John Anthony, helmsman and guitarist of the band Karnatriix, explains why he is emotionally attached to the city
Manderlay, a graceful mansion behind the Railway quarters at Poojapura, is gradually awakening to the strumming of the guitar and the symphony of sounds from the kitchen as musician and frontman of the band Karnatriix, John Anthony and his wife, Supreetha, touch base after more than two decades.
Life has come full circle for the couple who met in the city and married as they bonded over music. John says he is emotionally attached to the city where he honed his skills as a guitarist and widened his horizons in music. After making his name as a guitarist par excellence in the film music world in Chennai (where he worked with music directors like Shyam, Johnson and A.R. Rahman amongst many others), and with several legends of the Carnatic world, John is flying high on the success of his band Karnatriix. Their chartbuster debut album Namaste is going into its second edition. Now, John plans to work from Kerala. He is building a house in Kochi and renovating his house in the city that was a gift from his wife's grandmother.
Relaxing in the trellised verandah of their house in the city, John recalls: “I came to the city in 1975 to learn from pianist Roger D. Jhanke. But when they heard me playing, they appointed me to teach the guitar at Tharanganisari, the school of music started by K.J. Yesudas. Although I was only 18, I was a star since I had been playing for several leading rock bands years in Kochi,” recalls John.
In 1977, John got married. “Chuppi (as he calls Supreetha) and I grew up together and our son, Siddarth, also grew up with us,” laughs the irrepressible John.
With a young family to look after, John went to Chennai in 1984 to earn a living. A lucky break found him playing for music director Shyam who was completely bowled over by the young musician. Playing for the film music industry helped him meet talented powerhouses like Dileep and Sivamani with whom he formed the band Roots that shook the music scene in Chennai.
A chance meeting with L. Vaidyanathan opened the door to fusion concerts that saw John play with several of the big names in Carnatic music – M. Balamuralikrishna, T.V. Gopalakrishnan, Karaikudi Mani, Basvaraj brothers…
Composing fusion music
“But my soul ached for my own band,” admits John. “Fusion is very attractive when it is done properly. However, most musicians do a piece meal job when it comes to fusion music and that is why there is more of confusion than fusion. A composition has to be complete in itself with clearly marked parts for each musician in the band. You have to compose for each musician and understand each instrument that is being played. Instrumentation is an entire subject of study,” explains John.
It was during a trip to South Africa with the Basvaraj brothers that John found his groove. He remembers how he had to learn to play Tygaraja's Endaro mahanubhavulu in one month. He managed to do it but “all the time, there was another music that was playing in my mind. That was how I came up with the album with Sultan Fayaz Ahmed Khan on the sarangi and Darnuka Siva on percussion.”
In the quiet environs of the house John is at work again – composing for his forthcoming tours in November when the Global Karnatriix ensemble starts playing their kind of music.
“I have transcribed a Bach composition some 30 years ago when I was here. Now I want to revive it… I am working it out with Faiyaz. During a concert in Mumbai with TVG sir, I happened to meet Oliver Sax, a great saxophonist from Germany, and drummer Carola Grey, also from Germany. We vibe well and so we hope to play for a series of shows this year,” says John.
Rock on John!
During his stay in the city a lucky meeting with the late M.G. Radhakrishnan broadened his music horizons. “I was this rocker from Kochi with attitude and here was this musician telling me about ragas and brigas. Radhakrishnan chettan introduced me to the nuances of Indian classical music.” It was the veteran composer who gave him his break in film music by getting him to play for Priyadarsan's debut movie – Poochakkoru Mukkuthi. Although music took John to Chennai, his ties with the composer remained alive. “In fact, when I composed Endaro mahanubhavulu for Karnatriix, I sent it first to Radhakrishnan chettan. It was only after he said that he enjoyed it that I garnered the courage to play it,” says John.
Again, it was through Radhakrishnan that John met L. Vaidyanathan when he came to the city to arrange the music for Manichitrathazhu. “It was his brother L. Shankar who gave me my guitar. It is a PRS. I am a big fan of Carlos Santana. So when Shankar asked me what kind of a guitar I wanted, I requested him to get me a PRS. It is the initials of the guy who makes the guitars – Paul Reeds Smith.”
Karnatriix Global Ensemble plans to hold concerts in the city, Kochi and Kozhikode. “My dream is to hire a bus, get my artist friends to paint it and travel from one end of Kerala to the other, and organise concerts in places all across the State.”
Keywords: Karnatriix band