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Interview with Rex Rosario


WTS: Rex, tell us about your experiences from your childhood and your tryst with music, how did it all begin?

Rex: I don’t remember exactly when I started learning, music is a traditional thing for us – it came from my grandfather, to my father and to me – and it keeps on going. I started learning the rudiments of music around the age of 13. My father had a band, Jakes Rosario and his Feet Warmers, and he inducted my brother and me into it at that tender age when we knew nothing about music. He made us play parts in it – my brother was a trumpet player and I was put on the clarinet. Later on we bought an old soprano sax and I used to play on that for some time.

Interview with Rex Rosario

Photo credits: Jerome Mascarenhas

WTS: Tell us more about your father Jacob Rosario.

Rex: Dad was very famous – he had played at the Taj hotel in Bombay and was among the first Indians to tap dance while playing the trumpet. He was also a hockey player, and was a part of the team that was the winner of the 1944 Maharaja gold cup. They went for an exhibition match in Mysore and on the way they met with an accident, and about nine of them died in that accident – my father was spared but he had to amputate his right leg. Just imagine his plight when he was a dancer and a hockey player to lose one of his legs. After that he was not into music much but he joined the studios later in Madras and he has played for many films. Dad was a Louis Armstrong fan, sometimes when he played in Bombay they used to call him the Louis Armstrong of India – great showmanship with the aluminium bowler hat!

Interview with Rex Rosario

Interview with Rex Rosario

Interview with Rex Rosario

Interview with Rex Rosario

WTS: Tell us more about your father’s background.

Rex: Very little of his background is known. He told me that he and his brother learnt from my grandfather Samuel. My grandfather used to be transferred often, sometimes they were in Jamshedpur and sometimes in Bhadravati… in the bargain his education got hampered. My father wasn’t very educated, he then joined the Auxiliary Force of India (AFI) and used to play in the AFI band and he’d skip that and would sneak out to play in the dances and come back later in the night as if nothing happened (laughs) – he’d jump over the fences and get inside. He learnt things the hard way but learnt it very well. Army people are well-trained and whoever they teach, they teach in the right way. That was the advantage that I didn’t have. I had to struggle a lot, to understand itself was a struggle – the theory part of it. My father did teach me the basics very well but by the time I could learn to some extent that would help me go further, he passed away. Dad put us on the right track and the fundamentals were taught very correctly – this is how you have to learn, this is how you have to play, this is how you have to practice. But he was very rude and I wasn’t interested in learning. After he passed away, I thought I wouldn’t play this anymore. I was so against it. Then I said, “No, this is my dad’s tradition, my family’s tradition, forget about what happened to me. I’m going to do something with this.” That’s what I’ve been doing.

Interview with Rex Rosario

Interview with Rex Rosario

Interview with Rex Rosario

Interview with Rex Rosario

WTS: So you come from a family of musicians?

Rex: Yes, my father and his elder brother Paul Rosario were very popular musicians. My father’s elder brother’s sons have also become very famous. One of them, Benny Rosario, has played with Bappi Lahiri and a lot of artistes all over the world and the other one, Lester Rosario, became one of the best drummers in India, he is still in Goa. He’s got a band called Lester and his Swingsters. 

WTS: How did your journey as a musician continue from there?

Rex: We were not so frequent with playing initially because we had to find a job and take care of the family so there was a lot of gap in between. Later, I joined LRDE (Electronics & Radar Development Establishment) and there I joined an orchestra that used to play Indian music. Very eminent players were a part of it like Mysore Ananthasami Rao who was a very popular music director, Violin Srinivas who is a very good violinist, Mr. Pawa he’s a great qawwali and ghazal singer. These were the people I worked with – I was just a bachcha who knew nothing but the A B Cs of music. Then I picked up a lot of Indian classical music through Mr. Pawa, he used to guide me and tell me everything about what note to hit, how powerful it is, which note is important, which raga, how to come to it and all such things.

By the time I was 19-20 years there wasn’t much going on with jazz music but I took a liking to it, because right from the beginning, there was jazz music being played in the house. I was very fond of melody. I’d catch up any melody and I used to tell my dad this tune is like that and he’ll write it down and play it. So that sort of a liking I had towards melodies. I was very attracted to jazz music. I realized that time that there’s nothing like this, but we were handicapped without proper schools and material to learn music. Then somehow we had to gather material from here and there.

