Celtic, Scandinavian, Australian, African… What have the city’s Carnatic musicians got to do with world music? Well, a number of them are pushing their frontiers to explore new sounds with their own ensembles and bands. Chitra Swaminathan tracks the trend

Trawl through the exhaustive sabha listings and you will realise that pluralism is the flavour of the Season. While classical music still magnetises listeners, who willingly surrender to it, the exploration of the sound spectrum has led artistes towards new frontiers. Along with the conventional ‘Carnatic’ and ‘Hindustani’ prefixes to music, the term ‘world’ is being heard loud and clear at the Margazhi festival. Interestingly, cross-overs are taking place in quite a few cutcheris. Vidwans are reworking their traditional repertoire by joining hands with like-minded musicians to form ensembles that give rasikas a taste of rooted yet pan-global tunes.

Says mridangam maestro Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani, who ushered in the trend by setting up his Sruthi Laya ensemble in 1984:“I wanted to give instruments their rightful place; they need not be relegated to just the tani which is often seen by listeners as a much-needed excuse to walk out of the concert hall,” he says.

The way forward

The veteran percussionist is happy that a lot of youngsters are taking this concept forward. “But it calls for maturity, deep understanding and hard work. It’s about bringing your long training, experience, influences and voyages around the world to the stage. Your constant dialogue with artistes of your ilk and others gives you the insight and confidence to come up with group works and fresh interpretations. And the response at home has been as heartening as it has been outside,” he adds. Sruthi Laya has collaborated with many world orchestras, notably the Australian Art Orchestra (Sruthi Laya and AAO won the 2013 ART Music award in Australia).

Violinist Embar Kannan, a well-known accompanying artiste, began this Season with his year-old five-member band Crossroads’ performance for Saptha Rasa. “It’s a thrilling way to look beyond the regular concert format. The variety presented under this banner is incredible, but there’s definitely more to discover.”

Through Crossroads, a musical travelogue, Kannan traverses the increasingly growing aural landscape. It’s the tale of a traveller who journeys around the world and his stopovers are marked by specially composed pieces that reflect the music of those regions.

“Vande Mataram announces the start of the voyage. This is followed by Irish, Chinese, Norwegian, Swedish, Hungarian, African, Brazilian and Arabian music. A composition in Charukesi signifies homecoming. On the surface, it might appear like a bewildering array of styles, but much depends on how you deal with the exhaustive material to make it sound connected,” says Kannan. His early training in western classical, Carnatic performances abroad, sharing the stage with accomplished vocalists and working with veteran film composer Ilaiyaraaja have widened his creative horizons.

“A few years ago, I couldn’t have imagined performing anything like this during the Season. It’s exciting to see even hardcore Carnatic buffs being receptive to such experiments,” he enthuses.

Rasika response

Agrees Ghatam Karthick, who has brought many of the pakkavadyam and upa-pakkavadyam to the centre stage with his seven-member rhythm and melody act Heartbeat. “The response from rasikas has been so encouraging that I am premiering my three new compositions — Ragavardhini, a tillana in Khamas and a piece in Bagesri this Margazhi. Through the third piece I am paying a tribute to legends Lalgudi Jayaraman and P.B.Sreenivos. The second is in honour of Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani from whom I have learnt many valuable percussion lessons. Also, I will be introducing the handsonic instrument in Heartbeat’s performances this time. It will be played by my son Sarvesh,” says Karthick.

“Every sound, style and culture is available to composers today who wish to design a contemporary tone without misrepresenting the classical. The aim is to reach out to both the uninitiated and the thoroughbred rasika,” he points out.

For the Trichur Brothers (Srikrishna and Ramkumar Mohan), it’s about enjoying the best of both worlds. Besides performing regular cutcheris, the brothers indulge in cross-genre experiments through their musical group Anubhuti. “It’s a wholesome experience and has made us realise there is so much to music than what meets the ear. And we have to compliment the audience to welcome such exercises,” they say.

“The concept sounds exciting, but such departures are about a lot of hard work, sustained practice and a passionate approach. You have to constantly engage not just with the classical but with diverse styles and their practitioners,” says young mridangist K. Parthasaarathy, who along with Prakash Hariharan (electric mandolin) and Santhosh Chandran (acoustic guitar) has formed a three-member band (Parthasaarathy on world percussion) that has developed its own hybrid musical language featuring Carnatic, flamenco, Latin and world music.

As the fresh, cool breeze of notes sweeps the Margazhi festival, a new musical order gets established in the city.