Published in the Hindu Metroplus/Sunday Magazine in July 2012.
Swarathma – Topiwalleh
Everything about this Bangalore-based folk rock sextet conveys a sense of do-it-yourself. Granted that this should not affect one’s judgement of their music, but it becomes impossible to overlook the fact that their second full-length album ‘Topiwalleh’ is a self-released CD that is made entirely from recycled paper. What’s more, their album launch gig in Bangalore’s Freedom Park last month was self-organised and free for anyone who wanted to revel in the band’s music.
Thematically, Swarathma take on very serious issues on ‘Topiwalleh’, albeit with their musical satire, playing out to the farce that they feel is the Indian socio-politics.The opening track ‘Topiwalleh’ is exuberant and with a hint of reggae, Vasu Dixit sings about those who wear the hat with sardonic words.
There’s much more of a condemning tone on the album, and the music is made to match with darker, more progressive beats and riffs. ‘Koorane’ features overdriven guitar riffs from Varun Murali, while ‘Ghum’ is an epic seven-minute trip loaded with the most experimental sounds produced by the band. We knew from their previous album they were fully capable of this, and ‘Ghum’ just goes to show the band leaning towards heavy progressive folk rock.
On ‘Naane Daari’, there’s the unmistakable Wah guitar in the vein of so many U2 songs. Just as with ‘Ee Bhoomi’ on their first album, the band’s appeal lies in how even Kannada songs can be sung along with the same conviction as the rest of the Hindi songs.
The album’s other sucker punch comes with the even-more sardonic ‘Aaj ki Taaza Fikar’, in which they take aim at sensational news media. ‘Topiwalleh’ manages to squeeze in two additional songs that Swarathma had written and released in between albums.
One of them, ‘Duur Kinara’, a product of their collaboration with Shubha Mudgal courtesy The Dewarists, is an eerie, almost sombre meditation sung in Hindi, Kannada and English. That’s definitely as mullti-lingual as you can get. The album closes with ‘Yeshu Allah aur Krishna’, made famous on their British Council-sponsored recording sessions with John Leckie (The Stone Roses, Radiohead) which then featured on the compilation ‘Soundpad’.
There’s an equal amount of idealism and realism on ‘Topiwalleh’. It‘s proof that Swarathma don’t really want to be a driving force in music, but more so a driving force in social change. But they are well on their way to ticking off both accomplishments.