This alternative-folk-rock band from India is as much about its groovy rhythm and plethora of styles as it is about provoking people into retrospection
Jaagar, an alternative/folk rock band from Pune, was formed in 2012, by Anand Altekar and Karan Pandav, with a vision to create a new sound based on building a framework of music that influenced them.
Today, the band has Anand on vocals and the guitar, Karan on the guitar, keyboard and vocals, with various session artists taking up the bass guitar and percussionist roles when the need arises.
Nivedita Agashe pens lyrics for the band, which are always in Hindi, as the band members feel it tells their story and spreads their message like no other language can.
The band’s sound is inspired from a plethora of influences and genres ranging from hard rock, progressive rock, and metal, to Indian classical. Groovy rhythm sections are the backbone of their compositions, simple sing-along vocal melodies and use of diverse instruments to paint a colourful soundscape. From western instruments such as guitars, piano, synths to Indian regional folk and classical musical instruments such as tabla, sarangi, and dhol-taasha, the band uses a wide gamut of sounds and instruments in their compositions and arrangements.
Jaagar believes the essence of their compositions is deeply rooted in live performances and have shared the stage with the likes of Lucky Ali and Swarathma. Crowds usually love getting involved and onto their feet with the riveting rhythm section and folksy undertones, singing and humming along to the hook of vocal melodies.
Jaagar has released a nine-song album on 2 January, which has been recorded by Nitin Joshi (Nitin Joshi Music) and Swatantra Sarode (Tweaklab studios), mixed by Zorran Mendonsa (Zorran Mendonsa productions) in New Zealand, and mastered by Keshav Dhar (SkyHarbour).
Founders members Anand and Karan talk to The Indian Sun on their music.
How did Jaagar come into being?
Anand: Karan and I have been friends for a while before Jaagar started. While I was studying in Chennai, I had this not-so-clear idea about a particular style of music that I wanted to make. It had come about during random jams with my elder bro (drummer of my earlier band), who had some tunes too, so Karan was obviously the first one I contacted when I decided to move to Mumbai from Chennai. Karan also had some ideas and tunes already that he had been working on, so he readily agreed to do something together. He used to come to Mumbai on weekends where both of us would try building each other’s ideas up into a song. We began composing the skeletal structures of what are now the base melodies for our songs on the album, and also on a few other songs which didn’t make the cut to the album. That’s when I stumbled upon Nivedita’s blog and showed it to Karan. He liked her writing too so we called her and our creative ideas and vision clicked almost immediately. After that, Jaagar turned into more of a bedroom project. About a year after Karan and I started, Agneya joined us on drums. He has played all the drums on the album. Agneya moved to Toronto after a two-year stint with Jaagar to study jazz music at an established conservatory. It took us a long five years to release the album this year.
We have a few session bassists and drummers with whom we work for our live gigs, and recently we have also been experimenting with our sound in the form of a duo outfit with re-imagined compositions and arrangements for our songs.
Why did you decide to sing in Hindi? Is that a trend that’s emerging?
We don’t really know if it’s a trend but we did it because Hindi felt like the right language to express what we wanted to say though our music. Musically speaking, we wanted to work with a lot of Indian sounds and a lot of the melodies that we composed had an inherent ethic feel to them. That was why we felt Hindi would be a great fit to the music.
Is there an overriding theme to the lyrics?
Keeping in sync with the name and philosophy of the band, overall, the lyrics aim to provoke people into thinking. However, there is no one tone or mood of the lyrics as the songs cover a whole gamut of emotions. While songs like Gulaal, Varchaswa and Kesari take a more aggressive tone, Bhasha, Mitti ke Sher and Basera tackle the issues of today’s world. While the words of Bhor and Kaya have a sombre, contemplative voice, a song like Ban Baghi ups the mood with its vibrancy. But throughout this varied spectrum what remains common is the simple, approachable language and the constant exploration of themes that deserve thought and introspection from the listener.
What’s your take on the rock music scene in India?