Finding time to practice was quite tough that time. I got married very early, you can understand after that what will happen (laughs); it was chaos after that. So many things came in between and music became secondary. The most important thing was there was no scope for this kind of music. Whenever we played it wasn’t liked much by the younger generation, but anyway I stuck on to it. I said this is my love and I will die with this, whatever happens.

Earlier to that, I played with orchestras, where they have Hindi music, which had interludes, preludes… I used to write down from the record – transcribe and then play it. That’s when I developed my ear for transcribing. Later I said this is not my kind of music, I’m wasting all my time -till 1978 I was stuck in this. Then I realized it cannot be like this. Slowly I gave up that also. Then we started playing at birthdays, weddings with anybody and everybody. Till 1985 I did this and then said I can’t go on like this. Even if I don’t find the right kind of musicians to play with, I’ll start off with anybody. Then I started The Rex Rozario Quintet in 1985. So I got along with some talented guys and we practiced for 10 days, I took leave and then we did a show at Chowdaiah Hall – that was organized by Deccan Herald. I’ve preserved all those newspaper clippings!

After that, that also broke up. They played for cabarets and all that, you know, because it was their livelihood, and if they didn’t play there was no money in the house. There were a lot of these cabaret restaurants back then. Whenever I was short of money for school fees I’d go and play for 2-3 months and once I had enough money I’d say bye-bye. I didn’t like it, I was forced to do it, you know, I didn’t like to play for somebody who was stripping and all that.

Interview with Rex Rosario

Photo Credits: Jerome Mascarenhas

WTS: What were the music trends during your father’s time?

Rex: That time there was a trend for this kind of music at hotels because all the Britishers were there and these musicians would be hired to play there based on contracts for 3 or 6 months to one year. Those days they had the real dancing crowd. They’d play this plus the improvisations while the music goes on. Like Duke Kellington’s band is danceable but still they would do this out of the way stuff. Each one had to read music and read parts to the dot, because it is harmony and you can’t go wrong. If its melody it’s adjustable – you can take any note and it’ll come off somewhere (laughs) – with harmony you can’t do all that – each one’s break is connected like a computer. Especially those western, US or European bands, if you hear them you’ll be amazed how these guys can do the same thing, all of them! If you hear them, all will give that drop, that bend, all will sound the same as if there’s one instrument playing! That kind of skill and talent you won’t get anymore, it’s finished, because the trend is like that. There is too much easy learning and things are easily available on the computer and the internet but you don’t have that human get together and understanding. You’re-inspired-by-me-I’m-inspired-by-you sort of playing and that sort of music is not there anymore. It’s too technical with a lot of shortcuts. It doesn’t work anymore, it won’t work.

WTS: What happened after you put together The Rex Rozario Quintet?

Rex: I knew very little about jazz and the others knew nothing, I said no, come on let’s do it. Somewhere it has to start! After starting that band we felt that we are not up to the level for playing jazz. So we needed a lot of practice, which was a problem for us, because getting a place to practice, getting the instruments, equipment etc. everything was a problem. It was not going the way we wanted it to go. So I had to resign my job in order to pursue music. I had a very good job, I was a class-one officer, a very wanted person and was nominated for National award in my field, but I gave it up. I said music is my first love.

Another thing was that I was not able to get a good saxophone. There was nothing available here and I had to go to Singapore to buy a saxophone. I quit my job, took the money I got from the encashment of my leaves and got about Rs. 60,000. I took that money and went to Singapore, bought a saxophone and came back – that was a student model. I started playing here and there and tried to continue playing jazz music. There was the Jazz Revival Group  Dr. Tom Chandy’s band – we encouraged him and we were the ones to launch it – Bruce, Vinoo and Victor, and I played for this band. Our first show was a show called ‘Swing Time Jazz’. From that time I was in the scene and till now I’m still there, although many other people have come and gone. Denzel Bentley died- when we were just trying to get into the thing in our band, after that he got sick and he died. He was a very good trumpet player; I was very fond of him. For jazz, we need two front-line musicians it’s very important, to weave some harmonies into the music but we cannot do that now. Unless the two of you have that taste and that phrasing idea for jazz, it’s chaos. It’s always been a compromising story throughout.

