Kala Ramnath is breaking barriers with an initiative to teach music to underprivileged children.
Her’s is the singing violin. When Ustad Zakir Hussain heard a 14-year-old Kala Ramnath, niece of violin legends N. Rajam and T.N. Krishnan, he greatly appreciated her musical dexterity but asked who would listen to a copy when her illustrious family was still around. Thus, began a quest to fuse a new musical expression which took her to Pandit Jasraj and as they say, the rest is history.
A foremost classical instrumentalist, a Grammy nominee, a frequent collaborator with the London Symphony and London Philharmonic Orchestra and a much sought-after teacher, Kala Ramnath is currently endeavouring to train and take music to the underprivileged children of India through her Kalashree Music Foundation (KMF). Excerpts from an interview.
How was Kalashree Music Foundation conceived?
During my extensive concert tours abroad, I was surprised to discover two countries that have achieved 100 per cent literacy in music: Hungary and Venezuela. For instance, in Venezuela, I encountered how music was used to keep their underprivileged children away from drugs and violence, give them good values and a positive focus in life, and also enable them to support themselves. These efforts have inspired me to do something for the children of India. I felt that Indian children, especially the poor, could benefit from being exposed to music, and find a way out of the hopelessness often induced by a life of poverty and hardships. So I started a non-profit foundation called Kalashree in both Mumbai and Kolkata, and also in California.
What are the current projects of KMF?
We are working with a number of NGOs who will provide us infrastructural support: the children themselves, their time and the space for teaching them. We have a five-year curriculum whereby we educate the children enough for them to pursue music seriously later if they wish to. If not also, we know we have created a discerning listener with a love for music and an individual who’d contribute in some way to society.
Shouldn’t there be music education in India cutting across class boundaries?
Absolutely. I feel the whole of India should be music-literate keeping in mind that we have such a hoary tradition in music. The rich and the middle class have greater access today to learning music than the underprivileged. Kalashree welcomes everybody but we feel it’s the underserved who require our support far more.
Have organisations like Spic Macay not performed a desired role?
Organisations like Spic Macay — through the medium of concerts, lecture demonstrations and workshops — create an awareness of music only but not teach music to the children. We intend to do the latter in a significant way.
How has the response been from fellow musicians? Do you think more musicians should spearhead such initiatives?
KMF is not even a year old. We are just starting out and I am sure not many people are aware of what we are doing. But those who are aware have been supportive of our attempt. Whether other musicians should spearhead such initiatives purely remains a personal choice of the individual concerned.