Originally published in The Hindu Sunday Magazine on November 25, 2012
The Inner Self Awakens
It may have taken close to five years for this Bengaluru septet to put out an album, and though it contains just six songs, it’s safe to say that they are six of Agam’s best, diverse sound recorded. I always wondered why I liked Carnatic music just as much as I liked progressive rock, and The Inner Self Awakens treads a wonderfully blurred line between the two genres to explain why. The two genres are far more compatible than either camp would have imagined, and Agam are the torch bearers of this trend, blending heavily Dream Theater-inspired riffs and the calculated taalas of Carnatic music in songs such as “Rudra” and “Dhanashree Thillana”
The members clearly know both sides of the music extremely well, with classically-trained vocalist and violinist Harish Sivaramakrishnan singing and duelling with lead guitarist Praveen Kumar’s smouldering solos straight from the opening track “Brahma’s Dance”.
The main aim with The Inner Self Awakens seems to be more than just bringing fans of Carnatic and rock music in the same field. It’s a very interesting statement about cultural diversity, just as “The Boat Song” cheerfully celebrates the traditional song of Kerala’s boatmen. Even “Swans of Saraswati” (Bantureeti Kolu) starts out with a synchronised beatdown reminiscent of Rush, and then Sivaramakrishnan chimes in with Telugu vocals in raaga Hamsanadam by Thyagaraja. The band themselves term this song a bold experiment, but conviction permeates through the notes of this song.
The album closes with the band’s well-known track “Malhar Jam”, which is an alternative rock-tinged fast-paced nod towards raaga Brindavan Saarang and Mian Malhar. The flute, violin and guitar meet two backing performers – drummer Ganesh Ram Nagarajan and percussionist Sivakumar Nagarajan. Among the seven members in Agam, it’s evident that each of them is given their own solo moment on the album.
The Inner Self Awakens is a success because it’s cool music you can convince your parents to enjoy listening to. It’s foreboding and dark, but also celebratory and joyous at other times. It does well to win over the traditional, raaga-loving morning-people and the young and restless lot of evening rock gig-goers. And don’t be surprised if you find a mix of both crowds at one of their concerts.