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Swarathma: A Musical Confluence of Passion and Protest

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Jishnu spoke about ‘Making Music to Make Sense of the World’ at TEDxStXaviersMumbai on 15th April, 2018

Jishnu his believes that music enables one to make sense of the land. It enables us to empathize - understand through the heart what one cannot understand through the mind. When invited to speak at the TEDxStXaviersMumbai, Jishnu spoke about this and much else about making music that tells stories about living in this world.

He begins with an interesting analogy - the ancient Greeks believed that astronomy and music are two sides of the same coin. Astronomy is the study of external objects while music studies the hidden - understanding the invisible in us is the gift of music, and through this understanding, we make better sense of this world that we inhabit.

With his lucid articulation, Jishnu develops this idea by recounting the origins, story and impact of Swarathma's groundbreaking music and it's ties with societal behavior, politics, protest and empathy. Swarathma's musical style is Indian folk combined with contemporary rock, reggae and blues. But what makes their music special are the issues they tackle through this performing art - from river conflicts to politics, from personal journeys to celebrations of love.

Jishnu recounts the story behind 'Pyaasi' (The Thirsty) from Swarathma's debut album. The song is river Cauvery's lament about the futile wars waged over water ownership. This song created from a conversation heard on a train journey, when after listening to a vehement rant of a group of young farmers about how the waters belong to them, an elderly women, echoing the eternal voice of the river posits "but have you thought about what the river feels?" The audience applauds spontaneously as the lyric-video clip fades out leaving ripples of the beautiful melody behind.

"This song is for us as a band, equivalent to taking part in a peace march, or doing a candle-light vigil." - Jishnu Dasgupta

In his inimitable manner and humor, Jishnu shares his take on the complex subject of politics next. Politics is an inescapable reality but we as citizens do not want much to do with it - we cringe at the horrors of corruption and laugh in hollow rage as politicians, who we have entrusted to run the country, make a mess of things.

Swarathma created their iconic song 'Topiwalleh' as a response to similar experiences - translating their feelings about politics and the abuse of power into a musical piece. A two-chord reggae-riff played on an acoustic guitar was layered with brooding drums, a deep bass-line, a raging electronic guitar riff and finally topped with a naughty, irreverent melody to lay out the base of the song in the band's jampad.

The story of the making-of-Topiwalleh comes alive in Jishnu's retelling of it - Jishnu dons a topi, and his street-theater style realpolitik-speak in a heartland accent evokes much laughter from an audience who, perhaps, found an expression of their everyday outrage in the song.

Finally, Jishnu talks about our belief in a supreme power - and the deep troubling effects of religious intransigence. The song 'Yesu, Allah or Krishna' is Swarathma's version of a bhajan that takes on pervasive religious hypocrisy that prevails across ages. The video-clip shows Swarathma performing at Purana Kila in Delhi and showcases their unique folk storytelling style that brings musical worlds together.

Jishnu sums up his talk, by saying that, for him and the members of Swarathma, music helps them make sense of the world when words are not enough. His voice conveys hope as he talks about his conviction that music will be key as we think about the future of wellness and well-being. His is emphatic and sincere when he talk about is belief in being essential for human survival as it helps us rearrange invisible pieces of our inner-selves instead of being relegated to the 'Entertainment section in the media as it is today.

"We don't believe we know better. We don't claim to have all the answers." - Jisnhu Dasgupta

And, with a vision of musical kinship to make the world a happier place, Jishnu bows out from the TEDX stage.

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