The Carnatic music tradition, the role of the media, the need to recognise talent… all this figured in a lively interaction between vocalist T.M. Krishna and Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor, The Hindu
There are many ways of describing the interaction at the Fullcircle bookstore at Chamiers, where Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna and Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor of The Hindu, got together to talk about music and more.
It was an evening of camaraderie — not just between the two speakers, but between them and the select audience as well — and of intelligent, no-holds-barred debate on the Carnatic music tradition as it is today, on the role of the media in promoting the arts and on art criticism.
“I'm putting my foot in my mouth… as usual,” said the outspoken Krishna ruefully at one point, after a denunciation of the chauvinism prevalent in the Carnatic music industry.
But that didn't stop him from continuing to answer forthrightly some difficult and very pertinent questions raised by Ms. Lakshman such as the one on the problems faced by female musicians in the field.
“Some male singers don't want to have female accompanists, and some male accompanists won't play for female singers — both these issues exist,” he said bluntly. “The attitude persists in my generation, and even the next, among 19-, 20-year-olds, because it's being passed on by seniors and gurus. And I'm sad to say that we're not doing anything about it.”
One issue he is trying to do something about is the struggle mid-range musicians or youngsters without money or clout go through just to get a chance to perform. “Things have been going the wrong way recently — certain organisations are taking money to put people on stage — and very talented people are getting frustrated,” he admitted.
“We need a system to look for talent, and it should be throughout the year. I'm trying to set up a concert series every quarter, featuring talented youngsters from Chennai and other cities, and all I'm asking is that the organisations send representatives to listen to them.”
But Krishna wasn't just answering the tough questions; he was also firing them at regular intervals at Ms. Lakshman, prompting her to laugh at one point, “I thought he was supposed to be the one answering questions!” She responded to the questions gamely though, addressing issues such as coverage of Carnatic music in The Hindu, and the role of critics of the arts.
She admitted that there was a need for a course of some sort on criticism of the arts for journalists entering the field. “This is something we've been trying to work towards, but very few experts are willing to spend the time needed,” she said honestly. “This is required not just for music, but for criticism of contemporary art as well.”
But the evening wasn't only about what's wrong — it was also a celebration of what's right with Carnatic music today, and why it's worth promoting endlessly.
As Krishna put it, “Today's top Carnatic musicians are the youngest of any classical art form across the world — the oldest is about 45 years old! This is the beginning of a golden age for Carnatic music and if we aren't proactive about promoting it, we're losing a great opportunity.”
Fittingly, the conversation ended on a musical note, as Krishna effortlessly segued into song (after having talked pretty much non-stop for the better part of an hour) with a smooth and soulful rendition of Jagadodharana that had audience members nodding their heads in appreciation.