‘We favour piracy’
Says Bengaluru-based folk-rock band Swarathma after the launch of their second album Topiwalleh. Ten years since their formation, Vasu Dixit and Jishnu Dasgupta talk about the newest offering, piracy and what makes them social messengers
PICTURE THIS. A commentary on the status of the 2G scam is followed by a fitting song or a song that talks of corruption in our lives. Swarathma has a nose for news and this is no newly developed one. Music lovers in the city are more than used to getting their fair share of general knowledge while at a rock show
Their latest album is named Topiwalleh, a name they picked to replace their earlier choice of Neta Babu. The title song is a take on politicians and corruption. “We thought Neta babu was too direct. It was our song writer Imran Chaudhary who came up with the term Topiwalleh and we realised it suggested so much more in a colourful and satirical way. It encapsulates the album. Politicians in our country have become a joke and we are to blame too for not being responsible citizens,” says Vasu Dixit, lead singer, while talking about the album.
The band, which is in its tenth year now, has a penchant for associating itself with not just politically relevant issues but social ones too. If Pyaasi, a song from their previous album talked about water scarcity, Koorane a new one speaks about consumerism taking over our society. The band was also spotted at Freedom Park during the India Against Corruption (IAC) hunger strike, singing in support of those fighting against corruption.
What comes first, we wonder, the issue or the song. “All six of us in the band have our own views and thoughts. It is issues we collectively think about that we convey through our songs. And sometimes things just come to us, we do a song and we get associated with somebody who is fighting for the cause,” says Jishnu Dasgupta, bass guitarist of the band, adding that their association with Anna Hazare’s corruption movement was merely an attempt to voice their views against corruption. He is also quick in saying, it is the issue that concerns them and often not the people and the politics that follow.
The album has 10 songs and each one of them is a strong voice in support of a cause or a commentary on our times. While Ghum talks about child sexual abuse and how often it is a family member who turns out to the be the abuser, Aaj Ki Taaza Fikar is about yellow journalism and the media blurring lines between the actual truth and the presentation. Yeshu Allah Krishna, which recently won the Jack Daniel’s India Rock Awards, recently talks about religious hypocrisy.
Yeshu Allah Krishna from Topiwalleh, which recently won the Jack Daniel’s India Rock Award is about religious hypocrisy
“In this song, Kabir the poet returns to earth to discover that religious hypocrisy is still where it was when he left,” says Vasu. Lighter tracks include Rishton Ka Raasta which speaks about distances within relationships and Khul Ja Re that encourages you to go out there and be optimistic. Also part of this album is Door Kinara, a song the band recorded with Shubha Mudgal during The Dewarists.
Besides touching upon a host of social issues, Swarathma tells us this album has also been a big musical step forward. “Sanjeev, Varun and Jishnu joined the band in 2007 and this is the first album where their contribution through composition and influence is visible,” says Vasu.
“We also cut no production costs this time and that helped us produce a record we would love listening to on our own. Loy Mendonca who co-produced the album brought his musical experience along right from the compositional stage and that helped lift the album to a different level,” adds Jishnu. They also admit that their first album was a first time studio experience and the second coming has made them more used to playing in a studio setting. “We have all grown up as musicians since our last album. We also have more confidence as a band as we have all found our comfort zones in contributing at the compositional level,” Vasu tells us.
The album has been released online on the website and through a tie-up with Flipkart, where you can buy the entire album or a single song at a time. They do not believe in record labels and have self-released this album. What is more surprising is the fact that you will hear no anti-piracy slogans from them. “We favour piracy. It is something that liberated music and we need to embrace it. Music being freely available is what turned the industry around,” says Jishnu. “And let us admit, album sales are hardly where a band makes money. It is through shows that most of the money comes in and those are hardly possible without access to your music,” he adds.
The launch of the album was marked by an extensive countrywide tour and quirky contests. A radio contest in Bengaluru called Do Re Me So Fa La Ti’ took the band to a fan’s house to play him a private show on his So Fa and another one in Mumbai saw the dabbawala wear colourful topis for a whole day and distributing download cards of the album with lunch.
“We picked the dabbawalas because in Mumbai that is the perfect instant recall when you think of topis. Another contest we are conducting will give away a hand-painted guitar to one of our fans,” says Jishnu. “We also took one of our fans with the band during a tour to Mysore after he won a contest,” he adds.
When it is issues that they are out to express through their music, we ask them about the response that they receive through people hearing them. Talking about Topiwalleh in particular, Vasu says, “One of our fans who was a victim of abuse was so touched by the track Ghum that she mailed us and said she went back home from our show and spoke to her children about good touch and bad touch. That is the sort of response that keeps us going,” Vasu says. The sound is a band trademark, with heavy Indian instrumentation and largely bluesy feel.
Some of the songs the band has played over tours are strikingly familiar and bring back a memory of their stage energy, something the band is known for. It is easy to imagine their colourful outfits and the conversational rhythm while you sink in to the sounds of this new record. They say they have now found their creative space and the album is true testimony of that.