Monday, October 12, 2015

Solicitors of Symphony

The 'Ragaaneethi' music band is perhaps the only group in the country that consists solely of lawyers

Photo by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Just before he stepped on stage, at the Fine Arts Hall in Kochi, last year, singer Vijay Yesudas told the 'Ragaaneethi' music band that he would sing four songs. Vijay was a special guest for the 10th anniversary celebrations of the band. But the moment he began singing, he realised that the music being played was 'live'. “Unlike most bands, we don't perform with recorded music,” says band leader KT Shyam Kumar. “Most singers love this because they can improvise and try out new things. Otherwise, it is a mechanical process.”

So excited was Vijay by this 'live' performance, that he ended up singing 12 songs and stayed for two hours. At the end, he told the audience, “There are so many professional orchestras which do not play as well. All the band members have such good talent. And they sound so wonderful in a live performance.”

The unusual thing about 'Ragaaneethi' is that the eleven-member team consists solely of lawyers who practice in the Kerala High Court. “I believe we may be the only lawyer band in India,” says a smiling Shyam.

Apart from playing in several events in the legal fraternity, like the South India Judges' Conference, they also do charity shows. “Since we are already earning a living, as lawyers, we play for free,” says Shyam. “This is a passion for us.”

Recently, at the invitation of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, they took part in its Arts And Medicine programme, which is held, once a week, at the General Hospital. “We opted to play only melodious songs, so that the patients and by-standers could feel soothed,” says percussionist Harish R Menon.

Indeed, they were. One bystander, a 60-year-old woman told Harish, “Your songs are wonderful. I come, on every Wednesday, to buy medicines, but also to listen to the music.”

On another occasion, the band played for the female inmates of a juvenile home. “The girls were so happy that they started dancing in an impromptu manner,” says lead guitarist George Johnson. “One girl even came on stage and sang a song. It was the first time they were listening to 'live' music. They did not have any contact with the outside world. There was a profound joy on their faces. We felt happy seeing that.”

Incidentally, the lawyers got together as a group when they decided to do an instrumental ensemble for the annual-day celebrations of the Kerala High Court Advocates’ Association. Since their performance was much appreciated, they decided to set up a full-fledged orchestra. The other members include percussionist Manoj Chandran, bass guitarist Anand Parathara, drummer John Didymos, Sunil Dutt on the tabla and singers, Vipin Das, Jai George, and Carol Alenchery.

Asked the meaning of the word, 'Raaganeethi', Harish says, “It was coined by our guitarist, PK Raveendran, who, sadly, passed away two years ago. While Raaga is a music term, Neethi means justice. So, in essence, we are doing justice to music.”

And in order to do justice to the audience, the band trains as often as possible. However, because of their legal commitments, they usually practice on the weekends.

This is usually at Shyam's home, where he has set up a music studio. Rehearsals usually begin at 7 p.m., and it can go on till midnight. The repertoire includes popular Malayalam songs, ghazals and fusion music. “That always goes down well with the audience,” says Vipin.

Interestingly, most said that if they came of age today, they would have opted for music as a career. “Today, there is an ocean of opportunities for musicians,” says Shyam. “There are so many television channels, Mollywood films, and so many entertainment programmes for corporates. It can be lucrative.”

Nevertheless, there are other gains. Band members say that they have become better lawyers. “Being a good lawyer means to be a good performer in front of the judge and the court,” says Shyam. “Our experience on the stage helps us to perform better in court. Our concentration levels are higher. We are also happier and positive-minded because we are doing what we like. It is a form of meditation.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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