Amongst the many outstanding talents capturing attention in the Carnatic music circuit today is one interesting niche group – youngsters who were born outside India and have spent much of their formative years straddling a cultural divide. What used to be an annual cultural pilgrimage to connect with their roots has influenced many of them to make a decisive, permanent move to India to pursue their calling in the arts. One of several such examples is Sandeep Narayan who performed at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha on Thursday, accompanied by S.P. Ananthapadmanabha (violin), R. Sankaranarayanan (mridangam) and B.S. Purushotham (kanjira). Hailing from Southern California and tutored by his mother Subha, and later, the redoubtable Calcutta Krishnamurthy, he is now mentored by Sanjay Subrahmanyan, whose influence is evident in Sandeep's vocalisation and stage demeanour.
Starting off with the Ata tala varnam in Mohanam, he progressed to a sedate presentation of Muthuswami Dikshitar's Shri Mahaganapati (Gaula), with swaras at the pallavi. Next up was an alapana of Sahana, built up slow and steady but giving an overall comprehensive portrayal of the raga. Sandeep does have a strong voice capable of sustained, strong akara passages, to which one wishes he would resort more. The kriti was Patnam Subramanya Iyer's Rama ika nannu, sans neraval and swaras.
One less commonly heard song in the list was Palaya sada (Nalinakanti), a composition of Maharaja Swati Tirunal, starting from the anupallavi and completed with a brisk round of swaras at the pallavi. The item was indeed an energy booster served before the main in Hindolam (Neerajakshi Kamakshi, Muthuswami Dikshitar), the alapana for which was structured on traditional lines. A few pregnant pauses here and there to let the raga sink in may have added more lustre.
Ananthapadmanabha, Sankaranarayanan and Purushotham are regulars in the music circuit and they went about their supporting duties with equanimity, helping to make the overall concert presentation competent.
A bright talent, Sandeep will no doubt develop his individual style in the years to come, by absorbing the finer points of his guru's style and by focussing on the aspects of great masters for the little tweaks such as tempo, song/raga selection and tonal fidelity across the range that lift a concert from the competent to the superlative.
The audio system did let out the customary shrieks that are now a staple item in most concerts and some members of the audience did their bit, with unmuted cellphones. Parking is a perennial problem in the congested Maharajapuram Santhanam Salai and this is exacerbated when the relief facility in the compound opposite the sabha is closed, as it was that afternoon.
(Ramanathan N. Iyer is a wireless communications engineer, writer, photographer and Carnatic music buff)