moved down South, quite a bit of what was played was Carnatic music. I grew up listening to “Bantureethi kolu” ad infinitum. While the tune stuck in my head, I stopped paying attention to it – it became just another standard that an entire roster of musicians sang or played pretty much the same way. That was till Agam came up with its interpretation as “Swans Of Saraswathi” that lays open the beauty of Sri Thyagaraja’s composition to an audience that is new to it as well as to jaded listeners like your truly. And this the band does that by infusing into the song the freshness of a modern rock sensibility but without twisting the original beyond recognition. An insistent beat accompanies the notes as they cascade from voice and string. This song has broken me and remade me. If the five other songs on the album were all duds, it would still be worth it just for this one.

But there are other terrific songs in here (actually, there’s only one song that I don’t care much for). One of two other favourites is the visceral “Rudra” with its metal riff and strident chant acting as a catharsis, an expulsion of all that stifled anger and despair.

On “The Boat Song”, Agam takes a lovely, simple folk song from Kerala and turns it into a celebratory prog rock jam.

Here’s a band that revels in its prowess and in its understanding of the idiom. I’ve seen a few of Agam’s live performances and the band makes it a point to show its appreciation of the opportunities given to it to bring the Carnatic classical tradition to a rock audience. After one such performance I had commented that even more commendably, Agam also brings rock music to a classical music community. I’ve seen bands fall by the wayside after a brilliant start. I can only hope and pray Agam scales greater heights.

You can buy the album at:

16 Thoughts

  1. Loved your views and the band’s music! And completely agree with your comments on their music and what they have succeeded in doing. Wonderful post.


    1. I wouldn’t have written this, Harish if you guys hadn’t made such music – simple 🙂 Your music made writing about it so easy. I look forward to your next. The sophomore effort is usually trickier than the debut and I hope Agam comes up with something as good or even better.


  2. I first heard my favorite music on 8 Track, so I predate cassettes. Man, music and the way we listen to it have come a long way.


  3. Not being at all familiar with the songs, and therefore playing these samples as a first experience to them, I can say they sound good. No idea what is being sung about. I can imagine how these add a new and interesting take given your history with the songs. This would have been a good example of some common stops on the “music maps” thing I wrote about a couple of posts ago. Interesting.


    1. There are 3 languages used in these 3 samples and I don’t follow one of them and there’s another that I understand only a smattering of. I’m not much of a lyrics person although I love the written word. While lyrics can enhance a piece of music, they can turn a beautiful piece into something utterly banal. I’m not saying that lyrics are not important but it’s just that often we get caught up too much with it rather than attend on the music itself. My connection with a song is usually with the music and the emotive visual – even if hazy – that I imagine when I hear it. e.g. I think of a mother with her child when I hear Angelique Kidjo’s ‘Naima’ although I have no clue what she’s singing about and in what language and yet I’m deeply moved.

      And as I write this, it strikes me there’s a thought and a post in that thought, Elliot. Do you want to take a stab at it? Or would you like to do a collaborative piece on that?


      1. Must have missed this reply somewhere along the line. I did a post a earlier this year, which mentioned how people tend to pick up music / listen, in one of two ways, either lyrics first or music first. Like you, I tend to go for the music first, and the lyrics are secondary. Sometimes I pay little attention to them at all, or just learn them phonetically with little attention to the meaning. Or at least I did until I started getting back into writing again, started taking more of a look at poetry, and having an appreciation of those artists that try to tell more of a story with their lyrics, e.g. Springsteen has grown on me a lot in the last few years. But there are definitely ones where the lyrics can ruin a song, or it becomes ruined when you understand what the lyrics are supposed to be about. But on the other hand, some lyrics might talk about an experience, e.g. love, but you can take them and relate them to your own life and experiences. Pete Townsend describes the best songs / lyrics as being about something you can relate to but not defining all the points. The listener needs room to live in them, and relate their own experience. When that happens a song really works.

        But it might be worth another blog piece or two if we can find a good angle.


  4. Santy…have been guilty of not leaving comments on your earlier writeups…but this one I just couldn’t resist. Totally loved it…..I m definitely buying myself a copy


    1. Hi Jayanta, I’m sorry about the late reply. I’ve been off both my blogs for a few days now. Need to get myself back to it.

      I’m just waiting for Agam’s second album which they’re already working on and I just hope it’s even better than the debut.


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