Artist to Watch Out For: Lagori
The Bangalore folk rock outfit maybe unabashedly commercial, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find odd time signatures and impressive technical wizardry
Getting bladdered at Noon Wines a.k.a. Scottish Pub on St. Mark’s Road in Bangalore, is a rite of passage of sorts for young tipplers in the city. The establishment serves an unbelievably cheap and somewhat suspect house wine, which has caused entire generations of amateur winos to slur uncontrollably and stumble about helplessly. So when we learnt that the city’s newest folk rock outfit, Lagori, also drew inspiration from the same notorious wine, we immediately set up a meeting with the quintet at the aforementioned institution.
Under the dim lights at Noon Wines, Lagori came across as a band with few airs or graces. They laugh easily, drink their wine and beer in copious gulps and pause between mouthfuls of lemon chicken and peanut masala to share capers pulled off by their vocalist and resident funny man, Tejas Shankar. Their unhurried vibe also finds its way into their music – a melding of rock and funk, peppered with Indian folk ingredients and Hindustani classical alaaps, which to their credit, seldom seems contrived. The band tell us that their songwriting begins as a tune or rhythm, which is then expanded upon over meetings at Noon Wines and other watering holes in the city, followed by a jam. The resulting mishmash, Lagori describe as folk rock.
At first, Lagori may strike you as a straight-laced fusion band. But they definitely merit a second, more attentive hearing, to fully appreciate the sporadic bursts of technical wizardry and unconventional time signatures that punctuate their music, and even inspired the band’s name. “Lagori”, is the Kannada epithet for a traditional Indian game also called saat-pathar (seven stones) or pittu, involving a stack of seven stones, a ball and a complex set of rules. “We had a fascination for the number seven and many of our songs too have a 7/8 time signature,” said guitarist with the band, Geeth Vaz. All members of the band have fond childhood memories of summer evenings spent playing lagori. “I used to play it all the time, until the neighbour’s kid started calling me ‘aunty’,” said bassist, Shalini Mohan.
Lagori was set up when Vaz and the other guitarist in the band, Edward Rasquinha teamed up in early 2011. “Eddy and I had been playing together in another band called Farenheit and both of us decided to jam up and do something else,” said Vaz, though Mohan joked that they had actually met through a dating site. “We wanted to mix it up to be honest,” added Rasquinha. “We had been playing English songs and thought we should try something different. So we actually wrote this song called “Asma” in English first and used Google Translate to get the lyrics in Hindi.” That ludicrous first attempt in January at writing a song in Hindi, far outside their comfort zone, was done with a firm eye on commercial success and viability. Since then, Vaz and Rasquinha have substantially improved their Hindi language skills and the band they formed a year ago with Mohan, Shankar and drummer Vinyl [yes, that is his real name] Kumar are now prepping for the release of their debut album, likely to be out by October this year.
Most importantly, the commercial success that they set out to achieve, now seems very probable with Lagori collecting fans even in unlikely corners of the country like the slopes of Gulmarg and the valley of Manali, where during recent appearances by the band, they were surprised by requests for their original compositions. While most of their songs are in Hindi, Lagori have also written two tracks with Kannada lyrics. Thematically, their songs deal with “love, life and nature”, according to Shankar. “‘Boom Shankar’ is about letting go of everything and enjoying life,” he said, while somebody cleared their throat in the background. “‘Jeene Do’ is about freeing yourself, ‘Saiyyan’ is a romantic song and ‘Darbari’ is a mix of Hindustani classical and rock.” Musically, they yoke together influences as disparate as Iron Maiden, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that Lagori shares more than just an uneasy resemblance with The Raghu Dixit Project – guitarist and founding member Vaz is younger brother to Gaurav Vaz, bassist with TRDP, and the band is even managed by the senior Vaz. Yet, Lagori insisted, while they maybe swimming in the same river as Swarathma and TRDP, they certainly weren’t in the same boat. “While we do have a common pool of interests and influences, our music is very different predominantly because their sound comes from violins and flutes and they are completely into folk,” said Vaz. “Even though we too have big folk influences, we also try and bring in classical music, pop and funk,” added Shankar.
Like Dixit, Shankar too sports a dhoti during gigs, but the band are not yet ready for the outlandish costumes, an essential part of the stage act for bands like Swarathma. Drummer with the band, Kumar said, “I think we’re still trying to find our look.” Shankar said, “We don’t want our costumes to take over the music.” Though plans are afoot to convince Rasquinha to dress up like Swami Nityananda for the band’s next gig, because everybody thinks the guitarist bears a close resemblance to the self styled godman and pervert. “I think our music is good,” offered Mohan. “And if we even wore plastic bags, it would work. For now we want to concentrate on gigging as much as we can so that more people get to know us.”
Lagori play Hard Rock Café, Bengaluru, on July 26th. 8.30 pm. Entry: Rs 500. Their debut record will be available from October this year.
Listen to Lagori’s tracks here: