It's exasperating to drive through Triplicane, a maze of narrow bustling lanes. There is no such thing as a lazy Sunday afternoon in this part of the city where the past is in sync with the present. I have a two o' clock appointment with kanjira virtuoso, fusion percussionist and film music composer Selva Ganesh at his recording studio in Peliyar Kovil Theruvu. Call it the beat street. It is home to the Sri Jaya Ganesh Tala Vadya Vidyalaya, a favourite haunt of rhythm enthusiasts. The small, unadorned building of this school of percussion, began by Selva's grandfather T.R. Harihara Sharma, is surrounded by crowded stores and tea stalls-turned-hang outs. Two men in tattered clothes and tangled hair enjoy an afternoon nap near the entrance. One of them suddenly wakes up and expectantly looks at Selva, who tells his assistant to buy him a cup of tea before leading me up a narrow, dark staircase to his workpad. The raw energy that he injects into the full-moon-sized kanjira and the predominantly ethnic flavour of his compositions seem to emerge from his deep connect with reality.
“These sights and sounds have been part of my existence, my thought process for many years. Our roots lie not only in our rich heritage, but also in hunger, poverty and denial. That is why our arts are emotionally intense,” says Selva, who is gearing up for the audio launch of his Telugu film “Pilla Zamindar” after which he will begin work on his sixth Tamil film.
“Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu” was a resounding start to his film music career, followed by “Kola Kolaya Mundhirika”, “Drohi”, “Nil Gavani Sellathey” and “Kullanari Kootam”. “I have been closeted in the studio for so long that I am beginning to miss the stage. I have been performing a few concerts as part of the 3G group (three generations) that includes my father (ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram) and son Swaminathan (an 18-year-old trained kanjira player). But I am waiting to take off again on those creatively stimulating and artistically interactive concert tours.”
Plans are already in place. Selva will embark on a tour of Asia and America as part of Shakti early next year. Mid-2012, he will travel across the country with his father and end the year with an exhaustive Europe itinerary along with celebrated bass performer Jonas Hellborg.
Meanwhile, he also awaits the international launch of the album ‘Kanjira and Bass', a collaborative work with Hellborg, whom he met in the U.S. during one of his numerous cross-cultural outings. “Our musical wave lengths matched instantly and we decided to enrich our repertoire through this sound bond.”
From accompanying Carnatic vidwans as a teenager to striking out with his liberating and inventive style, Selva has been charting several courses — classical, contemporary, popular and folk. What's more? The world's leading drum company, Remo, has come up with a kanjira named after him.
“It's wonderful to have the music gene — an excellent musician and teacher for a grandfather and a futuristic and open-minded artiste for a father. Their life-long commitment has taught me to value the legacy and carry it forward,” says Selva. The inheritance of gain apart, he considers himself God's chosen one for being musically adopted by tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain. “I am yet to meet a more devoted mentor. I was 19 when he took me on for his polyrhythm experiments across the globe. But the most cherished moment was when he made me a member of Shakti, a band that stirred the world of music. Imagine being on the same stage as the legendary John McLaughlin. The two-decade long musical jaunt has matured me as an artiste, helped me understand world genres and enter into dialogues with different performers. But I was more delighted that the diminutive kanjira was occupying centrestage. Whether I am performing at a concert or composing, I always say a silent thank you to the Ustad.”
And following in his footsteps, Selva has also teamed up with several western musicians such as Swedish guitarist Mattias Eklundh, American drummers Terry Bozzio and Dennis Chambers, grand master of djembe, Mamady Keita and zarb artistes, the Chemirani Trio from Afghanistan.
“Live performances gave me the confidence to compose and I launched albums such as ‘Beat It', ‘Good People', ‘Art Metal' and ‘Soukha'. One challenge led to another. None of my creative moves is planned. I like to surprise myself. And that's how I took to film music direction. It's like moving from one scale to another gradually. It's not the medium that matters, just the sound,” smiles Selva.