Interview with Rex Rosario

Photo Credits: Jerome Mascarenhas

WTS: What happened after you guys started playing together?

Rex: Even then I wasn’t able to find a nice band. I was with all these guys, each one will come for some time and then they’ll say I’ve got a band. They’d say first preference is for my band, whenever I have a show I won’t come for you. I had no other choice but to say okay whenever you’re free please come and play. Jagdeesh was playing with The Styluses and once I met him at a jam session with Peter Isaac’s band and I asked him, “Would you like to play the kind of music I’m playing?” He said, “If it is challenging I’ll take it up,” and I said, “You come and try it.” Then he stuck on with me, for 2-3 years he played. But it was always a struggle, every time I had to search for musicians. I had to put an ad there at the Peacock hotel – musicians wanted to play for this band. Nobody turned up.

It somehow went on, till now something is happening. It’s not totally off the scene. A lot of jazz programs used to happen those days – foreign bands used to come, now for the past 10 years nothing is happening. They had these yatras – they used to land up first in Calcutta, Bombay, then go to Madras and then come to Bangalore, the last in the circuit. The decline is because rock and metal has taken over. Who wants to sit and study the scale and the chord? They just want to go on the stage. My grandson was telling me one of his cousins says the best part of playing the guitar is going on the stage and breaking it. It’s terrible! It’s laughable but very serious. If such things get into children’s minds, what will they do later?

Interview with Rex Rosario

Photo Credits: Vamsi Krishna

WTS: How was it trying to learn songs back in those days when you just had vinyl?

Rex: We had gramophones, the LPs – 78 rpm things, and later the tapes came into the scene. We had two gramophones. Dad would mostly play Louis Armstrong, and would write down some parts – it’s called transcribing – you hear it and you write it. Dad used to sit and write parts for everybody – tenor, trombonist, pianist, bass players – those days we had the acoustic bass right – double bass, he wrote parts for everybody except the drummer, and each one had to play their own parts. It was well organized. People who knew music only could sit there and play. My father was a very harsh man, he’d get angry and start shouting and using these bad words (laughs). They used to fear to play with him, he was very strict.

WTS: How would the band rehearse a new song?

Rex: We used to get score sheets- written music, leaflets as well as booklets. Each leaflet would cost about Rs. 20 – all from England or the USA. Nobody from India did anything like that. Those days every band would need to get new numbers, each one will try to beat the other. So they’d get the score for all the Elvis Presley songs, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Sara Vaughn – all their scores would come in leaflets or booklets. Leaflets would have only 2 leaves, booklets would have about 5-10 songs in each book. The scores, words and piano parts would be there; from there they would try to do their own arrangements.

WTS: How have you seen the live music scene evolve over the course of 30-40 years from hotels in Bombay to orchestras to the jazz music scene to today?

Rex: In the field of jazz, nothing much has happened despite the good talent. There’s nobody to channelize them into this field, there are no good schools to study jazz, no good bands coming in and trying to influence them. To get a good band you need a lot of money and some big company has to sponsor it, it’s a very costly affair. These are the main reason why jazz is not progressing. Those days we had jazz bands playing for weddings, now even that has gone to dogs. Hotels these days want 2-3 piece bands because of various rules and restrictions. So based on this, music is not really doing well except for rock and metal. And DJs have taken over now. Then there were so many dance bands that died after the 70s. Dance bands like Fred Hitchcock Band, Eddie and the Rhythm Stars, Bruce Gabrielli Band, these were the prominent bands in Bangalore that played some decent music – the jazz standards, plus improvising, all that was there. But after that it slowly dwindled down to bands like The Human Bondage and things like that playing only rock and Beatles kind of music. So there’s nothing much in the jazz scene since then, and it is sad to say that after all these years.

Interview with Rex Rosario

Photo Credits: Jerome Mascarenhas

WTS: How can one bring music back into musicians?

Rex: That’s a good question, worth pondering over. First of all they should be dedicated – they should have an aim – “I must reach that level”. To reach that level you can get any amount of material now. All that matters is time and dedication, if you have that you can bring in real good stuff because very talented and intelligent guys are there now. It’s easier for them to come to that level faster than the earlier days. You get all the things on the internet, all that you have to do is remember and utilize it in the place where it’s required.

