Tell us more about Agni and its memorable performances.
In Pune, when I was in 11th grade, around the mid 80s, I used to binge on rock music. But I had an issue with a lot of Indian bands – they were playing cover versions of other groups, instead of composing their own. I’m an engineer by profession, but I always wanted to be one of the pioneers of rock music in India with my own compositions.
So a few friends and I decided to form what we called Agni – a fire or passion for music. Quite soon, we were on our way to one stage performance after the other. We played at a lot of competitions and college shows, won a couple of awards. We were picked up by Virgo, a recording company, and released the album Wind Dance with Fire. We played at over 240 concerts in total, serving up music to about 2.2 million people, from Shillong to Goa to Mumbai. We were a group of young men, riding a wave of unprecedented success, doing what we enjoyed the most and that was writing and creating music that we identified with. Those were euphoric times. My most memorable performance has to be the one in Tihar jail, for over 700 convicts. The Tihar jail I’m referring to is not what you’d think – it’s called Tihar ashram (hermitage) and in true ashram style there were peacocks and deer frolicking about – an unbelievable experience.
So with Agni having tasted that kind of success, it couldn’t have been easy making a decision to quit and head to the UAE?
In 1995 we lost our bass guitarist and our manager in an accident, which got me into a bad space. Our next album was called Mrityunjaya – victory over death. But I was still dejected, and lost interest in music. In 1998 I came to Abu Dhabi. I wanted a change, and maybe I thought moving away was the best way to do it. Success is doing what you like and it’s not about money – all that mattered was that I was singing with soul. The UAE’s my home now; she’s given me a lot.
What brought you back to music after close to three decades?
I started running a hotel and hospitality business in Dubai, and we lost a lot of money in 2016. I went into depression, and it took me two years to get out of it. In January 2020, I wanted to revive the business yet again, but Covid-19 hit. I found myself thinking of singing again. I wasn’t too sure I had what it took, so I did a small course in sound engineering online, then decided to compose and try recording songs. I recorded a cover for the Earth Song by Michael Jackson, and asked a friend to do the video for it, which she did. She suggested a YouTube channel where friends could tune in to my songs. In a week we had about 2,000 hits – and I realised I still had it in me to sing.
To mark the 25th death anniversary of my friends, I decided to release The Monster Within, a song that talks about depression. It was then that Ashish Manchanda of Boon Castle Productions said he’d like to work with me. Ashish was the first drummer for our band, Agni. We released The Monster Within on May 15, and hit 62,000 views in three days. That helped me overcome my mental block, and I started writing and recording more.
What are you hoping to achieve with your new digital rock platform Agni Webbed?
Thirty songs in three years – about a song every month with Ashish.
Agni Webbed is going to be a complete enterprise: songs will be released in audio platforms worldwide, we’re planning merchandising of stage outfits, perfumes, vegan leather jackets. We’re planning online concerts; I’ll be singing from Dubai, Ashish drumming from Mumbai, someone else joining in from another corner of the world. We’re going to be scouting for young rock talent who do not have the facility or money to do recordings and videos in the UAE. We are also in touch with several foundations that deal with depression to help generate awareness about this deadly disease.
Is the aim to become a full-time musician?
I want to tread the path of creativity. Happiness is a state of mind, and if music can help me with that I’ll be content. Money and luxury do not drive me – I aim to discover young talent, give them the opportunity, and contribute to genuine organisations that work to help victims of child abuse, of rape and those with depression… those are my real goals. My family were initially apprehensive, but they’ve seen what I can do and how I’ve coped, and now support me on my journey. My daughter studies psychology and helps me deal with extreme emotions now. I love to dream big. It doesn’t cost anything, and if it works, that’s everything. After about 30 years, I’m in the same creative space as before. It’s a good place to be at.
– Sangeetha Sagar