Meet young musicians who are giving a contemporary twist to vintage compositions, including poems of Bharathi

Fancy listening to famous kritis like Mahaganapathim or Alaipayuthe with a guitar playing in the background? Or a Subramanya Bharathi classic accompanied by some soft percussion? Well, with a breed of youngsters who hail from traditional paatu class backgrounds but have grown up listening to world music, this is quite possible.

This Tamil New Year’s Day was quite special to the members of the band, Karthick Iyer Live. They launched a contemporary Carnatic adaptation of Bharathi’s popular Aasai Mugam Marandhu Poche on SoundCloud, an online distribution platform, and clocked about 3000 ‘listens’ in the first couple of days itself. “There have been several versions of this song by many popular singers and we wanted ours to be unique,” says singer-violinist Karthick Iyer, who has released many such numbers online, “Our music is not just about adding Western elements to a Carnatic track — the tune has to fuse. It aims to give youngsters a good canvas to listen to an old track that is already hugely popular among the classically inclined.”

The trick while doing so is to present the old kriti/classic in a manner that appeals to modern musical aesthetics. Of course, care has to be taken to ensure that long-time Carnatic buffs aren’t put off. “The older generation will like our music too as we have given our own interpretation to songs that they love,” says the youngster, who has also given a contemporary musical touch to other popular songs such as Raghuvamsa Sudha and Manavyalakim.

For young Carnatic singer S.J. Jananiy, it is all about the packaging. Her four-series album, titled Classic Waves, consisted of giving a fresh sound to not just Tamil classics, but also to some of the works of Oothukkadu Venkatasubba Iyer. “We are used to listening to Alaipayuthe with a tampura playing in the background. But then, packaging it a little differently with a modern musical arrangement will help reach the same song to a wider range of audience,” she adds.

Twenty-two-year-old Jananiy does not just restrict these musical ‘experiments’ to CDs and the online world — she recently took a band of musicians, including guitarists and percussionists, to perform a ‘Carnatic fusion’ kutcheri for a private gathering. Buoyed by the response, she intends to explore the works of other classic composers too.

When popular film singer Karthik did an album called Music Alike — which featured popular kritis in a modern musical format — the feedback was excellent. That prompted him to take things a little further. He took up Saint Thyagaraja’s popular composition, Bantureethi Kolu, and started work on it. “I treated it more like a Latin song, and tried a Latin groove on the kriti,” he recalls, “It was very exciting for me as I realised that the tune would work even with audiences who’ve not heard the original.” And that’s not all — he even performed a ‘Bantureethi Kolu club version’ at his concert titled Karthik Music Experience recently! “It was an insane idea, but worked really well. I had konokkol playing in the middle of the song with a dubstep groove. For this particular concert, I bounced this idea to director Rajeev Menon, who fixed some beautiful animation visuals to go with it,” he says.

Film singer Haricharan, in between umpteen recordings for young composers, found time to explore his Carnatic musical side, albeit with a modern flavour, with Music From The Heart, an album he featured in.

“There’s a notion that Carnatic music can be boring and we wanted to dispel that. When we add chords and rhythms to a popular kriti and package it differently, it makes it more interesting,” he says.

With a number of youngsters joining this bandwagon, it looks like this trend is here to stay, and rock. “If you take some Carnatic songs and treat them intelligently, they work well with all kinds of audiences,” signs off Karthik.