The other day Robert (Xavier) had an iPod and he played a minor 7 flat 5 chord and he switched it on and on the screen that chord window came up with all their alphabetical names, plus if you want to hear the sound, you can press a button and get all the sounds! What more do you want, eh? Got my point? You don’t have to struggle and say “I don’t know what the sound of the minor 7th chord is”. There it was! I said my, this is amazing. We played some tune, very fantastic – it’s by the Nassimento group. He played the tune; I didn’t know the name of the tune. He just switched on the internet and by hearing that sound getting through this equipment – it says the tune is so and so. I said this is magic! It’s like telling your fortune or what are you or what are you thinking! So much is the technological advancement; it’s so easy to get material to your ears. Those days to understand one chord I had to search, ask ten people before I came to know what that was. Where to go and ask first of all? Even if they knew they won’t tell you or they don’t know how to teach. To teach is another gift, everybody cannot teach – my father had the least gift for teaching. He cannot stand nonsense or accept one mistake no matter what your age is or what your level is. So you can’t learn anything, what happens is your interest and inquisitiveness is suppressed. Nowadays a lot of scope is there to do good music; they have to be dedicated and honest. You have to reach your destination, you’ll reach it somehow.

Interview with Rex Rosario

Photo Credits: Jerome Mascarenhas

WTS: Is there any hope for revival?

Rex: Hope is there unless these youngsters are brought back and channelized into it. They’re like these flocks scattered everywhere and we need a lot of ranchers. (laughs) You can imagine that scene no – all are going in different directions and you need to bring them into one direction. It’s tough, it’s not impossible but it’s very difficult. To divert the youngsters mind to the right direction is very difficult. Because everywhere you see there’s only heavy music – jumping and skipping.

But they are not to be blamed, it is the family, the way he’s brought up, what he’s exposed to – that is important. Somewhere in the corner one person is exposed to the right stuff, he comes up well. You can’t blame these kids. You show all the things and say don’t choose it, what is he going to do? That is the mindset, children will do anything to get anything they want you can’t control them or lie to them.

You youngsters think of some way to bring back the old, original stuff. Without an audience we are nothing. Back then we had a proper audience and residents, there was no infiltration, no people coming in from different cultures, those people bring their culture, slowly they get onto the stage and have many shows and our children are affected, you are forced to go into that. Everything is adulterated or diluted; it’s not the original and the real stuff. Bangalore folks are very good in music. All the orthodox Hindus stick to Carnatic music and the Marathis are very good in Hindustani. They are superb, you cannot beat the Marathis in Hindustani classical music, they stick to that and they are excellent in that. If such people are exposed to jazz music, they’ll do very well. Now they are trying to do fusion and all that. Fusion is not happening the real way now. If you want to do fusion you must know one thing very well, either you know Hindustani music or you know western classical or jazz or you know Carnatic, then you can combine it some other form of music and call it fusion. Taking some music and mixing it up then everybody starts jamming – that’s not fusion. You have to know something very well before you can mix something else with that.

Everyone after learning a few things in music wants to go on the stage and get applause. Music is not about going on stage. It’s about expressing what’s inside you and treating the people. Your expression should be accepted – that is reciprocation – music is you play, I listen – that’s it. If I like it, I’ll clap if I don’t like it I’ll walk out. That audience-performer relationship should be maintained very well, you have to do justice there; otherwise it’s a flop show.

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Priyanka Shetty

Priyanka Shetty is the founder of What's The Scene? Follow Priyanka on Twitter @priyanka_shetty


The Kaya Quartet at The BFlat Bar





This is a line-up that I thought I’d never see – with Arati Rao on Vocals, Aman Mahajan on the piano, Sharik Hassan on Organ, and Adrian D’Souza on Drums. Being a jazz keyboard player myself, when I first heard that Sharik and Aman were going to be on stage together, I knew that I HAD to see this show. And I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that this happened to be one the best jazz shows I’ve attended this year.

