There are always people who look to master one genre through years of practice and explore the depths of it. Then, there are people who blend distinct genres, while still retaining the essence of each genre, to create something entirely new. Now, don’t get me wrong, neither of these groups is wrong in any way.
But today we are here to talk about the latter group. Particularly this one band called ‘Param’ strives to blend the mystical realms of Hindustani classical music and Progressive Rock and their debut album ‘Upasana.’ Param is a Bangalore-based Hindustani Progressive Rock Act with Vijay Hegde on the vocals, Shreyas Urs on the guitars, Sanketh on the bass, and Mayur on the drums. They are known for their resounding stage presence that engages the crowd through a combination of high energy and unique musicality.
While the lead vocals of their songs are inspired by Hindustani Classical Music, the other instrumentalists in the band bring in their flavors of progressive rock and blues. Both of these join together to create a unique listener experience. Some of Param’s accolades include their single ‘Moonrain’ being ranked Top 5 during its release week and performing at The India Social and Culture Centre in Abu Dhabi.
Coming to ‘Upasana,’ their debut album released recently, it is an album that, in the band’s true style, transcends conventional boundaries both linguistically and in terms of the genre. It is an extraordinary sonic journey where each track is a narrative in itself and captures the essence of an artist’s journey as a very transformative experience. The songs are novel but also essentially roots itself in the tradition of Hindustani as well as progressive rock.
Starting with a lovely conversation between the two genres in Raag Bhupali is ‘Moonrain,’ the first song in the album. It makes sense to start the album with a raag like Bhupali considering how it’s usually sung in the mornings. Immediately, you can also catch the essence of Hindustani where the same lines are repeated in multiple different ways by the vocalist while the bandish grows with the trippy background of guitar and drums. The song also has a slight Carnatic flavor to it and tries to detach its listeners from reality and immerse them into an alternate dimension experience with no rules and boundaries. The song projects an array of thoughts similar to a transcendental journey with swaras, and tablas. The pace of the song slowly picks up leaving you in a high.
Another thing that one can appreciate in Param is the vocalist’s ability to deliver a tone and vocal style that can complement both genres. Vijay Hegde has the technical skills that are required for Hindustani but also the tone and style progressive rock demands. You can particularly see it in the second song of the album ‘Away.’ A song that celebrates the joy of traveling and liberating the sense of breaking free from the past, this is a song that showcases Param’s ability to sonically tell a story. ‘Away’ feels like the start of something new and getting prepared for it can make you ecstatic. The lyrics do speak about it, but the instrumentalists have done a really good job of bringing the story alive. The song is structured in a way that leaves a lot of room for the melodies to shine with a tasteful guitar solo. This is a slightly longer piece from the album, a typical characteristic of a progressive rock song and just pleases you in multiple ways.
Next comes ‘The Groove Khyal.’ ‘Khyal’ in Hindustani typically means a song that is short and imaginative. It is usually associated with romantic poetry and allows a performer greater freedom to improvise. Param chose Raag Yaman for their progressive rock Khyal with the classic bandish ‘Eri Ali pita bin.’ The band has given their dystopian flavour to the song with the guitar also going Hindustani with its riffs. The bandish talks about a girl who feels restless without her beloved. That restlessness is mimicked wonderfully by the melody and is an amazing East meets West, classical meets contemporary song that encapsulates the rich traditions of Hindustani music and the electrifying energy of rock.
After the morning raag, ‘Upasana’ moves on to the night raag ‘Bhageshree.’ The song that’s named after the raag starts with a mysterious intro with light shakers in your left year and the guitar melody on the right. After this, the bass and drums join the party. In this song that’s perhaps the most classically oriented piece of the album, the chosen bandish depicts the emotion of waiting for a reunion with one’s lover. The vocals aptly match the theme of the song with a beautiful jugalbandi-like element with the Hindustani ‘bol’ or ‘padhant,’ tabla, and the guitars. Although some may have liked to hear taans in the songs, the padhant makes up for it.
‘Upasana,’ means ‘sitting near god.’ Spiritually, God is within you. So essentially, you are sitting with yourself and having a conversation. That’s what the fifth track, which also happens to be the title track of the album talks about. It also acts as a sonic portrait of the journey and struggles of an artist. It explores the beauty of the struggles the depth of the passion, and the overall transformative power that art holds. The lyrics are in Kannada and talk about climbing up and falling again to talk about how your life is a reflection of yourself. The title track sums up the core essence of what Param is trying to tell its audience through their album.
Progressive rock has always been about concept-driven lyrics, fusing new genres, technologies, and techniques into the music. It is a genre with experimental songs and ambitious compositions. ‘The Chase’ is a song in the album that taps into the concept and captures the yearning to be set free. Rock also sometimes has themes of motivation and not paying heed to doubt and fear. This song asks you to chase your dreams head-on. Param’s ability to paint pictures right in front of your eyes with their crafty instrumentals can be fully experienced in this song.
Finally, they end with ‘Train Station Blues,’ which has a combination of two raags – Bhimpalasi and Mal Kauns. It embraces the ever-changing nature of life and reflects the ebbs and flows of artistic inspiration and creative journey. With Bhimpalasi’s ‘Biraj Mein Dhooma machaaye Kaanha,’ a song that talks about Krishna playing Holi, they present the lighter and more colorful phases of an artist’s life. But this life can take a sudden turn anywhere, anytime. That is represented by the abrupt raag change to Mal Kauns’ ‘Mora Mora Muskaat Jat.’ A raag is usually sung during the small hours of the morning. The bandish describes a beautiful woman going somewhere all dressed up, looking back at a man, smiling with her eyes sparkling. All of that makes you wonder, ‘Who is this woman?’ The band’s clever naming of the track also depicts how an artist can never stay still in one place – mentally, physically, and emotionally. This shows that the band knows the roots of the genres well.
This album has proved that Param can tell a story through their music even without words. They know what they’re bringing to the table and what they’re bringing has its roots in the core essence of the genres they want to blend. Moreover, they have proven that music, at its heart is a language that is always up for exploration and interpretation. Hindustani classical music as well as progressive rock has always been about knowing the roots and building from it. Bands like Param have proved time and over again the similarities between Indian classical music and Western genres like rock. Moreover, any Western instrument (the guitar in this case) can take on the role and explore what’s traditionally called Indian music.
The multi-lingual album demands repeated listens to understand the different layers in this wonderfully produced album and is overall a fantastic amalgamation of Hindustani classical music and progressive rock.