There was a time when households woke up to the koel voice cooing a devotional through the All-India Radio. The sweetness that wafted then lingers on even today. Vedavathi Prabhakar is synonymous with light classical music – be it concerts, radio programmes, films or temple devotionals. She has carved a niche for herself in the realm of devotional music for decades.
Age has not marred her tonal quality nor her love of music. She readily renders a lovely devotional with the same rich melody that has become her hallmark.
The innumerable songs she sang in Telugu and other south Indian languages, are testimony to her adaptability and artistic fervour. Yet, when she started singing, she literally had to learn the Telugu language. How come? “I was born and brought up in Bangalore. English and Kannada were my mainstay as far as language went. I was under the tutelage of G. Chennamma for ten years learning pure Carnatic classical vocal music. My guru was then professor in a private music college. My father would see to it that my sisters and me attended every music concert in order to develop a taste and love for music. I began feeling that if I had to sing, it should be on a par with the best of the vidwans. But coming from an orthodox family, I was never allowed to sing in public,” she pauses and smiles.
How come, you rose to such levels then? The question is still locked within you, when as if it was already read, Vedavathi continues, “my marriage also marked a turning point in my music. My husband, though an IPS officer and my in-laws from Anantapur, were connoisseurs of art. Their mission in life seemed to be to encourage my musical trait. My mother-in-law would be ready with a music maestro whenever I went home to spend some time with them. And I would sit down to learn a few kritis. My husband's transfers were a great deterrent to continuity. I sought guidance under stalwarts like Annamalai Chettiar and Vaidyalinga Bhagavatar,” she explains.
The big break came under mysterious circumstances. When President V.V. Giri with the first lady visited Vijayawada, Vedavathi had to substitute the singer who was supposed to present a song in front of the President. She obliged readily as there was no alternative. And that brought about a change in her music life. The director and programme executive of AIR Vijayawada were impressed with her rendition and invited her to sing for AIR. “Since my Telugu was quite poor, I took language lessons from Srirangam Gopalaratnam's brother and sang 15 songs, Pancharatna kritis inclusive. I mastered the language and intonation in no time and secured a ‘B' high grading in AIR. Soon I began singing Annamacharya keertanas composed by Nedunuri and other popular compositions set to music by Dr. Mangalampalli. We had musical features those days (something like a ballet). Emani Sankara Sastry's last recording was with me. I began singing with all popular musicians. And as luck would have it my family was fully supportive of my new career,” she says contended.
Soon the beauty of her voice reached film music directors who started booking her for traditional film songs both in Telugu and Kannada industry. She touched the national scenario with G.V. Iyer's Adi Sankara. There was no looking back. Right from singing for Ramakrishna Mutt private devotional albums to Purandhara Dasa cassettes to annual Navaratri Brahmotsavams at TTD, Vedavathi was everywhere including London, USA and Canada.
Now a ‘A' top grade artist, she's often called to be part of the panel of judges assessing artists for grading at the AIR at New Delhi.
“It's rather rare that an out-and-out police officer like my husband has a deep love of arts and music. In Mantralaya we began the ‘Nada namana' on the lines of TTD on Thursdays and Fridays. Musicians from all the southern states are given a chance to participate equally. We love to do our bit for the promotion of music which is life force,” she signs off.