You have been practicing and have mastered the art for over two decades now and are now an acclaimed Carnatic vocalist. Please share how the journey started and how you found your calling?
I would not say that I have mastered the art. It is a lifelong process, and I am thoroughly enjoying the journey.It started when I was a year and a half. While I was with my grandmother at a local market, she had gently hummed a bhajan. I had tried to hum it along with her. That is when they knew that I had music in me. Following that, my mother had taken it as her mission to get me the right teachers and guidance for me to pursue it at a professional level. My family has been instrumental in supporting my choices and career to a large extent.
My first Gurus were my grandparents. I formally started learning at the age of 5 under various teachers. My true landmark moment came when I got the opportunity tolearn from Chitravina exponents, Sri. N. Narasimhan and Sri. N. Ravikiran. This was only possible because of my paternal Aunt, who had told my parents to get me under these legendary musicians. They have been instrumental in guiding me and mentoring me to take this as my full-time profession.
What have been the highpoints of your musical journey so far?
I have been fortunate to work in close quarters with a few legendary artists so far and I consider myself blessed.My biggest of all would be the long association with Dr. Vyjayanthimala Bali. I have been working with the legendary dancer for a little over a decade on many projects and I have also had the opportunity to compose and sing for her dance operas in some of the most prestigious venues in the country. These would surely be starred instances in my career as a musician.
Another blessed opportunity I got, was to sing along with other eminent musicians in a few projects with Padmashree Dr. Bombay Jayashri Ramnath. It was an absolute honour to work with her.
You have stuck to your roots, while still adapting to the needs of the modern times. How do you keep innovating in your creative field?
Change is inevitable. Any art form that is Classical, retains its freshness and sheen irrespective of time. Sticking to the roots isn’t all that difficult since the music in itself is fresh and new to me every single time. It might be the same ragamor a timeless composition I might have sung over a hundred times – it still amazes me and everytime it gives me an opportunity to see it from a different perspective. I am certain that there are multiple layers to the same raga or a song.
However, changes only come in terms of presenting and promoting the art form to make sure it reaches the right audience. In today’s fast-moving world, with the advent of smart phones and social media, artists like me need to evolve ourselves into retaining the luster of Classical music, at the same time, presenting it through the new media. This is where I would say innovation comes.
How has your time in US been? What did you go there for? How did you evolve in your creative space while being stuck there?
I wouldn’t say we were stuck here. It has been fantastic. Rajya (my wife) and I came here to spend a couple of months with family. We had to extend our stay due to the pandemic.
It has been interesting since I was able to work on my music without the pressure of having to perform. Though performing is close to my heart, this break really gave me the chance to reminisce the times, I used to go for classes just for the pure joy of learning. I have tried to keep myself motivated by learning new compositions and listening to lots & lots of music.
Some of the places across the world where you have performed at and which ones have been your favourite?
Chennai is my favourite city for the wonderful experiences it has given me over the years and of course, it is home. Margazhi Festival (December Music festival) is something I look forward to as an artist.
Closest to my heart, would be a concert that I sang in 2019 at Spaces, Besant Nagar, organised by The Lotus Foundation. It was a concert dedicated for children with Autism and their care givers. It was an absolutely beautiful experience singing for them.
Would you like to share any interesting incidents that have taken place during your performances?
This was in 2014, while I was performing at a reputed sabha in Mylapore, my Guru Sri. Narasimhan sir walks in and sits in the first row to listen. I was nervous and yes, it was the first time he had come for my concert. Thinking of it, I am grateful for the encouragement and strength he gave me. Even in 2019, he had come for my concert in Narada Gana Sabha. My happiness knew no bounds on seeing him in the audience.
Back in 2010, when I had performed along with Dr. Vyjayanthimala for the first time in Bangalore, I had made a mistake in singing the song. She understood that I had made a mistake and looked at me in between her dance and signaled me to move onto the next line. Though I was a little rattled by the unfortunate incident, she was so gracious and kind in encouraging me to go on. To this day, we remember this incident and Aunty also smiles at this, every single time.
You also teach students, right? Would you like to tell us more about that?
Yes, I have been teaching passionate music students for close to 12 years now. I only started teaching because of my Gurus. They always told me that we learn as much as we teach. It has been wonderful to know that we as artists, can inspire and pass on the rich knowledge of such a beautiful art form.
What are your future plans?
I am greatly looking forward to getting back on stage for performances now that the vaccines are in place. I am also working on a few collaborative projects that would be releasing later thisyear.
— By Namita Gupta