Kerala rock band Avial's Singapore roots

From left: Benjamin Yesudas Issac, Tony John, Rex Vijayan and Mithun Puthanveettil of Indian rock band Avial.
From left: Benjamin Yesudas Issac, Tony John, Rex Vijayan and Mithun Puthanveettil of Indian rock band Avial.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

SINGAPORE - When Indian rock band Avial play their first Singapore gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall this Friday (23 Nov), it will be something that guitarist Rex Vijayan has been looking forward to for quite a while.

The Kerala-based band, known for its eclectic brand of rock sung in Malayalam, is playing a show that is part of the Esplanade's Kalaa Utsavam: Indian Festival of Arts. The festival is sponsored by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) under the SPH Gift of Music series.

Singapore is significant to the band because it was here that Vijayan first got close to Tony John, the singer and musician who would eventually become the frontman for Avial.

Many years ago, the two of them came here to perform with the Daksha Sheth Dance Company, a contemporary dance group. Vijayan was playing guitars and percussion for the group while John was doing vocals as well as playing instruments like the didgeridoo.

"I knew Tony but we only got close while jamming for that show," Vijayan, 35, says in a recent telephone interview from Kerala.

Together with other musicians, Vijayan and John eventually formed Avial in 2003. The band is named after a South Indian cuisine made of various vegetables, a fitting moniker for a band whose sound is a mixture of genres like rock, folk and electronica.

John was originally the turntablist and backing singer, but stepped up to be the frontman after original singer Anandraj Benjamin Paul left the band to immigrate to the United States.

In 2008, the band released their self-titled debut album. They quickly made an impact, standing out from their English-singing contemporaries by performing all their songs, including hit tunes Nada Nada and Chekele, in Malayalam.

  • BOOK IT: AVIAL/ KALAA UTSAVAM - INDIAN FESTIVAL OF ARTS 2018

     

  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Fri (23 Nov), 8pm

    ADMISSION: $45 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

Says Vijayan: "We speak Malayalam at home, not English, so it was more natural for us to sing in Malayalam. Even if people don't understand the language, we found that they could relate to the music."

The following year, the band swept six prizes at Rolling Stone India's Jack Daniels Rock Awards, picking up accolades such as Album Of The Year and Band Of The Year.

The group, which also comprises drummer Mithun Puthenveetil and bassist Binny Isaac, has since released several singles, including soundtracks for Malayalam films such as 2011 romantic comedy Salt N' Pepper and 2012 revenge-thriller 22 Female Kottayam.

Vijayan says that he is glad that the band played a part in popularising rock music in their community.

"Back when we started out, they didn't listen to rock, they were more into commercial pop sung in Hindi. But now there are so many bands in Kerala that rock has become a household thing."

Vijayan says that he will doing more than just perform with the band when he is in Singapore - he also intends to do some shopping. Singapore was the first country he travelled to as a child, and over the years, he has bought music instruments from music stores here like the Swee Lee chain of shops.

He recalls being blown away by the guitar-playing skills of a staff at local music shop City Music when he visited in his early teens.

"I got really inspired, he was really good and he taught me a few skills."