The Secret of Swarathma’s Success
Swarathma is arguably one of the most popular indie rock acts in the country. But each of the six members of the Bangalore-based folk-fusion band, which plays Blue Frog this Wednesday, May 16, as part of their ten-city tour to promote the release of their new album Topiwalleh, has his own definition of success. “Each show is a success,” said vocalist Vasu Dixit somewhat philosophically after listing out a few milestones in the group’s career.
Dixit’s list included the band’s triumph at the rock competition organised by FM channel Radio City in 2008 which landed them an album deal with music label EMI; their being selected as one of the four Indian acts chosen by star-producer John Leckie to be part of a British Council-funded compilation album and tour called Soundpad in 2009; and their 2011 collaboration with renowned singer Shubha Mudgal on The Dewarists TV show. Percussionist Pavan Kumar KJ, on the other hand, recalled a moment when he thought the sight of a huge billboard featuring the group was a sign that “we are getting somewhere”. For drummer Montry Manuel, receiving a phone call from a friend who told him he read an article about Swarathma in a newspaper in Kerala, a state they have yet to play, was something of an achievement. They each forgot perhaps to mention their clean sweep of the popular choice categories (for Best Band, Best Album and Best Song) at the 2010 edition of the JD Rock Awards.
To us however, their most recent feat is that Topiwalleh is one of the strongest ever sophomore efforts by an Indian indie act. The ten-track set is not only more varied than their stellar 2009 debut—everything from ska (“Topiwalleh”) and metal (“Koorane”) to disco-funk (“Naane Daari”) and Led Zeppelin (“Aaj Ki Taaza Fikar”) is given the trademark Swarathma treatment—but also shows off the sextet at its slickest yet. It’s the result of years of constant touring that has helped the group get tighter with each subsequent show, combined with the inputs of Topiwalleh sound engineer Chimnay Harshe and veteran Hindi film music director Loy Mendonsa who co-produced the album with the band. “No matter how much we all say we hate Bollywood, we have to agree they have the best production,” said guitarist Varun.
However, unlike Indian Ocean’s Amit Kilam who produced their eponymous debut album, Mendonsa focused on the music and not the lyrical content of their songs. He did not get “into what is this song about, what is this subject you’re talking about”, said Dixit. Swarathma’s lyrics, at least half of which are co-written by Dixit (with the rest contributed by friends and long-time collaborators such as Hitesh Kewalya), have garnered attention for their frequently satirical take on the important socio-economic issues of the day. The tunes on Topiwalleh touch on such topical matters as consumerism (“Kooraane”), sensationaism (“Aaj Ki Taaza Fikar”), communalism (“Yeshu, Allah Aur Krishna”) and corruption (“Topiwalleh”).
The title track was in fact written a couple of years before Anna Hazare decided to launch his anti-corruption crusade, and has became a de facto anthem for the Jan Lokpal movement, with TV channel CNN-IBN using the song to soundtrack a show on the proposed bill. The video for the tune is a montage of news clips of Indian politicians in some of their least photogenic moments. Rare for an Indian indie band, Swarathma is not afraid to take a political stand but make clear that “our support for the movement is not [support] for a person or a group”.
That said, Swarathma is the sort of act to put their money where their mouth is. In 2010, they started a series of “Action Replay” gigs where they perform one free concert for an NGO or charity for every sponsored show they play. Over the past couple of years, they’ve entertained audiences at a leprosy and HIV rehabilitation centre in Bangalore and a school for visually impaired children in Pune, to name just two, and have partnered with organisations working in the areas of domestic violence prevention, environment conservation and poverty alleviation.
They’re also one of the few bands that can not only be regularly spotted attending and participating in music conferences such as Baajaa Gaajaa and Un-Convention, but also seem to be the only one taking notes. Whether it’s learning or sharing how to connect with fans by doing such simple tasks as seeking email addresses from audience members or giving away free tracks from their album, Swarathma’s success story is a ready-made case study for any fledgling India indie act. But the biggest lesson that they’ve learned is that the secret to any group’s success is really more simple than most think. “We must stay together,” said bassist Jishnu Dasgupta. “We must invest in the relationships within the band so that we continue to create music happily. That’s the only way that this band will continue to grow.”
Topiwalleh by Swarathma, Only Much Louder, Rs150, will be available for sale at their gig at Blue Frog.Tags: Blue Frog, Loy Mendonsa, Music, Swarathma, Topiwalleh
LocationMathuradas Mills Compound
Opposite Kamala Mills
Tulsi Pipe Road
Relevant DatesWednesday, May 16
Ticketing & Price InfoRs300