A stage performer since the age of 11, you went ahead and became a certified musician from the Trinity College Of Music and then the creative director of the IndianRaga project, founded at The MIT Sloan School of Management, USA. You’ve come a long way but what is the one thing that hasn’t changed?
Learning classical music and the desire to continue experimenting. I enjoy making music and I still learn from my Guruji. Much of these milestones just happened because of my Gurus’ grace and my family’s support and somehow being in the right place at the right time.
Can you tell us a bit about growing up with music around you?
As a kid, I was very busy. I excelled in academics and was learning music. Carnatic and western classical piano. Between practice, lessons, competitions and attending and performing concerts, childhood was very engaging. I enjoyed school—I studied at Padma Seshadri, one of the well known schools in India. There was always some Math, Science, English or music performance or competition to go to. Almost always, I won or my team won. Music classes were, on average, four hours long four days a week. Then there was practice. School days were like this—exam or not, vacation or not, there was someone at home who ensured my practice happened. This was the norm and continued well into college. Competitions and concerts over street cricket. Anyway, I bowled way too many wide balls, so I figured the other street players didn’t fancy my bowling anyway. I was also the recipient of the prestigious CCRT Govt. of India scholarship for eight years in a row, so you had to keep steady progress, which I did. So opportunities like these kept me focused on music no matter what. College was different—I experimented more with film music, got into composing, doing small independent projects. It was also the time I met my wife back then and fell in love with her—so the usual foray into poetry and composing happened more joyfully and eagerly.
‘Carnatic A Cappella’, as you call it, is testament to the fact that Indian classical music lends itself to experimentation. Do you see a long road ahead for more such infusions?
Long road is not necessarily true. I feel many accomplished artists who produce such experiments are generally much more capable in pushing boundaries, but they don’t overdo it lest the audience zones out. There’s that catching up the audience has to do. Today they are more aware, willing to pay attention to classical elements. There is more acceptance, so a lot more scope to expand the boundaries of experimentation. As I always say, the onus is on the artist to maintain aesthetics in such endeavours. So to answer your question, long road for the audience to catch up.
What is one alteration you’d like to see in the current Indian music scene?
Glad you asked. It’s high time people step up to support independent music more fervently. Not just big studios, production houses or media brands. The individual listener too. When was the last time you bought a ticket for an upcoming artist’s concert or bought one of their songs on popular streaming platforms? People want to listen, but don’t want to pay for it. That attitude has to change. If you listen to an independent artist on loop, you imply that you consider their music professional enough, irrespective of whether they are a full-time musician or not, whether they are with a label or not. This is not just in the Indian music scene, but globally. It’s probably more pronounced in India. To anyone organising a concert, please don’t invite an artist if you don’t have a budget.
A direct consequence of this is independent music getting buried online by commercial music. This is just a function of promotion budgets. These opposing forces existed moderately, but in the last few years, it’s gotten more aggressive that many times, I hear from fellow artists that it’s almost pointless to make original music. So online, there are media giants driving attention away from original work and in the real world, audiences don’t want to pay, and so event organisers don’t want to pay either. It’s very unfair to independent artists. I am not saying the whole basket is rotten, but you know a few of the apples are rotten. So we have to address it sensibly.
Your next is supposedly an ode to an iconic Carnatic song. What now can your subscribers look forward to?
I’ve sung the famous ‘Rangapura Vihara’I’ve sung the famous ‘Rangapura Vihara’, which is among the many Carnatic gems immortalised by the great MS Subbalakshmi. The treatment is different—2018′ s IndianRaga fellows have arranged the music while I lent my voice along with others.
Your latest single—‘Ninnaye Rathi Endru’ penned by Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi takes on the hues of a timeless classic but also portrays dance as an ensemble. To what extent do art forms complement each other?
Again, aesthetics determine to what extent. Each dance form in ‘Ninnaye Rathi Endru’ was chosen and matched appropriately—in grammar and nuance. Bharatanatyam lends itself a lot to abhinaya, or enacting the lyrics. Ballet was more apt to show the abstract subject in the song—the composer’s lover. Your question itself uses the word complement. That automatically includes aesthetics. There’s no formula for this. Every combination is an experiment.
Tell us a few of your go-to songs.
‘Vellai Pookal’ from the film Kannathil Muthamittal, composed by AR Rahman. Everything about that song sums up life for me. While the song is soft, the visuals show refugees escaping war. But then the lyrics again depict a desire for a utopian world. It’s almost like saying—no matter what life throws at you, you have the choice to go through it with ease.
You’ve initiated your path into the film industry with a Kannada film. Is that your final destination or are you just letting music wherever it takes you?
There’s no time to think about a final destination. I am just getting started. There won’t be one in my journey.