Chatline Abhishek Raghuram talks to Chitra Swaminathan about keeping his family’s musical flag flying high, growing up with his mridangam maestro grandfather and striking a distinct note
His small, frail shoulders carry the weight of an enviable lineage. Behind those school boy looks is a mature and thinking mind. His hearty chuckles and relaxed manners don’t easily give away his serious commitment to a classical art. But the truth is Abhishek Raghuram, grandson of percussion pundit Palghat Raghu, is among the most heard Carnatic vocalists today.
Call it the inheritance of gain. This 27-year-old young vidwan’s mother is the niece of violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman while veena exponent Jayanti Kumaresh is his aunt (mother’s sister). Ghazal and playback singer Hariharan completes the family picture being related on the paternal side. Abhishek’s childhood memories are evidently about music with the house echoing ragam and talam throughout the day and his playtime taken over by a disciplined training routine.
“It would sometimes irk me then but I am having all the fun now. It’s time well-invested,” laughs Abhishek, the recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar this year. He initially learnt the mridangam from his grandfather but his grandmother felt he should be groomed as a vocalist. “I had this uncanny knack of imitating some of the yesteryear Carnatic stalwarts whose records would be played at home.”
So his violinist-mother took charge but Abhishek eventually trained under guru P.S. Narayanaswamy. A concert is a culmination of influences and absorption, he says. “It could even be something non-musical. Packaging and presentation in modern musical parlance is bringing to the table (read stage) these elements along with one’s distinctive skill, an alert mind to assess the audience and demands of the varied performance settings. The challenges are many for an artiste, most important is striking a balance between what you want to convey and what the audience enjoys.”
And where does he find himself more comfortable — in the arena of the classicists or among the rising league of innovators? Abhishek, a Mathematics graduate, scorns at these divisions as there is no formula for creativity. “You do what comes naturally to you and excites you. You could explore within the realm and still be called experimental or move away from the roots to come up with something novel and yet be termed a traditionalist. These are subjective definitions.”
Much of what is happening now is due to technology, feels the youngster, who gave up doing his Masters in Computer Science to pursue music. “All it requires is a click to know the sound cultures across the globe. Social media has made artistes accessible and collaborations easier. And what’s more, if you are really good there’s enough visibility too.”
Though he hails from a musically-inclined family, his decision to give up academics was not welcomed. “I had found my calling. The satisfaction of doing something you want is only when you do it. And I substituted megabytes with manodharma. My family soon realised I wasn’t wrong because just two years after quitting college I went on my first overseas tour,” smiles Abhishek.
And as the cliché goes, there has been no looking back since. “It’s not easy making this choice especially during distraction-ridden times. Hard training and sustained passion are a given. There’s a lot more that goes into making it a wholesome experience for both artistes and rasikas. It calls for sonic perspective, understanding voice dynamics, delving deep into one’s system and developing know-how of other styles and genres. You cannot simplify everything in art yet there is always a constant attempt to do so.”
Despite several doomsday predictions about classical music’s slow death hope is still not lost with youngsters such as Abhishek taking to the art full time and with quite a number of young listeners crowding sabhas. “Classical is the mother of all sound. It prepares you for every musical test and adventure. As for its future, it will live on through every changing time. After all swaras are life notes!”