BFlat, as always, was very welcoming, with an amazing line-up of tracks to set the mood before the band came up on stage. This is a pretty important aspect that many venues overlook. When the band took the stage, they jumped right into their first track with a bombastic instrumental Bossa tune. I was completely floored by this track. It looked completely improvised and each of them played through it so well. D’Souza was holding a solid groove without being obtrusive, while Sharik’s insane bass section blew me away instantly. Of course I partially attribute the awesomeness of the organ (no pun intended) to the Nord Electro 3, and I don’t think Sharik would disagree. The first track reminded me of how amazing the mix always is at BFlat. And as every musician knows, a great mix makes a huge difference to what the audience hears, and in turn how the band plays.

The set moved on to some jazz standards – D’Souza really came to the front with this tune. His drum bombs really killed it. Kenny Clarke would’ve been proud. Not too many drummers have the opportunity to use this technique in the context of jazz in India, and it’s nice to see that it’s not a dead art form. After all the three of them went through their solos, they started trading lines of 8 bars each. It was amazing to watch them do it so effortlessly, each of them displaying such maturity in the lines that they chose.

Arati Rao jumped into the set with the third tune with ‘Route66‘, a Bobby Troupe classic. The rendition seemed to be that of Nat King Cole’s, with even the pronunciation being very reminiscent of his recording of the tune. Right through the track, all I could imagine was his broad, toy-like grin. I was even half expecting Arati to imitate that legendary smile. Arati killed the intro to the tune with her amazing scat – very tight.

The set moved rather quickly from here, being all vocal driven tracks, some of the more popular tracks were ‘So Nice’, ‘Someone who’ll watch over me’ and ‘All or nothing at all’. I have a whole bag of superlatives to describe each of these tracks, which I won’t do for brevity’s sake.

The band proceeded to pay tribute to Amy Winehouse. In light of her untimely demise, it seemed fitting, especially with Arati’s amazing vocal range. With a beautiful Bach-esque intro from Sharik, the band played ‘Back to Black’, which moved me tremendously. I truly miss that beast of a musician! Amy, we will always remember you.

Towards the end, Arati invited Priya Mendens to the stage. Priya was introduced as a veteran singer from Mumbai, and the rest of us needed no introduction to Priya. Priya sang ‘All of Me’ with the trio backing her up. Priya is a completely different kind of singer in comparison to Arati. Her tone is rich and classic, reminescent of Sarah Vaughn, while Arati has a more contemporary clear voice. Priya did an amazing job with the jazz standard. I was pleasantly surprised by her improvised scat while the boys were soloing – quite remarkable.

I was very impressed with the band. I remember seeing Arati Rao doing a track with TAAQ long ago at B-Flat. She is amazingly talented; I’m hoping to see her do more gigs. Every time I see Adrian D’Souza play, he surprises me. Just when I think that I’ve seen what he can do, he comes back with more! Having seen the Sharik Hassan Trio a couple of years back, I would say that this show definitely did not highlight Sharik’s ability, but then again if you knew where to look, he did display his skill from time to time, hidden in little changes or voicings here and there. Through the whole show, I was floored by Sharik’s bass-lines. They were not too obvious, yet not too easy, just the right amount to fill up the bass section while leaving room for his right hand to think independently. With Aman, I haven’t really seen him put in such a tight spot before, in terms of his role to the entire sound. Of course, I’m not taking away from his ability, merely commenting that this was the first time I’ve seen him in a minimalistic line-up. And he truly held up very well. A lot of sections were very Chick Corea-esque, while some reminded me of Kenny Barron. Berklee has produced another master-class musician for the Indian jazz scene.

Overall, I was immensely pleased with the entire gig: the mix, the musicians, the set-list, everything! Each of them brought something important to the table, without themselves being obvious. That is truly the sign of amazing musicians.

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Bharath Kumar

Bharath Kumar, besides being a full-time geek, is a keyboard player and music producer. He runs his own studio, Minim Sound Labs www.minimsoundlabs.com, and is an active volunteer in various charities.


The Big Junction Jam Festival- Day 1


Something that I have learnt over the years about Indian musical events, especially those that have live music, is that they never seem to start off at the scheduled hour. I walked in at 10:30 sharp, on that lazy Saturday morning, into the Big Junction Jam Festival arena in Palace Grounds and was greeted by Swarathma, at work on their sound check. A quick round of introduction with Karan Karthik (from The Live Gig) revealed that their sound check started an hour back. Well, it continued for the next hour or so, while I lazily roamed around the place.

