‘Prayathna', an effort by five artists to explore music from a different angle.
A jolly group of young artists, joking and ragging each other enlivened the atmosphere even as they came in and settled down for the interview.
The group known as ‘Prayathna - a musical effort,' comprises five artists namely N. Ramakrishnan - mridangam, N. Rajaraman - full kit drums, D.V. Venkatasubramaniam - ghatam, Sandeep Narayan - vocal and Venkat - violin.
‘Prayathna' was founded in 2006 by Ramakrishnan, while the initiator of the idea was Rajaraman. They are all reasonably busy performing artists with individual statures and want to give their best to whatever they are involved in. All of them in unison claim that their unifying factor is their devotion to the Kanchi Mahaperiyaval. This immediately reminds us of ghatam Vikku Vinayakaram, who is their inspiration and role model for their devotion as well as forming the group.
‘Prayathna' wants to stress that the music they create is not fusion but purely Carnatic based. Each piece is composed with rhythm as the main focus but with the support of melody. They want to show that a good standard of music can be produced with that basis. Their aim also has been to create an awareness of rhythm and its importance to Carnatic music. Melody and rhythm complement each other. While they don't expect the audience to understand the intricacies of the talas, the habit of people walking out during thani avartanam does rankle.
As the name ‘Prayathna' suggests, it is an effort to explore music from a different angle. In each piece one raga will remain constant with no mixing of alien notes, with a strong rhythmic structure without disturbing the melody. At some stretch there is pure rhythm and at others there is pure melody creating a perfect balance. The rhythm structure is composed mainly by Ramakrishnan with active involvement of the other two percussionists. He also writes the lyrics for the vocal portions. Incidentally, Ramakrishnan also writes lyric for cinema. The musicians, Sandeep and Venkat, are consulted for the melody part.
When they sing/play certain portions with swaras swinging up or down, the percussionists get new ideas for structuring the ‘sollus.' This works the other way round too. In fact as the musicians learn more about talas, the percussionists get an opportunity to learn about ragas.
Intervenes Rajaraman, “if our group were to have only rhythm it would be boring. Melody adds beauty to the rhythm.” Sandeep adds, “I get to showcase my talent also. If it had been only as a sideline I wouldn't have joined the group. In fact I've grown as a musician, it has been really beneficial.” The same sentiment is reflected by Venkat too, who has his own group ‘Enliven.'
Initially they had keyboard for the melody part till Sandeep joined them two years ago.
He first sang in Vinayakaram's group ‘Sapthaakshara,' which actually inspired them to form ‘Prayathna,' all of them are also part of the former.
Each of the five artists gets a chance to sing/play individually and has total freedom to improvise, but when they perform in unison they have to follow the pre-arranged composition.
This freedom applies in another way too. If any of the five gets a chance to perform in a concert which is more important for his career, he has the freedom to go for it and ‘Prayathna' gets some other artist to pitch in.
‘Prayathna' encourages audience interaction during their performance, such as clapping according to the tala. “Happily for us even when we perform at wedding receptions there is good response from the audience, people sit and listen to us,” declare Venkatasubramaniam and Ramakrishnan. They proudly recall the occasion when Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna was present at one of their programmes and his comment that their music was mellifluous.
There is no ego clash among the members of ‘Prayathna.' Their good reputation is more important to them. They stress, “above all we are all good friends and wish to remain as such and create good music.”