CLAS­SI­CAL CO­NUN­DRUM

IN A RARE CHAT, THE GRAMMY AWARD-WIN­NING PERCUSSIONIST AND HIS SON VOICE OPIN­IONS AND STRIKE HIGH NOTES [ AN HTBRUNCH EXCLUSIVE ]

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - By Priya Bala // Pho­tos shot ex­clu­sively for HTBrunch by Prab­hat Shetty

“WE NO LONGER SEE A SWELL OF LIS­TEN­ERS AT CON­CERTS IN IN­DIA”

SELVAGANESH

#Clas­si­calCo­nun­drum

“BUT THE AP­PEAL OF PURE RHYTHM WILL NEVER DI­MIN­ISH!”

VIKKU VINAYAKRAM

“THERE ARE A LOT OF YOUNG PEO­PLE TAK­ING UP PER­CUS­SION IN­STRU­MENTS, WHICH IS HEART­EN­ING” — VIKKU VINAYAKRAM

O ver 10,000 peo­ple are gath­ered un­der the light of a wax­ing moon at the Aba­hani Grounds at Dhan­mondi in Dhaka. It’s Day 3 of the Ben­gal Clas­si­cal Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in the Bangladeshi cap­i­tal, and ghatam Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram is play­ing Gana­p­ati Talam along with his son Selvaganesh and grand­son Swaminathan, both on the kan­jira. The ev­i­dently en­rap­tured Dhaka au­di­ence keeps beat and shows its ap­pre­ci­a­tion in loud ap­plause and even the oc­ca­sional loud cheer.

“It was a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Vinayakram. “The sea of peo­ple, their knowl­edge and en­thu­si­asm, the stage, the set­ting, it all came to­gether to make a mem­o­rable con­cert.”

PURE SOUND

It was the first time in Dhaka for this widely trav­elled artiste and he is pleased at be­ing able to es­tab­lish an in­stant con­nec­tion with the au­di­ence. Per­cus­sion in­stru­ments, he says, have the edge of be­ing able to sur­mount lan­guage bar­ri­ers, which also al­lowed more lis­ten­ers to en­joy this par­tic­u­lar con­cert. “It is pure rhythm, laya, and the sounds can reach and touch any­one,” says the Vidwan who is cred­ited with tak­ing the ghatam from its sta­tus as an ac­com­pa­ny­ing in­stru­ment to a per­cus­sion in­stru­ment in its own right, en­thralling even the lay lis­tener with his scin­til­lat­ing rhyth­mic struc­tures.

Selvaganesh agrees the Dhaka fes­ti­val was a unique ex­pe­ri­ence. “We do not see such a swell of

lis­ten­ers at con­certs in In­dia, even at open-air venues,” he says. That, though, is not to be con­strued as a dwin­dling in­ter­est in In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic, ac­cord­ing to these two ac­com­plished artistes. Vinayakram, who has a spe­cial abil­ity to en­gage with au­di­ences al­low­ing them to par­tic­i­pate in the rhythms he is cre­at­ing, says that the typ­i­cal lis­tener has changed over time. “Ear­lier, you could play clas­si­cal mu­sic in its purest form and that is what the au­di­ence would come for. To­day, you have to of­fer an el­e­ment that at­tracts the masses,” he says. “The ap­peal of pure rhythm, though, will never di­min­ish and there are a lot of young peo­ple tak­ing up per­cus­sion in­stru­ments, which is heart­en­ing,” says the mae­stro.

Hav­ing spent over 60 years mas­ter­ing the ghatam, Vinayakram is al­ways ready to in­no­vate and add ex­cite­ment to his con­certs. To mark his 75th birth­day in Au­gust 2017, he played 75 ghatams at one con­cert.

Selvaganesh is also all for in­no­va­tion, in­clud­ing fu­sion, to keep au­di­ence in­ter­est in clas­si­cal mu­sic alive. “Few peo­ple, ex­cept the staunch­est purists, have the pa­tience for the tra­di­tional Car­natic con­cert any­more,” he says. “It’s like ev­ery­thing else in life – whether food or en­ter­tain­ment – peo­ple want it fast and in an easy to ac­cess form.”

All mu­sic, he says is bhakti. “I can ex­press my bhakti in a tem­ple, fol­low­ing rit­u­als and strict codes of wor­ship. Or I can com­mune with the di­vine in my own space. Then there are no rules to fol­low. But I am still con­nect­ing with the di­vine and ex­press­ing my bhakti. It is the same with mu­sic. You can ei­ther fol­low the strict clas­si­cal tra­di­tions or al­low other in­flu­ences to flow in.”

