On a pleasant evening in Urur Olcott Kuppam, a light breeze waltzes with the salty air rising from the waves of Elliots Beach. Facing the sea, a banner of the "vizha" (festival) flutters in the wind, pinned across the periwinkle gates of the Ellaiamman Koil.
A young boy shuffles around, asking what the stage is set for, and gawks at the green and red striped mat laid across the ground. “It’s called rock music,” a young woman volunteers to explain. ”What is that?” he asks, his eyes darting across the dais. “It’s…um…a style?” she says, as the mikes catch his attention and he distractedly walks away.
For the children of Urur Olcott Kuppam, who huddled together and playfully shoved each other for space in a crowd that had collected naturally, this is a new form, and a not so new space. While the band warms up, the familiar sounds of the temple bells and evening nadaswaram music mingle with the guitarist’s audio check until the former dies down. Residents from the nearby apartment buildings look on, and some stand at the spot with some reservation.
Tenma, the guitarist, waits intently for Kaber Vasuki, the songwriter and vocalist of their band 'Kurangan', to head to the mike. This is for the first time that the band is performing at the Urur vizha. Kaber Vasuki is the singer and songwriter, Tenma is on bass and is themusic producer, Krish is on drums and Sahib Singh is on guitar. But Kaber and Tenma alone are playing the acoustic set this time around.
In time, Tenma and Kaber have the crowds swaying to their sardonic, dry wit and a generous dose of belting high notes. Children egg on each other to sing, and some others egg on Kaber to let them sing. And there was space for everyone, like when two children shook a leg to a song in the "kuthu" style.
“I’d been singing from 2010. I know how to write and sing, that’s all, so I was looking for a music producer. We met at a crowdfunding event for the album “Azhagu Puratchi”. It was the first crowdfunded Tamil album,” says Kaber.
Temma was performing for “donkey’s years” when he found the right collaborator in Kaber. “I was doing very sit down, soft songs, then we started working together and it became more energetic. Justice Rocks 2015 turned everything around,” recalls Kaber.
Justice Rocks is the annual concert organised by Chennai-based Vettiver Collective. Kaber believes that it was through the concert that they discover what their "sound" was.
After their performance, the crowd clears up, wishing and chit-chatting with Kaber and Tenma. The scene is back to usual – children jostling around and mothers fetching their toddlers and reminding them about their unfinished homework. A few groan like the night has taken away the fun they'd they had in the evening.
More than rock, Kurangan’s music has shaped up to offer an alternative in Tamil music, which is dominated by film songs. “Basically adolescent love or hero worship is something cinema music does well, other than that it doesn’t do much. I wanted to write songs that connected with me,” Kaber says. Tenma brings up Bob Dylan. “Dylan is called rock, but he had some writing that could have easily fallen under protest songs,” says Temma.
The band has informally been conferred the label of being a protest rock band. “But we don’t consider our music protest songs. I have a problem with that label. If my observations are protest songs, then there is something screwed up with society,” he says.
The lyrics are packed with conversational Tamil. “We talk about things that are not polite conversation. For example, “Arasan Enbavan” is a song about what it feels like to be a ruler. People always complain about their rulers. But we talk about what’s happening in the ruler’s head, how he feels,” he explains.
Kaber takes his spin at the done to death soup song. “It’s been done in so many different ways. But we have one that’s about a guy who said something he shouldn’t have said. It falls into the bucket of soup songs yes. But there are very few songs that have men who actually apologise to a woman,” he says.