Tag Archives: Pavan Kumar

Topiwalleh by Swarathma


Swarathma is a talented group of musicians, just thinking about whom brings an explosion of colors in one’s head – not just because of the colourful dresses they don, not even because of the showmanship, the on-stage gimmickry or the props. These colours are of traditional art assimilated in an arrangement of largely western instruments, and the flamboyance with which the band rebukes the dishonest, mocks the ludicrous, and alleviates suffering through their honest rendition of songs that describe the world as they see it.

Their second album, Topiwalleh, is an experience where every word – spoken or sung, every pulse, beat, and measure, is a rush of colours of contrasting human emotions. Your senses are exposed to the entire spectrum in less than 55 minutes, if you listen closely. The melody is almost never melancholic, although when it’s dark, it’s ominous.

This album brought with it not just great music, but a lot of creativity in the album promotions too! Right from the colourful topis, the vibrant album cover, to running interesting contests on Facebook, and the launch followed by a ‘Restless Tour’ that took them to many cities over a period of one month, the band has done a fabulous job of promoting their new album.

Swarathma has six members: Vasu Dixit (vocals, rhythm guitar), Pavan Kumar KJ (percussion, backing vocals), Montry Manuel (drums), Varun Murali (lead guitar), Sanjeev Nayak (violin) and Jishnu Dasgupta (bass guitar, backing vocals), and for the sound that is more refined, all six members unequivocally acknowledge Loy Mendonsa (from the Shankar-Ehsan-Loy trio) who has co-produced this album.

One might as well call the band Swarathma 2.0, because of two noticeable things– one, a paradigm shift in the ‘sound’ of a recorded album, and two, a concept album with many societal messages being delivered within a span of 10 tracks. For the message to be heard and the outreach to be as vast as the problems addressed and solutions needed, their language of choice is Hindi, although they have sung in Kannada on two of the tracks.

Topiwalleh’ has an effervescent, Rastafarian reggae rhythm, a violin that can admiringly be called the second vocalist for the track, a laid-back 40-second guitar solo and the superb backing vocals. The lyrics take a dig at everything that’s wrong in the current political circles. There are many tongue-in-cheek references and no-holds-barred statements that the artists have taken the liberty to make on this track.

‘Koorane’, my favorite track from the album, starts with the sounds that we relate to crying of wolves on a full-moon night. Varun Murali finds a fit to display the rock in his guitar, which is alarmingly close to ‘Roadhouse Blues’ by The Doors. The song seems to draw a metaphor – the mention of a rare animal Koorane being hunted by the hunters (human or otherwise). Think capitalism, consumerism, how the society is fascinated by television and advertisements, while disrobing itself of tradition and a sense of judgment, hypnotized by the domineering supremacy of advertising duplicity.

‘Rishton Ka Raasta’ is pleasing, and contemplative, with an intention that’s driven straight to the heart by the expressive violin (the tone sounding almost like it’s a Saarangi) that opens this song which is about broken relations and the willingness to mend fences. For me, it delivers the most powerful message in the entire album.

‘Ghum’ is characterized by a sense of despair, urgency, and hopelessness, made apparent within the first 90 seconds of the song. The mood remains largely that, only you’d have to find an interview where the band mentions what this song is about. This is their voice against child sexual abuse, and is the gloomiest of all tracks on the album.

‘Naane Dari’ starts with a superb guitar solo but everything else plays second fiddle to the violin and to the terrific lyrics. ‘Naane Daari’ (I am my own way) talks about hope and leaving the past behind.

‘Aaj Ki Taaza Fikar’ may confuse you with the way it begins, if you ever used to trip on ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ OST (think ‘Jaane Kyun’) – and perhaps thank Loy Mendonsa? The highlight of this track is the juicy potpourri of all the overused or hyped snippets on the television (‘Sannate ko cheerti hui sansani’ and the like). It lands a sucker-punch on the sensationalism as created by the media.

‘Mukhote’ has got a fragrant, violin-drenched overture. This is a song about the two-facedness in human relations, the drumming stands out and is most imaginative among all tracks on the album.

‘Duur Kinara’, featuring Shubha Mudgal, has everything that is being and has been talked about already. Shubha’s vivacious vocals work perfectly with Vasu’s high-pitched recital of the Kannada lines on this track about separation from loved ones and the desire to unite, and about tales of a far-away land.

‘Yeshu Allah aur Krishna’ is where the arrangement goes back to reggae for most part, the violin speaks as if reinforcing the spoken words, and the vocals are dramatic and appealing. The song speaks about religious evangelists and communalism, but unless you are a in a mood to complain about the issue really, you might just end up dancing along with this one as well.

On a splendid album, where nine songs talk about one powerful subject each, ‘Khul Ja Re’ is one song that apathetically speaks of optimism with adolescent lyrics and ordinary singing. For being a keepsake from the band’s past, ‘Khul Ja Re’ is forgivable.

All said and done, social issues and worldly worries notwithstanding, Topiwalleh is a fun album. The sheer energy that makes the audience sway during their live shows is not missing on this record. Though the lyrics may seem juvenile here and there, the maturity that’s apparent for most part of the album compensates for it. The lead guitar has got to find a voice by bringing in more tones and risk-taking. As far as the percussion and violin are concerned, I would not want to change a thing. For the vocals though, my only sour point remains the habit of throwing the last note (for instance – at 1:29 mark in ‘Koorane’).

