We were first introduced to Mrigya in2002. It was the first year of college in Pune, and the boys hostel was full of people eager to exhibit their eccentric tastes in music. It was a cheerful design student from Kolkata who told us about Mrigya, insisting that the local Pune metal and rock groups were little more than glorified cover bands.
“This,” he said, opening up a large CD case inlaid with illustrations, colourful CD covers and handwritten notes, “is the real deal.” In it was a CD titled Vasudaiva Kuttumbakkam (‘The World is One Family’), and it opened with a 7-minute track called Ganga. We listened to it on a tinny boom box famous for its wildly fluctuating volume levels. Two minutes of Sarat Chandra Srivastava’s glorious opening violin solo later, we were in love with the band. By the time we saw them live the following year, we knew the inflections and choruses, and even shouted out requests.
Lively: Mrigya is best heard live in concert.
So imagine our surprise when eight years later, the same collection of songs appears in a brand new CD promoted as Mrigya’s “first” album. We asked the band to clear up this confusion, and it turns out that The Composition of World Harmony 2010 is indeed Mrigya’s first full-length studio album, while CDs such as Vasudaiva Kuttumbakkam were demo discs distributed at the band’s early concerts to get record labels interested.
The Composition of World Harmony 2010, grandiose title notwithstanding, is a good introduction to Mrigya’s music. But if you’ve seen them live, or have bootleg recording of their earlier demos, the album tends to sound too clean and focused, and missing some of the live edginess that makes Mrigya’s compositions special.
Take the opening track Ganga. Excerpts from the track, in brazen violation of every known copyright norm, have long been popular as background music for college fashion shows, events, and prize ceremonies. This is by no means an insult. Ganga is the closest Mrigya have to a “single”—it’s a classy, elegant song driven by a beautiful violin riff, and serves the dual purpose of grabbing the listener’s attention right at the beginning and introducing the band, with each instrument (and member) taking turn to indulge in a bit of solo virtuosity.
The violin continues to be at the heart of most of Mrigya’s songs, and seems to hold the disparate instrumentation together. Most songs mix distinctly folksy elements with a more generic rock or jazz undertone. Ali takes the qawwali of Ghulam Qadir Niyazi and infuses some jazz undertones. Pahari Funk layers funk with folk, while Scottish introduces a Celtic sound to the mix.
Procession and Rock the Raag constitute the most straightforward “fusion” tunes of the lot—there’s a Sufi sound to the former, and a raucous, jam session vibe to the latter.
For fans of the band, however, none of this is really new. Something is lost in the transition of most of these songs from low fidelity (lo-fi) live recordings to the glossy, shiny album—but a lot is also gained. The production is top-notch, and the mixing sounds excellent on high-quality headphones or speakers. But it’s also draconian in a strange sort of way—there’s not an errant note in sight, unlike the more free-flowing live cuts. The sense of Mrigya as a band that evolves its songs through long-winded jams doesn’t quite cut through the album’s gloss, making it sound overproduced.
Mrigya is still best heard live, but if you need to convince someone to check out this incredibly talented band, The Composition of World Harmony 2010 does just fine.
The Composition of World Harmony 2010