It is difficult to meet ganjira artiste Udupi S. Srikanth ganjira artiste without an appointment unless you happen to meet him at one of the concerts he is performing in. The 27-year-old percussionist seems to be living out of a suitcase, accompanying leading musicians across Kerala and other States. Son of renowned ghatam artiste Udupi S. Sreedhar, Srikanth is now a B-High graded artiste of All India Radio. Srikanth juggles his job with the Central Bank of India and his passion for music with ease. Excerpts from an interview…
Carrying forward a tradition
It all started with my paternal grandfather, K.V. Subrayan Potty, who migrated from his home in Udupi to Thiruvananthapuram. He was so passionate about music that even though financial constraints prevented him from learning music from a guru, he ensured that my father and his five siblings learnt music. So I had music all around me. I also had the company of my cousins who were also musically-inclined. I started off by learning the mridangam from the late Karamana Krishnankutty Nair, who was my father’s guru as well. In fact, he has taught all the members in my extended family.
Taking to the ganjira
When my cousin Udupi R. Harish played the mridangam, Karamana Krishnankutty sir played the ganjira. Gradually I started taking an interest in the instrument and my guru also encouraged me to try playing it. Later I took lessons from Trivandrum R. Vaidyanathan and Thrikkakkara Y.N. Shantaram. Now I am learning from Bangalore N. Amrit. I wish I could have learnt from the late G. Harishankar, a trendsetter who ensured global recognition for the ganjira. In fact, Harishankar had asked my father to send me to him for training. But before that could happen, Harishankar sir passed away.
On the instrument
The ganjira is an integral part of bhajana sampradayam. The speciality about the instrument is that its base tone matches the ‘edamthala’ of the mridangam. It is quite hard to play the instrument, especially because you use only one hand. However, since its pitch matches any instrument, it can easily be part of fusion concerts.
In 2002, I won the first prize (Carnatic instrumental) in competitions organised by All India Radio and the Kerala University youth festival (2007). It has been an honour to perform at Akashavani Sangeeth Sammelan and South Zone Regional Satellite Network of Doordarshan. I’ve been part of the Thiruvananthapuram-based venture Swaranjali, which promotes world peace and harmony through music. Hamsadhwani, our seven-piece instrumental band, was born out of this venture. We performed in seven districts during the Soorya fete (2010). We have also performed in almost all the colleges in Kerala as part of promoting music among youngsters. I was fortunate to perform for the former President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan (2006) along with a group of musicians from the State. I’ve been part of troupes of violinist Balabhaskar and Parvathy Baul and have performed in Muscat, Dubai and Singapore.
Recently, I performed at Fusion Fiesta – World Music Festival in Kolkata, which brought together Mugham, a system of classical music from Azerbaijan, and our Carnatic music. The programme, titled Muraagam, was helmed by vocalist Vasumathi Badrinath. It was a unique and first-of-its kind experience for me. I’ve also played for a few movies. All said and done, a highpoint of my career has been performing at the Navarathri Mandapam at Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple and at Kuthiramalika for the last few years.
It has been my great fortune that I could accompany a large number of leading Carnatic musicians in the country. Some day, I’m looking forward to accompanying stalwarts such as M. Balamuralikrishna, T.M. Krishna, Kadri Gopalnath, Ramesh-Kumaresh and Bombay Jayashree. Also, I would love to perform at Shanmughananda Hall, Mumbai.
Balancing work and music
Like my father, I am also a bank employee. I’ve regular programmes and my bank has been extremely supportive on this front.
A musical family
It is always a pleasure to play alongside my father. And I’m a bit nervous if he is in the audience! It is quite a treat to be on the stage with my entire family. My father plays the mridangam, my younger brother Srinath sings, the youngest Srijith plays the violin while I play the ganjira.