His friends call him Harry Potter. And that’s perhaps because up-and-coming vocalist Ramakrishnan Murthy bears a striking resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe who brought alive the boy wizard on screen, and also because there seems to be something magical about the way this 22-year-old sings. It’s only been a year or so since Ramakrishnan, a computer science graduate who grew up in the United States (U.S.), moved to Chennai to pursue a career as a Carnatic singer. Already Ramakrishnan seems to be much in demand on the concert circuit and has sung in a lot of prestigious music fetes, quite a few of them in Kerala. In an interview on the sidelines of the 37th Sree Neelakanta Sivan Sangeeta Aradhana Mahotsavam in Thiruvananthapuram, organised annually by the Sree Neelakanta Sivan Sangeeta Sabha Trust, for which he sang in a coveted senior slot, chatty and gregarious Ramakrishnan, spoke to about his musical journey. Excerpts…
From computers to Carnatic vocals
Carnatic music has been a part of me since I was seven years old. My mother, Indu, was very keen that my sister, Anupama, and I keep in touch with our roots. So we learnt Carnatic music from Padma Kutty, a graduate of RLV College, Thripunithura and a well-known teacher in the U.S., who lives near my home in Irvine, California. She was very strict and it’s thanks to her that I developed a good foundation in music. My mother was also very strict about practice – more like I had no choice in the matter! Since 2001, I’ve been training in vocals with violinist Delhi P. Sunderajan whenever I came to Chennai or whenever my guru came to the U.S., which was often. Apart from my guru, who was responsible for moulding me into a concert artiste, I’ve also learnt from Chengalpet Renganathan, Palai C.K. Sundaram, and Vairamangalam Lakshmanan. My parents were keen that I get a professional degree and so I enrolled for computer science at UCLA, Irvine. Let’s just say that I scraped through. I was living at home while in college and because of that I was able to practise music rigorously and listen to a lot of recordings and improve my kelvinjnanam. I just got more involved in music and decided that it was the way forward. It’s difficult for an artiste who has not established himself in India to get an opportunity elsewhere. That’s why I decided to move to India. And computer programming never held that much of charm for me anyhow!
Performing on the music circuit
I didn’t learn music to start performing. I perform because I like performing. I’ve always had a taste for classical music and I would give impromptu concerts at home. And I’m just lucky that people responded favourably to my music. I’m fortunate that I had a lot of things working for me when I decided to professionally pursue a career in Carnatic music. But I do have a few well-wishers who look out for me. I’ve never put myself out there. Whatever opportunity to sing has come to me, it’s been through the old fashioned word of mouth. My first concert after I moved to India was for the Semmagudi Sreenivasa Iyer Trust and it just rolled from there.
The challenges of being an up-and-coming artiste
I don’t think about how challenging or difficult it is or going to be. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of challenges and difficulties. It’s a highly competitive field, after all, and very subjective. Obviously, there’s politics, bias, favouritism, nepotism, and what not. Ultimately, though, it’s your music that counts – what you do in the space of two-three hours that you get to perform on stage.
Classical music, a viable option
I’ve never felt that Carnatic music was not a viable option. It’s all about your own perception of life, I suppose. I live with my grandparents in Chennai. So that’s food and accommodation taken care of! I would imagine those incidentals take up a significant part of your earnings. However, nothing is guaranteed in this profession. In the beginning, it was a struggle. But within three months I didn’t have time for anything else but my music – not even basketball, which I am quite a fan of (LA Lakers, is his favourite team). Nowadays, I’m glad to say that I am doing much better than I would have if I had chosen to stick with computers and programming!
Singing ‘Nalla Nanban’ for Shankar’s Nanban was something I’d never even thought of. In fact, I’d always had a snobbish attitude towards playback singing while growing up! Music director Harris Jayaraj gave me a call out of the blue and I thought it would be a new experience. It was the first time I’d ever been inside a hi-fi recording studio. It was great. I’ll definitely like to sing for films, if I get the opportunity that is.
Keywords: Ramakrishnan Murthy