At this point, we feel it’s a real struggle being a rock musician in India. There definitely is a domestic and regional (local) market to grow, but even with the convenience of digital platforms, it’s often difficult to reach out to a really wide range of the audience. The number of Independent music listeners in India is huge, but India being such a large and diverse country, it’s near impossible to find one place to reach out to every one of them. However, there are also a few plus sides to this predicament. There are city-pockets where there is a local sub culture of various music genres, and its a great opportunity for rock musicians to exploit. Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad, Calcutta and Shillong, to name a few of the main ones.
Today, it’s not enough to be just a good musician. You also need to be your own manager, social media marketer, promoter and so on. With the exception of a few really great rock music acts, mostly bands or artists who are pushing these agendas are doing well, where everything else comes first but the music. But we believe that we will get there because the audience is definitely out there. Despite there being a general divide in personal tastes, good music definitely gets appreciated.
Also, if we consider the market for western music in India, gigs have become more about the vibe than about the music. It’s about what you wear and what memories you created at the gig, what photos will you put up on Instagram from the gig, and more. Add to that extreme competition on social media for viewer attention. This makes it really difficult for music that is not made with the consumer in mind to reach far. Popular music on social media is about being quick, palatable and consumable. Like McDonalds burgers. A more niche and boutique burger shop will find it difficult to break through but they will mostly break through at some point if they don’t give up. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people dedicated to listening to good music out there, it’s just really hard to find them.
We played at a Sofar gig recently and that was such a refreshing change having an audience that is only there for the music!
Some people came up to us and said it was so nice to find our music. Then they asked why they didn’t find us on social media.
Many past rock musicians in India have signed up to work in films. Is that the best way for a musician to make a living in India?
Bollywood pretty much controls the reach of music to the wider Indian audience. Therefore, it also pays better. But the essence of original and creative music is lost since one it begins catering to the average joe Bollywood movie goer. However, there are several rock musicians who take up Bollywood projects in whatever capacity they can, and still continue working on their original material. It ultimately comes down to a personal choice.
Would you want to take your music global?
We honestly believe music is universal. Take the case of Avial, not only one of our most favourite bands ever, but their music, songwriting and production have had major influences on us. Karan and I are Marathi and neither of us understands a word of Malayalam. But we know almost all of Avial’s songs by heart. We groove to the rhythm and the melodies, and sing their songs when we hear them. We then try to understand what the words are, and what thoughts have gone into the songwriting and lyrics. It’s a wonderful process.
But with the digital revolution has also worked wonders. Music from around the world is now accessible in the palm of your hands. Artists are travelling internationally and playing to crowds, some of whom are already familiar with their style and look forward to seeing them live. Indian audiences have always looked up to western musicians in general, but in the past few years, wonderful things have happened to Indian bands. Bands like Parikrama, Indus Creed, Raghu Dixit and Demonic resurrection have performed at Donnington, Glastonbury, Royal Albert Hall, and apart from festivals, have gone on road with tours in North America, Europe, Australia, South East Asia. Indian music listeners gain a newfound respect for such artists, and it does a lot of good for the music scene.
The Indian independent music scene is bursting at its seams right now, to be able to take our music to a global level would be a huge opportunity not only for us, but for independent media houses, publishing houses, content curators, festival programmers, creative collaborators and the audiences for the music scene. Being able to document our exposure to global audiences, our experiences and our journey would be very lucrative, since Indian bands seldom get to do this and people get behind the artist and their music when there are such opportunities.
For us personally, we never want to restrict the reach of our music. The more it spreads, the more Indian diaspora as well as diverse international audiences are receptive and appreciative of it, the happier we are. We received a message from a guy in Portugal saying he stumbled upon our album and loved our music, and it meant a great deal to us!
The album can be streamed/purchased at
OKListen: https://www.oklisten.com/album/jaagar; http://www.saavn.com/s/album/hindi/Jaagar-2017/-9YwQ0wjmGg_;
Apple Music: https://itun.es/us/zXbjhb;