Perhaps the inability to keep things easy and simple is the root cause of our failure to reach out to lay persons, nay the lay audience.
Can Carnatic music be a mass-based one? Will it ever be identified with a common man? Will it be accessible to people from the lower strata of the society? Can Carnatic music strike a secular chord among the not-so-religious, and people from across castes and community?
These questions have been debated for ages. They will be discussed in our times. And, they will surely continue to dominate the minds of people in the coming years. Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna brought the focus back on these issues with his maiden book ``A Southern Music: The Karnatik story’’, which was released at Kalakshetra on December 16, 2013 by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.
During his book-reading session at the function, Krishna, in a way, called for a ``secular Carnatic music’’. Well, he was talking of a day when The Music Academy would confer on a Dalit the title Sangeetha Kalanidhi. His comment drew loud applause from an overflowing audience, comprising some illustrious names from diverse fields. A few points are worth making here, however.
Carnatic music transcends language. From Telugu to Kannada and Tamil, the compositions are in diverse languages and written by people from diverse geographies. Ever since liberalization and globalization set in the 90s, there has been a job-related movement or relocation of people from one place to another.
In a way, this has brought a subtle transformation in the Carnatic music sphere. This has also led to a quiet change in the audience profile. So much so, these days musicians develop their own little niche constituency within their large fan club. They go out of the way to satiate the musical taste especially of this small but an important constituency. By doing so, they ensure that this `crowd’ returns to all their concerts. Examples are dime a dozen.
From Aruna Sairam to K.J. Yesudas and Ranjani-Gayathri sisters, they carefully nurture this section, and try to expand it by slipping in popular numbers.
The tinsel world
The contribution of the film industry in spreading Carnatic music is no less. Who can forget some of the haunting melodies of artistes such as MS, MLV, Gantasala, Balamurlikrishna and others? These numbers still ring in the ears, though several seasons have gone by since these films were released.
From Lalgudi Jayaraman to his disciple Bombay Jayashri to Sudha Ragunathan and Nityashree – they have all understood the power of tinsel world in carrying this form of music to newer and wider audiences. So much so, today these artistes command wider and diverse fan followings. Traditionalists may have their own views. The fact of the matter, however, is people like Yesudas and Unnikrishnan have contributed immensely to the cause of spreading Carnatic music by bringing in non-traditional listeners.
Of late, the television reality shows have rekindled the interest in Carnatic music. The Internet has taken this art form global, with many an artiste enrolling overseas students – some non-resident Indians; others, non-Indians. So, there is quite a development on taking Carnatic music to different canvases.
Bringing common man on board – this talk or this need is not something peculiar to Carnatic music. It is a deep-rooted malaise afflicting diverse spheres. What is the solution? A macro solution is not in an individual’s hands. So, why can’t one settle for a micro cure? Don’t worry about your neighbor. You practice the right thing, as Krishna said during the Q&A session to a young girl in the audience. The glass is half full or half empty. It all depends on the way one looks at it. How to simplify whatever you do? How do we communicate even a complex thing in a simple and easy-to-comprehend style?
Perhaps the inability to keep things easy and simple is the root cause of our failure to reach out to lay persons, nay the lay audience. An artiste may be a communicator par excellence. That alone won’t suffice. Weil, it requires a large heart to embrace a whole new people. To do that, one needs to pass the endurance test. How many has the inclination to do that? That is the crux of the problem. And, the elevation has to come from within in the first instance.