After what seemed like an eternity (but was really a couple of hours), Bangalore based Old School Rebels got on the stage & kicked off the festival. Playing an extremely short set (which almost every band, that followed them, did over the course of the fest) of four tracks, they played two of their originals, covering Audioslave’s ‘Revelations’ & Velvet Revolver’s ‘Slither’. Maybe it was the lack of a sizeable audience, the set never made quite an impression by the time it ended.

Local Bangalore based jazz-fusion jam act Bourbon Street were up next, with Fidel from Old School Rebels on the bass again. Bourbon Street is fronted by Jerome Mascarenhas, who was missing from the action this time around. In his place was a thin lad named Ganesh, whom I hadn’t seen play with them before. I was told this wasn’t his first gig with them, which was evident from the way he was on the stage. Playing originals as well as covering old songs like Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’, & Phish’s ‘Free’, their set was cut short as well, and was plagued by sound glitches, the booming bass & the inaudible-at-times lead guitars. One noticeable cover was that of ‘Nature Boy’, a poem, originally performed by Nat King Cole.

The all-Infy band Joos followed Bourbon Street for their set. Playing an original ‘Float’ with three covers that included Elvis’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’; this was a decent set, although the vocals were a bit of a disappointment!

Black Sun, a 3 piece blues-rock act from Bangalore came in next. Not having heard of the band earlier, I had absolute zero expectations from them, and was pleasantly surprised to see three young lads climb the stage. Playing a real tight but short set, that included a self-composition oddly titled ‘Old Monk’, they were probably the only act of the day that asked for a couple of minutes for an extra song, and the organizers obliged. Closing off with a neat cover of Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’, they were well received by the limited audience that had gathered by now.

By the time I had got my share of chicken wings (Plan B had a counter in there!) and a couple of beers to wash them down, Mad Orange Fireworks had set up and were halfway into their first song. With Michael Dias fronting the band, it was difficult to miss the TAAQ/Bengaluru Rock flavor this band’s music has. Also, the fact that the first gig these guys played together was just couple of months back wasn’t really evident, with original compositions taking preference over covers for the majority. Their tremendous energy throughout their set wasn’t lost on the audience either.

Towards the end of the afternoon, a decent number had turned up and The Indian Blues and Khalihan got to perform before the event was interrupted by rain. The Indian Blues seemed to make an impression with the presence of a sarod and a santoor on stage; however Khalihan failed to create much of an impact.

When I had read the schedule for the festival, one thing that caught my eye was Live Banned, the only act mentioned sans the genre of music they played. Imagine the shock when they got on stage. Forget the black metal bands with corpse paint or GWAR with whatever they wear; these guys had the most insanely funny outfits I have seen a desi band sport. Still no hints on what they’d play though. I did not see what was coming my way. A Tamil movie song is what the guy next to me says. Okay. Wait! Baazigar’s ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen’? Crossed with Maiden’s ‘Fear Of The Dark’? Was I drunk or was that the Swat Cats theme? The Terminator? The most entertaining act of the day till then, Live Banned had everyone up on their feet and close to the stage in no time. Hope this act lasts, entertaining audiences in the days to come, and I hope their gags on stage do not repeat either.

Mumbai based raga rock act Paradigm Shift were a surprise entry among the headliners, and their beautiful set left no doubts that they deserved the spot. Their seamless blend of Indian classical music & rock n’ roll was vibrant enough to draw us closer to the stage and pay attention to them. With a violinist in the fold, the sound was very different from what we had expected of them. Vocalist Kaushik who, we later learnt had no formal training in classical music, has very soothing sufi-esque vocals. The track ‘Dhuan’ was the highlight of their set, probably the most polished song of them all. They paid a tribute to A.R Rahman covering the title track of the movie Roja.

The only progressive yet melodic hard-rock act of the day, Evergreen from Kochi took stage as the Sun went down. The traces of metal in Evergreen’s music, if not abundant, are evident. Fresh from the release of their latest video (City Blocks), their set was probably the longest of the day. Playing regulars like ‘From Here To Clarity’ and ‘Vengeance’, their DT/Rush influenced song writing, if not as prolific as either, was a breath of fresh, though heavier air from the rest of acts. Though the audience reception wasn’t very warm, they were the perfect openers for the rest of the headlining acts that followed.

