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: