There are so many creative sides to Carnatic vocalist Sreevalsan J. Menon that it is difficult to comprehend the depth of his engagement with each classification. If it is Carnatic, the experience is more than an aural pleasure, as it is soaked in layers of intellectualism which needs to be contemplated upon. Infusing shades from classical techniques used by yesteryear greats in his presentation, his own Neyyattinkara Vasudevan schooling too seemed enriched as Sreevalsan skilfully slipped in some breezy Sopana Sangeetham, phrases taken from the Kathakali dance system, in his BTM Cultural Academy concert recently.
As he tread on todi with consummate ease unfolding several facets and structures of the serious scale, portions of his deliberation were subtly being brought out with a slightly sustained stay on notes, a move that underlined the true Sopana style of singing, well suited for this raga that abundantly offers space for such stylised expansions. Sreevalsan later explained, “I was trained to study the deeper flourishes of the Kathakali-Sopana. Holding on to a leisurely pace in raga alapane or a kriti is tricky and difficult, and this format teaches you just that. In Kathakali what explains the relaxed pace is, until the transition of a note, the artiste sustains to his gestures.”
Understanding the kriti or raga is an overriding factor required to present different styles, he believes. “In Dikshitar’s Navavarna kriti ‘Kamalamba’ in todi, the more you marinate in its grandeur, the more one can comprehend how to present it on stage. Several kritis that Ariyakudi presented in his concerts are known to have taken more than a year to shape up perfectly in his ‘understanding of the flow.’ The sincerity the stalwarts had towards music is amazing…the Bhairavi Swarajathi of M.D. Ramanathan overwhelms you to think if anyone could even attempt presenting it the same way.”
And brevity thy name being Sreevalsan, he could skilfully bring forth the alchemic power of Todi in 20 minutes flat, every line of his unravelling making newer inroads for Dikshitar’s ‘Krishnam Bhaja Manasa.’ In Arabhi, he transformed into an artist wielding his brush so swiftly that his succinct portrayal seemed a perfect picture to step into Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna ‘Saadinchane.’
Taking up a selected piece for elaboration is fine, but what explains his newer dimensions in presentation, for example, did he plan to further embellish the Vasantha varna or the Ghana raga panchaka with extra swara kalpana to make them feel different? “These pieces are so affluent and rich by themselves, we don’t need to add value. I don’t get into a clinical scrutiny of my renditions, my additions or creative sessions are done on the spur of the moment on stage. Believe me, in the play of aesthetics, it is the musicality taking over in various facets. It could be adding up to the swara kalpana or handling ragas with different approaches to explain my imaginative instincts. In fact I am trained into experiencing music beyond lyrics, and get overpowered by the musicality that even names as Govinda, Mrudubhashana or Hare Rama gently flows in the lyrics with its inbuilt melody,” says Sreevalsan.
Talking about scoring for films, Sreevalsan says: “Multi-tasking has got the better of me here. I have scored for Rupesh Paul’s Malayalam film, Laptop. When his Saint Dracula, an English flick, came knocking at my doors, it came with a challenge of bringing an Asian sound.”
Saint Dracula was one amongst the 104 films, in contention for the final nominations for the original music score category in the 85th Academy Awards. Two songs in the film, ‘I have secrets…’ sung by Francois Castellino, based in raga Ranjani in total western orchestration and ‘I’ll be here’ sung by Dominique Cerejo and Amal Antony came for public attention last year.
“There is great interest in ethnic music in Hollywood, be it folk songs of Europe, original music of South East Asia or classical music of India,” says Sreevalsan, who holds a Doctorate in Agriculture, and works for the Dept. of Agriculture in Kochi.