Carnatic rock aficionados ‘Agam’ came on at the far end of the first day of the Big Junction Jam, right into slots reserved for headlining acts. After a short and uneventful sound check (as opposed to the longer ones audiences had to endure prior to the bona fide professionals grabbing the stage), Agam’s Harish Sivaramakrishnan introduced their first song ‘Brahma’s dance’; he sure had to make time for a hat tipping to the organizers and the crowd which was a nice little touch. Despite its down-tempo beginning, ‘Brahma’s Dance’ had the band off to a strong start. It took the first few bars of the song for Harish to settle into his vocals, a minor flub we heartily ignored. A strong point toward the middle of the song is an amber-toned shot glass of Harish’s special brand of rock Carnatic vocal that’s come to be the quintessential Agam flavour. A rising crescendo with an abrupt end had the crowd sighing with relief at the arrival of one of the few refined bands of the day! ‘Raag Dhanashree’ was up next and began strong on the tabla and electric guitar; the violin nosed its way in after Harish’s mike, toning it down just enough to meld with the song rather than overshadow it. And lo and behold, there was a sudden crowd in the front – stark contrast to the motley crew that had populated the area so far – mostly photographers, who ambled around looking like stragglers at an after party.

A flurry of well-rounded musical scales in the interim and the band was already halfway through the four-song set! ‘Lakshya Padhyai’ or ‘Path of Aspirations’, the next song, had a notable jazzy bass guitar face off – so short, you could miss it – that is a highlight of the song for this jazz lover. Beautifully light violin notes lead into the bridge and on into the end of the song. ‘Raaga’ was up next with the first Hindi lyrics of the set and a heavier sound justifying their ‘rock’ tag. With its short staccato stabs of guitar playing, the song was the first to get the crowd going in what seems like forever! It even brought Harish down to his knees – making photographers scramble to capture it! ‘Malhar jam’, usually the best kind of crowd-pleaser, was up next, but the band was cut off by the organisers. Harish made a valiant attempt at a last song but he was shot down.

Parvaaz, Bangalore-based psychedelic/blues outfit was up next. Having seen them win the Unmaad gig in IIM-B earlier this year, and then play at Fireflies as well, and the level of commitment they have shown at each and every gig, the only grudge I have against them, if I were to nitpick, is the lyrical content, which just doesn’t seem to match up with the music they play. Either that, or I don’t get it at all. Probably the latter. The show was running late as it is and musical sharks Swarathma and the percussion masters Beat Gurus waited patiently in the wings, waiting to do justice to the stage.

Enter Beat Gurus & the crowd that had pretty much settled down for a short break was back, up against the stage barricades in a minute. This decade old percussion-only group is a familiar name amongst namma Bengaluru music aficionados. The octet got on stage, a quick sound check was followed by a quick exit and a quick return in colorful kurtas. Well, the quick part about their stage act showed up in the length of their set as well. Two songs were all they got time to play. The seasoned performers they are, the audience was clapping along in no time cheering them on. Almost everyone, including the band, wanted this to last a bit longer, but time was running out and the biggest act of the day was gearing up to close the night.

Swarathma, arguably the biggest folk rock act India has seen in recent times, finally took the stage at quarter past ten. After a second and thankfully shorter sound-check, they started off the proceedings with ‘E Bhoomi’. Crowd favorites like ‘Yeshu, Allah aur Krishna’ shortly followed up. Swarathma are a treat to watch live, despite the relentless touring they seem to be on nowadays. Be it Vasu Dixit’s humor on the stage, his word-play with Jishnu, or Varun Murali’s flawless guitar playing, they have something for everyone in the audience, be it the musician or the ones who are in for the fun. Vasu was off the stage in the middle of the song and before you knew it he was dancing on the thela right in the middle of the crowd, urging everyone who had waited patiently for them to be a part of the act. It was nearing eleven already and even Swarathma ended up with just a four song set at the end of the day. I rue the fact that their sound-check in the morning lasted long enough to eat up into the length of their own set, not counting the bands that didn’t get a chance to play at all.

Despite the good music, the food and the beer, the number of people who attended was lower than expected. We finally left the venue, a little disappointed, but secretly hoping that the scene would improve on the second day of the festival.

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Sharanya Nair

Sharanya is a 'writer' and an 'editor'. You know the type. She loves her music too much to share.