Niraval is on a mission to promote regional music in the city. Slowly but surely the band is winning over audiences, one venue at a time. The concept was born on the stage of The Moonshine Project’s Varnam, a platform for folk and regional music, in late 2015, where singer and guitarist Shiv Menon met Krishnan Ganesan. The duo started off singing Tamil and Malayalam songs. They were later joined by Niteesh Kondiparthi who did Telugu vocals. Sagar Ramchandruni, who did sounds for them, eventually joined them on stage as a bass guitarist. “He made the band sound more complete,” says Krishnan.
Over the years, new members joined. Sweekar Agasthi now does Telugu vocals, and Falak Chhaya plays the flute for the band. “Vaishak Menon joined us as a drummer and vocalist in early 2018. The band, as a concept, has been alive for nearly two-and-a-half years, but in its current form, we have been playing together only for the past few months,” says Krishnan.
Niraval is passionate about reviving the lost sound of the region. As a way of connecting with audiences, the band also performs songs composed by A.R. Rahman and Ilaiyaraaja, which most people have heard before. “You need to play music that the city understands and appreciates. Though most bars and restaurants in India now play English music and classic rock, people have grown up listening to regional songs. Our music evokes a sense of nostalgia among them, and they end up singing along whenever we perform,” Krishnan says.
“If you don’t play Telugu songs in Hyderabad, where else will you? Language should not be a barrier for music. This band is proving that if the music is good, people will enjoy it. Audiences should not hesitate to request Telugu songs,” says Falak.
The band is optimistic that regional music will pick up in the city. “There are some venues where people are not comfortable with Telugu music. But people recognise us as a regional band and they respect that, which is very important. That respect has increased by a huge margin over the past couple of years,” says Krishnan.
The band initially performed at Moonshine. After a while, other venues such as Tabula Rasa and Heart Cup started booking them as well. They now have five to six gigs a week, including private shows, and they consider it to be a huge win for them to be able to sustain themselves. “We are almost on par with other mainstream bands, and it is only getting better. At least this month has been pretty lucrative for us!” says Krishnan.
At present, the band is also focussed on spending more time together, jamming. “We don’t want to become repetitive. We try to do a few new songs in every show. New ideas come out of jam sessions. We respect each other and are open to feedback,” Krishnan says. On a parting note, he adds, “We are happy that things are changing. I won’t be surprised if more regional bands emerge.”
Meet the band members
Krishnan (vocals and keys)
A principal engineer by profession, Krishnan has been singing for the past seven years, and his work place is more than supportive of his passion. “My colleagues love what I am doing. We have a music club in the office, and we often get to open for musicians such as Shankar Mahadevan during office parties.”
Sweekar Agasthi (vocals)
This multi-talented guy is a singer, a programmer, an audio-engineer, a guitarist, and a lyricist. He has been assisting music director Mani Sharma since 2013. “Singing in a studio is very different from performing live. When you are performing with a band there is a lot of scope for experimentation. Sagar called me one day and asked if I could sing a few Telugu songs for a private gig. I have been a part of the band since that day. The best part is that we are all open to constructive criticism; everyone loves to receive inputs.”
Sagar (bass guitar)
Sagar has been playing the guitar since 2010 and teaching students since 2015. He dropped out of engineering college in 2013 to focus on music. “I received my first pay cheque in 2011 when I performed at Sreenidhi Institute of Science & Technology. I enjoy everything from fast-paced metal, to the blues, to progressive rock. I compose originals as well. That’s how we grow as musicians.”
Falak (flute and vocals)
Though he has been a musician for a long time, Falak only started playing professionally around 4 years ago. “I have learnt the harmonium and the tabla, but I don’t play them on stage. I primarily play the flute and sing. I can also play the keyboard and the guitar if required.”
Vaishak (drums and vocals)
The youngest member of the band, Vaishak says, “Music has been a part of my life since I was five years old. My grandmother used to sing for Doordarshan, and my dad was also musically inclined. That’s how I got initiated to music and fell in love with the drums. I started playing professionally only last year, before that I did small college shows.”