Swarathma has already started working on their third album and until that is out, buying a digital copy of Topiwalleh and listening to it is only the second best choice. The best choice is to land up at a Swarathma gig, and treat your senses to the musical mixture of colors, sights and sounds.

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Gaurrav Tiwari

Drummer at DIARCHY, and HR Manager at Genpact


Swarathma at the National Association for the Blind, Bangalore


See, Touch, Listen, Talk, and Feel.

Strike out one of the above, say sight, from the list of senses, and you’ll find that the other senses clamour to catch hold of what passes through our consciousness. On the afternoon of Saturday, October 22, 2011, Swarathma played to almost 200 kids who were partially or wholly blind at the National Association for the Blind. NAB is the only organization in Karnataka that preaches and practices an inclusive model of education. In this model, blind children are encouraged go to normal schools instead of blind schools which would help them to pursue higher education after schooling.

Swarathma’s performance on that day marked the end of a four day fest in which blind children from different parts of the state got the opportunity to interact with each other as well as normal school-going children. The show was sponsored by Levi’s that identifies pioneers who are making a positive change in the world, as part of their Go Forth Campaign.

Swarathma at the National Association for the Blind, Bangalore

Swarathma is a Bangalore-based Indian Folk/fusion band whose current line-up features Vasu Dixit (vocals and rhythm guitar), Pavan Kumar (percussion and backing vocals), Montry Manuel (drums), Varun (lead guitar), Sanjeev Nayak (violin) and Jishnu Dasgupta (bass guitar and backing vocals).

I entered a stone quadrangle at the National Association for the Blind to find Vasu Dixit in a yellow shirt, pink trousers holding an acoustic guitar. He greeted the crowd with “Illi Bandha Ellaa Makkalige Namaskara!” (Greetings to all the kids present here) He started the set with a Kannada song ‘Ell Hogali Shivane’ that set the tone for the evening. I was glad the sound system worked well in a quadrangle unlike a few pubs where a few notes are far from clear. The Carnatic violin and the tabla were reminiscent of the Antaragni days that I quite miss hearing in these times.

Swarathma at the National Association for the Blind, Bangalore

They then moved on to an instrumental, highlighted by ragas sung by Vasu and Jishnu. Just when the show seemed to be a one-sided affair, Vasu brought a child up onstage and asked him to sing to the crowd, for a few minutes. After a few lines, Vasu joked “Neenu jaasthi haadidhre, ninnaney kelbeku antha heluthaarey!” (If you sing for too long, the audience will insist that they want to listen only to you) The band then moved onto a Hindi number ‘Barsenge’. It was then that their sound settled to what their genre signified.

Pyaasi’, followed next, highlighted by the violin played skillfully by Sanjeev – this is a song about how Karnataka and Tamil Nadu fought over the river Kaveri, neither giving back what the river so generously offered to the two states.

Khul Ja Re‘ followed a slow, fluid ‘Pyaasi’, an interesting number accompanied by three percussionists. With each number Swarathma’s versatility seemed to grow. Their next number however took the focus away from their folky outlook.

Swarathma at the National Association for the Blind, Bangalore

Koorane’ began with a Sabbath-ish riff that sent shivers down my spine and was infused with a lot of howling by Vasu, and Varun (lead guitars). Our photographer for the evening, Uday, mentioned to me Varun’s use of the ‘talkbox’. Something that many artists hadn’t been noticed using.

When Vasu decided to treat the crowd to another Kannada song, it was received by the audience’s approval with a resounding applause. ‘Ee Bhoomi’ was up next and Vasu got down to the crowd, holding in his hands red and yellow pom-poms that doubled up as cymbals as he danced around in front of the stage. The manner in which he infected the crowd was admirable and the effect it had on the children almost seemed miraculous given the fact that their only source of grasping what the band had to offer was through their sound – Swarathma created magic!

The band ended their little gig with ‘Pyaar Re Rang’, a song that drew the folk sounds of Rajasthan into the heart of Bangalore. An upbeat number after which Vasu got into the crowd once again, chatting up with the little children, bringing them closer to the magic that the band just created. At one point during the gig, the little kids were so enamored by the music that they had got onto their feet and danced in the middle of the courtyard!

Swarathma at the National Association for the Blind, Bangalore

Never have I witnessed a gig before that cut through the heart of the crowd with so much ease, and held their attention right till the end making for such a glorious experience. I doubt I’ll ever come across another gig that is this interactive and heartwarming.

I caught up with Vasu before the band could pack up and leave for the day; on asking him what challenges did the band face during the show considering the fact that the kids couldn’t see them, he said that “One can have all his five senses perfectly intact and still be deaf and blind. We’ve played to shows where the audience is half-drunk or passed out, in places that have the best music systems and sound and yet we left unfulfilled and joyless. There are other shows where we’ve coaxed the audience into the space that WE’VE created, and drawn them in. Such shows and this one, we have loved and left with happiness in our hearts. I think that’s what counts.”

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Sharath Krishnaswami

Sharath is a freelance journalist. When he's not working, he's either painting on walls, trekking, or writing short stories.