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Band Music With A Difference: Philomela Charms On Debut

Press Release

When you are trying to do something for the first time, it’s very easy and quite tempting to stay within the confines of familiarity. Just keep your head down, get your eye in, go copybook – is what most pundits will tell you. It takes courage and quite a bit of talent (and countless hours in the nets) to step out to the bowler the very first ball. And Philomela, a Boston-based band with songs of their own about sentiments we all share, did just that on September 15. At their debut performance at the Keefe Tech Auditorium, the band threw caution to the wind and took the audience on a musical journey that transcended barriers of genre, rhythm and origin.

The band draws its name from the nightingale. And like the bird that cuts the quiet of the night with its soulful singing, Philomela’s bold experiments with music swayed into the hearts of the 250-odd people in the audience, and stayed there. The evening became a seamless blend of styles and stories, as Sharanya Sarkar Varma (lead vocals), Ayon Basumallik (guitar, piano, saxophone, melodica, ocarina, dotara, vocals), Indranil Sarkar (bass guitar, vocals), Koushik Chakraborty (percussions, vocals), and Debadeep Bhattacharyya (acoustic and electric guitar, gabgubi) fused Indian ragas and folk beats with western styles such as rock, urban pop and ballads to create a sound that was familiar, yet completely new.

The songs were an exciting combination of the old and new, bringing together popular Rabindrasangeet and folk songs with their own original compositions. That the band had 10 originals in their 15-song debut performance was impressive. Their themes were varied, arrangement creative. Each song explored a different mood. If Bandhu Chhaya talked about a lonely child finding a friend in his own shadow, Fyataru (lyrics by Alokesh Duttaroy) was a celebration of the radical views of author Nabarun Bhattacharya. Durga was Philomela’s unique ode to Apu’s forgotten older sister from Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. The song, sung soul-stirringly by Sharanya, evoked some serious nostalgia with its deep lyrics, and opening bars reminiscent of the Pather Panchali theme.

What truly sets Philomela apart is its collective musical acumen. Each song was crafted meticulously, often presenting unlikely combinations that turned out to be pure gold. Who would think that a song that began with the Brazilian rhythm, Bossa Nova, would morph into our very desi Addha? Or assemble an army of instruments including the melodica, piano, guitar, tabla, and the bass for a striking rendition of the raga Charukesi? On paper, their experiments may cause one to start, but such is the caliber of the performers that in the end, it all seems in perfect harmony. And that is exactly what we heard from several people in the audience:

“There was a nice mix of their own creations and well known numbers. The lead singer has a beautiful voice… Their original songs had nice lyrics: intelligent, soulful, uniquely Bengali.” –Nilay Mukherjee, Burlington

“(At the) Philomela concert this past weekend, I wanted to listen to the music. I shot all these (photographs) during one song. Quickly packed my bag and left it in the car so I can concentrate on the music. That was a smart thing to do. The music brought so much energy. The roof could have been brought down.” – Dyuti Majumdar (Art & Memories Photography), Watertown

“What a mesmerizing evening... Each band member individually is (a) class apart, but united, they created magical music!” Gautam Sharma, Norwood

“Philomela’s awesome philo-harmonic debut yesterday… Sharanya, multi-instrumentalist AyonDebadeepKoushik and Indranil - superb effort creating a magical evening!” – Samit Bhattacharya, Waltham

“…The music arrangement was absolutely phenomenal. So many instruments on the stage! The sounds felt very organic. At times, I felt that Sharanya Sarkar Varma’s voice was another instrument. Well, aren’t all voices? Kudos Philomela!” – Maitreyee Chakraborty, Wellesley

Not often does one see an audience connect so deeply with a musical performance. They swayed in silence with the pensive notes, tapped their feet as the tempo soared, and cheered spontaneously when the band hit its crescendo. People lingered, even after the last song was done, basking in the spell that was cast by this group of inspiring performers. The writing on the wall seems clear – Philomela is a band to watch out for!

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