Going glocal!

As Carnatic fusion music gains traction among Bengalureans, bands are blending metal and rock with homegrown harmonies to captivate audiences worldwide
Seven-piece Carnatic fusion band Project MishraM performing at an event
Seven-piece Carnatic fusion band Project MishraM performing at an event

BENGALURU: Imagine mixing colours that have never before been put together to create an explosion of unpredictable hues and shades. That is the essence of fusion music – blending disparate genres and creating something unique from it. In recent years, Bengaluru has become a vibrant hub for musical innovation, with many fusion bands harnessing the rhythmic intricacies of Carnatic music with the dynamic rhythms and melodies of contemporary Western genres like rock, metal, and jazz.

Project MishraM, a seven-piece band that had its humble beginnings at RV College of Engineering, epitomises the eclectic essence of Carnatic fusion. Their fusion roots stem from their diverse musical backgrounds in Carnatic music; Shivaraj Natraj, the band’s vocalist comes from a Carnatic family with his grandmother and great-grandmother being Carnatic artistes. “Most band members, including the violinist, flautist, and drummer, have training in Carnatic music. The fusion part of it comes from our diverse musical interests, ranging from EDM to progressive metal,” he says.

Today, with members spread across the globe, the band’s international tours, include performances at UK Tech Fest, highlighting their growing influence. “People are increasingly interested in fusion,” observes Natraj.

College fests, social media and influences in mainstream music has increased the popularity of Carnatic fusion bands
College fests, social media and influences in mainstream music has increased the popularity of Carnatic fusion bands

Sivaranjini Chandramouli, the vocalist of Thisram, a six-member band rooted in Carnatic traditions, agrees about the rising popularity of Carnatic fusion bands. “More bands are performing fusion, and exposure to world music has increased in cities like Bengaluru and Chennai,” she explains. The band’s performance in Bengaluru recently attracted a full house, a feat that seemed almost ‘unbelievable’ to them. 

But with the growing popularity, Natraj is also concerned about it becoming too mainstream. “I hope the fusion that gets out there is of good quality, with thorough research on both the Carnatic and counterpart genres. I’ve heard a lot of fusion music that leans too heavily one way or the other because they just want to have that ‘cool sound’, but well-meant fusion, studied on both sides, can produce something beautiful,” he says.

Guitarist Raghunandan S Rao of Mysore Xpress, an independent Kannada indie-rock band, on the other hand, brings a fresh perspective, emphasising, “Even if you add a bit of Carnatic to a pop song, it makes it unique. It doesn’t matter if it’s for two seconds or the entire song. Fusing two genres isn’t easy, and I appreciate musicians who make it work because the genres are often dead opposite from each other. As long as people remain open to listening and musicians keep experimenting, the future looks promising.” 

K Sujan Rao, percussionist of another Carnatic fusion band Tarana, which formed during Covid-19 says that their mission is to make Carnatic classical music more accessible for younger generations. “Pure Carnatic or Hindustani concerts often take place in closed auditoria, and the younger generation, who don’t usually listen to such music, might find it boring. We aim to make this type of music reach a larger audience so they can start learning and appreciating it. It’s important to get your foundations right. Many students have mentioned that it reignited their interest in classical music,” highlights Rao. 

While fusion music has made strides among metropolitans, vocalist of Thisram band, Bhargavi Manogna, says there still remain many challenges. “Platforms like music festivals and college fairs are encouraging more independent music. But it’s still challenging, with preferences often leaning towards familiar cover songs.”

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The New Indian Express