OLD AND NEW

The chal­lenge, ac­cord­ing to Selvaganesh who has col­lab­o­rated with sev­eral Western mu­si­cians and was part of the Re­mem­ber Shakti quin­tet, is to find the mid­dle path be­tween pre­serv­ing the pu­rity of mu­sic and still hold ap­peal for the masses, es­pe­cially young peo­ple.

Vikku Vinayakram won a Grammy for Planet Drum, a pro­ject an­chored by Grate­ful Dead drum­mer Mickey Hart. “If you ex­per­i­ment, it doesn’t mean you are aban­don­ing tra­di­tion,” he says. “Of course, there was crit­i­cism from some quar­ters when I agreed to work with Western mu­si­cians, but you must have con­vic­tion and con­fi­dence and plough ahead. All mu­sic speaks the same lan­guage and beau­ti­ful things can emerge from col­lab­o­ra­tions. You should be able to set aside your ego and play along­side an­other artiste.”

In an in­di­ca­tion of the di­rec­tions mu­si­cians who came after Vinayakram’s gen­er­a­tion are tak­ing, Selvaganesh has also for­ayed into film mu­sic, some­thing clas­si­cal mu­si­cians of an ear­lier age may not have at­tempted. He scored the mu­sic for Tamil films Kola Ko­laya Mund­hiri

ka and Ven­nila Kabadi Kuzhu and will also be work­ing on the se­quel to the lat­ter.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent field al­to­gether,” he says. “Film­mak­ers come with their own ideas of what will work and some­times want only to repli­cate what they think is a hit song. So I have to choose my projects care­fully, en­sur­ing my cre­ative free­dom is not curbed.” Ac­cord­ing to Selvaganesh, un­like in, say, the ’90s, to­day there are so many new names en­ter­ing the pop­u­lar mu­sic scene. “But to­day’s singing sen­sa­tion is for­got­ten to­mor­row,” he says. “I’d say artistes in the clas­si­cal realm have a lot more staying power.”

“WITH MU­SIC, YOU CAN EI­THER FOL­LOW CLAS­SI­CAL TRA­DI­TIONS OR AL­LOW OTHER IN­FLU­ENCES TO FLOW IN, LIKE BHAKTI IN A TEM­PLE”

— SELVAGANESH “IF YOU ARE EX­PER­I­MEN­TAL, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE ABAN­DON­ING TRA­DI­TION”

— VIKKU VINAYAKRAM

A DIF­FER­ENT DRUM

His son Swaminathan has also been drawn to the clas­si­cal and now ac­com­pa­nies his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther on the

kan­jira reg­u­larly. “It was his de­ci­sion,” says Selvaganesh. “My fa­ther was very clear that there should be no pres­sure to take up mu­sic. My son stud­ied Arts and then chose to make the kan­jira his ca­reer.” This im­mensely tal­ented trio of mu­si­cians call them­selves 3G and when they are jam­ming to­gether, they ex­ude the sort of en­ergy that has au­di­ence truly cap­ti­vated.

With their unique ap­proach to per­cus­sion per­for­mances, this fam­ily of mu­si­cians finds its tour cal­en­dar packed through the year. In the win­ter, it’s mu­sic fes­ti­vals across In­dia. Dur­ing the rest of the year they are usu­ally trav­el­ling abroad, per­form­ing. The school for per­cus­sion they have set up in New York City also de­mands the at­ten­tion of Selvaganesh and his fa­ther. “Mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing jazz artistes, are our stu­dents. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for them to learn the con­cept of South In­dian rhythm and weave it into their cho­sen form of mu­sic,” Selvaganesh says.

Vidwan Vinayakram’s jour­ney ded­i­cated to his art and the com­mit­ment of his son and grand­son to con­tinue the tra­di­tion are an in­trin­sic as­pect of the vast can­vas that is In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic. At the Ben­gal Clas­si­cal Mu­sic Fes­ti­val and else­where, their ap­proach proves that mu­si­cians must adapt to chang­ing times, even as they keep the clas­si­cism of their di­vine art in­tact.

“MU­SIC FOR FILMS IS DIF­FER­ENT... I HAVE TO CHOOSE MY PROJECTS CARE­FULLY, EN­SUR­ING MY CRE­ATIVE FREE­DOM IS NOT CURBED”

— SELVAGANESH

MADE FOR MELODY Vikku Vinayakram (75) with his son V Selvaganesh (45)

Theau­tho­risa se­nior­fea­tureswriter based­inBen­galuru and­spe­cialises in­food,trav­e­land lifestylewrit­ing.

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