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Striking the Root Chord - Swarathma

Upasana Makati

My deep connection with Indian music is a precious part of me. I seek comfort in playing a few notes on my harmonium while staring at a beautiful sunset. Rich flavour married with strong emotions is what tugs the heart.

I have a few people in my life who introduce me to beautiful music from different parts of the world each day. Thanks to digital platforms, we are able to experience the music of incredibly talented bands from various pockets of the country. Independent Music is slowly but certainly reaching out to its audience that crave to be immersed in soulful tunes.

I am going to introduce you to one such Indie band from India that I have closely followed and also enjoyed one of their live performances at the India Inclusion Summit in Bangalore a few years ago. Swarathma - a five member band, shares more about their music, collaborations, coping with the pandemic and much more. Their music is heartwarming and makes you smile, cry and think at the same time. Jaana Kahan Hai Mujhe does all of this to me.

Before we dive deep into the conversation, introducing you to the band members. (Just like a host would do, right before a performance)

JISHNU DASGUPTA - bass guitar & vocals A musician with a business management past, a high-energy performer with an almost legendary on-stage wit and presence. Also, a scuba-diver and full-time dad. SANJEEV NAYAK - violin & vocals The beating heart of Swarathma's sound. Violinist extraordinaire, but with a weakness for the silliest memes in the world. JOEL MILAN BAPTIST - drums Tight, funk-inspired drummer with a permanent, charming smile. A teacher of rhythm, but hungry to learn from the world. And generally hungry rest of the time. VARUN MURALI - guitar, samples & vocals A gifted music producer and recording engineer masquerading as an ace guitar player. A lifelong student and committed teacher of everything music.

VASU DIXIT - vocals & rhythm guitar Impassioned human, free-spirited composer, open-throated singer, masterful front-man. In equal parts, a philosopher, film-maker and graphic designer. An artist's artist.

How was Swarathma born. How did you choose the name? Is there a story? Swarathma came together back in 2002 when Vasu Dixit and Pavan Kumar got together in a fine arts college in Mysore. Then bandmate Abhinanth Kumar came up with the name Swar-athma, the soul of the note. It was a beautiful way of capturing what the band was setting out to do - touch souls with music. Our readers would love to know more about Swarathma's style of music. Give us a brief idea about the music you create.

Swarathma is a coming together of diverse genres and musical influences. We are a folk rock band drawing on Indian folk and classical and blending it with rock, pop, reggae and blues styles. Do your songs give out messages ? Yes, it does at times. Making music is our way of dealing with the world and making sense of it. We’ve written songs about politics, religion, media, sexual abuse amongst many other topics that need attention. Having said that, many of our songs are also about inward journeys or reflections. What is your take on artist collaborations? Which has been Swarathma's most cherished one? We really believe that collaborations have the power of bringing the best of different artistic strengths together. We have collaborated with some of the greatest artists in India and abroad over the years. Most notably, Clinton Cerejo and Bianca Gomes for the song Agla Savera, Amit Kilam of Indian Ocean on the song Sangat ki Rangat and Shubha Mudgal ji on Pyaasi and Duur Kinara. Each collaboration teaches us new things, besides the sheer joy of sharing a creative space with wonderful artists and human beings. What is the process of creating an album? Any anecdotes you’d like to share from one of your journeys ? For us, the music usually comes first. To write an album, the band usually does a songwriting retreat, where we pick up on song ideas, half formed melodies, little guitar licks or grooves and put our minds and hearts together to create a song out of it. Usually, the music guides us on what the song is talking about. After the melodies and musical arrangement is ready, we begin the lyric writing process, until we feel the song is ready. There is no formula though! When we were recording the Topiwalleh album, the song Naane Daari was all ready except for a certain lyrical portion. Vasu wrote those lines while jumping from puddle to puddle in the Mumbai rains the night before the final recording! Artists have numerous creative differences. How does Swarathma deal with this ? Is there a process of coming to a consensus? We are no exception to the rule. We have been a band with this lineup for over 12 years and we still fight! But creative differences are to be seen as strength. Nothing great comes out when everyone agrees with each other. The important thing is that everyone is playing the same song, pulling the song towards brilliance, in their own ways. It is important in a band to listen, as much as it is to speak or to play or to sing. When you listen, you're able to see the merit in someone else's argument and come to an agreement, even if it is to disagree. In our band, we try two things: never say no to an idea without trying it, and always give each other a patient listening ear. Neither of these two have come easy - we've learned this the hard way! Which are the most memorable Live performances for you? Tell us about one of your experiences. Many concerts hold a special place in our hearts but two of them stand out. Funnily, both are based in Pune. 1. Playing at NH7 Weekender Pune 2015, opening the show for AR Rahman to 14000 fans and holding our own. 2. Playing for Pune Blind School - one of our first Action Replay shows - where we perform free of charge for an audience that doesn't usually get to hear contemporary music. It was quite literally an eye-opener for us to play for the kids who absorbed music with their whole souls and gave us so much love! I was mobbed by the kids with their palms over my face and body, as they tried to feel me, and my presence. I was very moved. Ever since, we have performed several times for visually challenged audiences. The audience's energy is extremely important during a concert. Have you had a performance where the audience doesn’t respond positively to your music as you imagined ? How did the band handle the situation? This happens more often that you might think! Yes, while audience energy is important, we also play for each other and ourselves. Usually when an audience is unresponsive, we reach out in a one-on-one conversation with a member directly. At other times, Vasu steps into the crowd and connects with them in a way they never expect.

The current music scenario in the country is finally giving independent music its space and exposure. What are Swarathma’s views on the music scene in India ? There has never been a better time to be an independent musician in India. The access to production and recording, audiences and marketing tools make it easy for someone with an original voice to be heard. Ultimately, an artist must take himself or herself seriously first. With the pandemic, live performances still seem a distant reality. How has the band adapted to this ? We are learning! We are trying out online concerts from our studio, but that's still not quite the magic of a real concert. We are also planning to try other avenues like Discord Server and YouTube Live as ideas to connect with our audiences.

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