Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It’s a contagious feeling!

The Christian band, Kontagious, touched hearts during their recent concert at Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

The Guide whose blessings will/ destroy all that is evil/The father, mother and teacher/Who is the Incarnation of the Word/The Lord Jesus Christ.

These lines, from the Tamil poem, ‘Deva Lakshanam’, can be heard at the start of the album, ‘Know Your Name’, by the Kontagious band. It was written by a Christian, Vedanayagam Sastriar, a poet at the court of the Muslim King Serfoji of Thanjavur in the 17th century.

“The reason why Serfoji appointed Sastriar as a poet was because they were classmates in school,” says Kontagious bandleader Saroop Oomen.

Another hymn is ‘Ente Sampath, Ennu Choluvan’, one of the famous works of the 19th century Malayali Christian preacher, Mutampakkal Kochoonju Upadesi. Out of the 12 songs on the album, there are 6 worship songs, three hymns, and three songs in Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi.

The Hindi song happened accidentally. The Dehra-Dun based pop and religious singer, Bhupender Nath, while on a honeymoon in Chennai, met up with the band members and said he had a half-finished poem, ‘Mahima’.

Bhupender’s voice was recorded first and the arrangements added later. The result is a pulsating, serene song in praise of God. “When we sent the final version to Bhupender, he was in tears,” says Saroop.

The classic hymn, ‘How Great You Are’, has a beautiful rendition of a Carnatic alaap by Sindhu K. Das, who also sings the Sastriar hymn at the beginning of the album.

What adds lustre to the music is the frequent use of the flute, tabla, ghatam, and mridangam, apart from the electric guitar, bass, and the keyboard.

‘Know your name,’ the band’s second album, was released some time ago. “The title song was the last among the 15 songs I had written,” says Saroop. “I played all my favourite songs in front of a group of people, but everybody loved ‘Know your name’, which was my reject song.”

For Saroop it was an eye-opener. “I understood that people like simplicity in songs,” he says. “Everybody remembers, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. The best way to communicate is to be clear and unpretentious.”

Kontagious performed in Kochi recently in a ‘Women’s Dayout’ programme organised by Livejam. “The music we play does not sound like traditional church songs,” says Saroop. “We play rock, pop, a cappella, blues, and Carnatic hymns.”

Says guitarist Bruce Lee: “The youth of today want different styles of music. And they want to see a band which is enjoying itself and believing in what they are doing.”

Rohan Philip Mathew, 24, who attended the Kochi concert, says, “I enjoyed the original tracks, and the meaningful lyrics.”

Maya Mathew, 26, who was listening to Kontagious for the first time, says, “The song, ‘Mahima’, was really good. A couple of my friends also liked Mahima the best. I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

Kontagious was formed in 1998 with the aim of spreading the positive message of the Bible. So far, the band has played in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Kottayam and Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya.

The band received one of its most enthusiastic receptions in the north-eastern state. “It was an open-air concert at the Fire Brigade grounds and more than 10,000 people were in attendance,” says Saroop.

In 2004, the group did an extensive tour of the United Arab Emirates, doing 17 concerts in 20 days. Audience reaction varied from place to place, but Saroop says they got the strongest emotional response when they played in a Filipino church at Dubai.

“The people were crying, laughing and shouting,” says Saroop. “It was amazing.”

Saroop admits the target audience is the youth. So, what is going on in the minds of young people these days? “The trend now is to say no to everything,” says Bruce. “If somebody tells them, ‘Don’t do drugs’, they will say, ‘I want to do drugs.’”

Kontagious is trying, in its own small way, to guide the youth along the right path. Says Saroop: “You cannot advise them. They have to first connect with you and then they might listen.” Adds Bruce: “We are hoping, through our songs, to provide some answers to the youth’s quest for the meaning of life.”

Only time will tell whether Kontagious has had a contagious effect on the youth.

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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