According to Bangalore-based folk fusion band, Swarathma, music is the way of expressing how they feel about the world. “Our songs have always revolved around the narration of folk tales. We’ve had a keen interest in social matters so we wrote and sang about those issues,” says the band’s bass player Jishnu Dasgupta, who along with other band members, is on a multi-city album release tour across India to promote their latest album, Raah-e-Fakira. “The album is different because it speaks not just about how important these social issues are but about how much they mean to us,” he adds in an email interview.
It has taken six years for the band to come out with an album after their last one, Topiwallah, which had garnered much attention. “I think we weren’t ready for the album until now. The band went through line-up changes and it took time for the members to find the stability that is needed to put out a body of work. The past six years have been a journey, the sound of which I hope you will hear in the album,” he adds.
The five members of the band which has Joel Milan Baptist on the drums, Vasu Dixit on the vocals, Varun Murali on lead guitar and Sanjeev Nayak on the violin tell us that the idea of being a folk rock band came from their different tastes in music. “I loved the classical and folk music from Mysore while the base guitarist, Varun, loved rock and metal. We found a way to synthesise our different tastes and give it an Indian tone. All of us had a love for theatre and live performances because it gave us the freedom to tell our own tales in our own style,” says Dixit.
The album takes its name from the first song composed for Raah-e-Fakira. The band members say that the piece is about a journey within yourself, finding your own path — the path of the saint. “While many songs of ours have been about social issues, this album has several songs that are more inward looking and introspective,” says Dasgupta. For instance, Manwa is a song that is about a conversation with your own heart when things are not going your way while Kaash explores the ability to make peace with regret. There are some like Aasman ki dukaan which talk about how faith is commercialised and is basically a rant against the ‘dukaandaar’ or the shopkeeper in the sky.
In the decade that the group has spent together, their musical tastes have evolved and they have grown personally — more willing to listen to each other than before. The process of songwriting and production, too, has changed, which reflects in this album. “Vasu had been the primary songwriter in the previous albums. This album has seen greater inputs from Varun and myself. I have even sung the lead vocals on one track, which is a first for us. From an album production point of view, the band has produced this album in-house at The Red Music Box, Varun’s own recording studio which was a huge confidence boost for us,” says Dasgupta.
This isn’t the only first for the team as far as the album goes. For one, they came up with a graphic comic and collaborated with Kolkata-based collective Ghost Animation for the album. “There are stories in each of our songs which we want to share with the world. On this album, we decided to collaborate with artists who also tell stories, graphic comics. In the absence of album artwork (since there are no CDs), we decided to put out graphic interpretations of our songs. As a band we’ve always been very visual in our approach to music — with videos, on-stage costumes and so on,” says Murali.