From Muscat to Mumbai: SANAM’s 13-year journey in the Indian music scene

Keshav Dhanraj, Venky S, Sanam Puri, and Samar Puri`

Keshav Dhanraj, Venky S, Sanam Puri, and Samar Puri`
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A bustling corner of the Phoenix Marketcity mall in Whitefield recently came alive with heartwarming music. The audience — including fans and a few non-fans — witnessed the versatile music of SANAM, a band that has been on the Indian music scene for the last 13 years. “The concert at the mall was more than a performance; it is a testament to the band’s impact and longevity on the indie music scene in India,” said a fan.

SANAM traces its inception back to the early 2000s when Venky S, the band’s bass guitarist, and Samar Puri, the lead guitarist, and his brother Sanam, the leading vocalist, were classmates in Muscat. The trio formed a band in 2003. A year later, Sanam and Samar had to move to Delhi and Venky to Bengaluru. The latter met Keshav Dhanraj, the band’s drummer — the missing piece to their musical puzzle — in Chennai.

The four met in Mumbai in 2009. It was also the year they participated in their first-ever major event in a music competition as a band (albeit under the name SQS Project). 

Thirteen years later, what has changed about SANAM and what hasn’t? 

“As human beings, we are fundamentally the same people we used to be. We still enjoy similar things and have fun in the same way as we did in the past,” says Sanam. “However, over time, we’ve matured and our perspective on life has evolved. The four of us have experienced numerous ups and downs, facing various challenges, and these experiences have taught us a lot about each other and how to navigate life.”

In terms of music, Sanam says, they focused on composing songs. “At some point, we began doing renditions of old songs. This exposed us to the maturity and sophistication of older song compositions. By working on these renditions, we learned valuable lessons about chord progressions, arrangements, and how to incorporate these elements into our music. Our current approach to composing is quite different from how we used to compose in the past.”

Diverse strengths

The band members bring unique influences to the creative process. “For instance, Sanam has a remarkable knack for melodies. Venky, on the other hand, stays consistently up to date with the latest musical trends. He actively seeks out new music, attends concerts, and engages with emerging artistes, which greatly influences our work. Venky also contributes fresh ideas for musical arrangements,” explains Keshav.

“As for myself, I have a keen sensitivity to catchy elements within music, whether it pertains to vocals or production sounds. I can pick out and remember those elements that just stick with me. This is why I tend to focus heavily on the production side of our music. Samar, on the other hand, brings a strong poetic sensibility to the group. He has penned many of our songs, and his deep connection with Sanam, built over a long period of collaboration, allows him to draw out the best from Sanam’s abilities.”

The band’s journey has seen the transformation of music distribution platforms — from CDs to streaming platforms. Their initial focus on television evolved with the rise of YouTube. 

“In the past, when music was released primarily by music labels, the challenge was to impress label executives to get your music out to the world. Today, the challenge is different because there are a vast number of songs on streaming platforms. Getting noticed in this crowded market is the new challenge,” says Venky.

With trending and viral music today, Venky says, many artistes’ primary aim to catch the audience’s attention. “However, our band’s approach is to create music that we personally enjoy and believe in. Whether it’s something new, dated or reminiscent of other music, it doesn’t matter to us as long as we’re passionate about it. Even if the song doesn’t work now, it might, later. We’ve observed that some of our songs from five or 10 years ago are trending now.”

In a world where trends often dictate the path, SANAM wants to be an exception.

What truly resonates with the band is that their music appeals across generations. Samar says, “Receiving messages from listeners who share our songs with their families, coming together to enjoy our music, is incredibly meaningful to us. This is what we strive to do as a band.”

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