There are more than eighty bands currently in the small state of Kerala. About three decades ago, this was not the case. John Antony, famous guitarist and the founder of the internationally renowned band “kARNATRiix”, the new age world music band, says when he started off his career, there were hardly three or four bands around in Kerala. John and his friends were more often than not labeled as “hippies”.
“Things were different those days; if one wore a pair of jeans, then he was a hippie, an outcast, a rebel rather. Now I see parents coming and encouraging their own children, and I can’t help admitting that things have changed for good”, he says.
John says, 30 years ago, when he was playing for his band “Stone Age”, his perspective of music was entirely different, but gradually it evolved into the music that comes out from kARNATRiix. John’s musical journey which started in Kochi is an interesting one. In a chat session with Blive, John talks about the evolution of his understanding of music, about his sole passion “kARNATRiix” and the band’s upcoming show at Thiruvananthapuram, this month.
John Anthony began to chase his passion for music at the age of 14. By the time he was 18, he was already teaching at the Taranga Nisari School of Music in Thiruvananthapuram, where he initially enrolled to learn music. This is where he was trained in western classical music under the principal of the school, Roger D. Jhanke. But before this, he played for various bands in Kochi, like the “Stone Age” and “The Hijackers”.
John says his convictions about music began to change, or shatter rather, after he met late music director M.G Radhakrishanan at the school.
John says, “I was eighteen when I met him first. We would sit together and fight for hours about Indian classical and western music. The fights would never end, but gradually I understood that he was indirectly trying to teach me something else. That he was indirectly destroying my ego”. That was a start; gradually he understood the complex designs underlying Indian music.
Another incident that left a mark in shaping him up as the exemplary musician he is today was his experience with internationally acclaimed musician and violinist, L. Shankar. “Vaidi, L.Shankar’s elder brother was the one who asked me to play along with him when a band came to India. I was awestruck. By that time we already had formed the band, The Roots. Sivamani, AR Rahman, Jo Jo and I were part of the band. L.Shankar was happy to have a whole band, but I was nervous to play in front of him. Throughout our practice sessions, Shankar would tell me “Johny, I can’t hear you”. He said that just before he left after the tour too. I kept changing my guitar’s sound levels, but I was so wrong. All the while Shankar was telling me he can’t hear the music that came from within me”, he smiles and continues . . .”Years later, when I began to play what really came from within me, I again played with him. And quite rightly, he said, “Johny, I can hear you now”.
John evolved; he realized that emulating others is not the way to go. With his music, he made his own self.
The “kARNATRiix” and Namaste Saga
kARNARiix was formed almost ten years ago, when the …… member band started, Avial fame REX Vijayan and VJ Traven played for the band initially. “It took about a year actually; Rex was already with Avial then. He spoke with John P Varkey, our first album was in fact recorded at John’s studio in Thrissur. The sounding couldn’t be any more perfect. That’s what I believe, rather than going to New York for recording, you just need the right people”.
The band’s attempt to distribute the album through record label was a disappointment according to John, “Everybody wanted “heavy” music. Content was not important for them”. What kept him going was the platform he discovered in the social networking site, My Space. “We uploaded the audio track, and the response was really inspiring, people from various parts of the globe reached out to appreciate. Soon we were invited for the Shanghai Spring International Festival”, he says. John says this when he realized most of the international bands expenses are covered by the cultural wing of their corresponding government. “We were the only band among all the bands from about 17 countries that were sponsored wholly by the festival organizers”, he says.
Once kARNATRiix got back after the tour, India Beat released the band’s first album, “Namaste” which was distributed by Virgin Records. The album topped the New Age track list at that time; it was created around the concept of a trip from dawn to dusk. John also re-mastered some of the greatest classics that were composed by the legendary musician, Thyagaraja.
“aN” is not just another second album, this one will be recorded live when the band plays the line up live at Nishagandhi in Thiruvananthapuram. John says he is happy to work with the team from Sound Engineering Academy, “Thinking about it, we actually got another show a while ago, it was a three city tour, across Kerala. Somehow it did not work out, and now I think its better this way”.
While “Namaste” was woven around the concept of dawn to dusk, “aN”, he says is a trip from the early hours of the morning, even before to dawn to dusk. The name comes from the Zen word which means comfortably back home. The show will start with the song; “Angel’s Dust” which John says is a dedication to his first two gurus, MG Radhakrishnan and TV Gopalakrishnan. The band will continue to perform individual ragas that they practice early in the morning; the next song in the track list is “Justa for four”. John is also playing “Endaro Mahanubhavulu” followed by “Mad Chicks” which, he says, is a dedication to his wife.
Other songs in the album include “Kochiznee”, “44/11”, an extended version of the band song “Exorcism”, “NTBLS” and then “aN”. “That is the challenge, to pull off a soft song in that crowd. “aN” is my journey, a very long journey”, he says.