Agam Conjure a New Dream
The Bengaluru-based Carnatic prog rock band talk about “re-envisioning” traditional music and why they want to present it entirely with music videos
They count centuries of Indian traditional music’s influence, but there’s an unlikely new influence on Agam’s new album A Dream to Remember—Celtic music. The Carnatic prog rock band’s vocalist Harish Sivaramakrishnan says about the song, “It’s been pretty exciting, it just turned out well in our assessment. Instead of using the Indian way of using the 6/8 time signature, we’ve tried to use a very different adaptation of that time signature.”
The romantic, metaphor-heavy “Kooth Over Kaapi” has a full orchestra, a choir and more, all part of the six-member band’s ambitious new album, one that has been prefaced with the idea that they are taking over two centuries of music, enlisted 82 musicians and spent two years composing eight tracks. With that kind of number-crunching, it’s fair to say the album casts its net wide into a space that Agam have owned for the last few years, especially since the release of their 2012 album The Inner Self Awakens. Guitarist Praveen Kumar says, “If you hear the album, it’s not just the seven of us coming together and creating music. You’ll see people from different walks of life, people as young as 15 years old to 65 years old have come together and brought their influences to the sound. It’s the work of all the musicians and their influences is what you’ll hear.”
The album’s first taste arrived with “Saagara Shayana Vibho” in October, employing raag Bageshree to project various emotions and tip their hat to legendary Carnatic singer-composer M.D. Ramanathan. Delivered with a sublime video (directed by Mithun Raj, who also fronts folk/groove metallers The Down Troddence) that introduces listeners to the concept of A Dream to Remember, Sivaramakrishnan says the meditative song aims tell people they’re never going to be a fusion band. “We’ve gone heavylifting some of the really old traditional Carnatic material and tried to re-arrange and re-envision them. You could say that it’s tending more to the South Indian classical,” the vocalist adds.
For a band who can appeal to Dream Theater fans as much as hardcore traditionalists, keyboardist Swamy Seetharaman says they’re not playing across the country and heading to South East Asia and the Gulf (capturing a hungry audience of South Indians, for the most part) to convert anyone from either side. “Interestingly, we’ve seen 60 or 70-year-olds coming in silk sarees to a pub and they’ll sit in a corner and they will have a great time and they’ll leave. Similarly, you’ll see 16-year-olds coming and headbanging for the songs. These are the moments that really inspired and motivated us to write more.”
Premiering in a completely visual format, via intimate video performances of each of the eight songs, we ask if it’s compensate for the fact that Agam has never released a music video before. Sivramakrishnan laughs and points out that “Saagara Shayana Vibho” was a homage to the South Indian music tradition of introducing the performers before the ritual performance called theyyam. “Coming to the other song videos, they’re all shot in a candid way. We just wanted to have that experience of being at an Agam show.”
Speaking of shows, their first album launch show—all the album’s songs are set to release by March—took place in Singapore on November 25th. There are at least 12 shows in the works as part of their India tour. Sivaramakrishnan says, “We’re also putting a fairly large production across some of the select cities. We’ll also be heading abroad next year for a fairly large tour. It’s early days, [but] we’re looking forward to taking this music to other continents.”