Regional rock on a roll

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For quite a long time English songs dominated the rock music scene in India. The transition to vernacular languages is finally picking up with various indie bands creating a unique identity by singing in their native languages. Be it the folk rock band Lagori, Bengali rock acts like Suspended Fifth, Fossils and Kaya, Raghu Dixit Project, Assamese rock singer Papon, Haryanavi rock band Nasya, city-based Sifar or Parvaaz with their lyrics in Urdu and Kashmiri — these bands have made a name of their own by singing in a language they are most comfortable in. And the trend is definitely seeing a sharp rise with the number of regional acts increasing.
“Language is a matter of choice,” believes Subir Malik, manager of Parikrama band. “I have always been a keen supporter of bands who want to follow their regional languages. Singing in a local language helps you create a unique identity and increases your popularity. One should not stereotype rock music by associating it with English lyrics. We have held over 3,000 concerts across the world, but we find our comfort zone in English. The choice of language is solely a matter of comfort for a musician,” he adds.
Even until seven years ago, when Bengaluru-based folk-fusion band Swarathma started playing, the audience was gradually opening up to non-Bollywood and non-indipop Hindi music. “When we started doing the rounds of colleges in around 2006, the crowd would start dispersing as they anticipated popular hits to be performed on stage. Initially, even fans and friends suggested avoiding lyrics in Hindi or Kannada. But with changing times, audience and musicians have started taking music more passionately,” shares Jishnu Dasgupta, bass guitarist of Swarathma.
Dasgupta believes that it is no longer the era where you sing Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden songs because ‘oh-my-god-it-is-so-cool.’ “We live in times where musicians have woken up to the fact that acts performed in one’s own regional dialects are far more convincing and soulful than aping some western rockstars,” he adds.
Acclaimed classical musician Iman Das with his band Shringar, a classical fusion band mixing ragas with pop, ghazals, and contemporary songs, wants to prove that music has no boundaries. “All genres are under only one sky. Our main language is Hindi, but we mix it sometimes with Bengali, English and even Carnatic songs. During our concerts, I have witnessed youngsters swaying away with the beats of sargams from all over India and abroad,” reveals Das.
Blending Malayalam poetry with contemporary rock, Avial is one of the most sought-after bands that has carved a niche for itself. For this ‘alternative Malyalam rock band’, singing in their mother tongue has brought freedom to express without any inhibition. Tony John, vocalist of the band, puts forth, “Initially, this was a major challenge as the younger generation was still blindly stuck on western music and the older generation was not exposed to rock music. Despite all challenges, we held on to our roots and today we see even non-Malayalam speaking crowd appreciating our music.”
After the success of the band’s first album, the response from the audience was overwhelming. “Farhan Akhtar liked our songs and invited us for the famous Rock On for Humanity concert. Liking our take on the revival of traditional folklore, Malyalam film director Ashiq Abu roped us in for an interesting project. We got an opportunity to share the stage with A.R. Rahman, who expressed his interest in our unique style of music and sensible blend of folklore and urban rock,” shares John.

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