MUSICSCAN: A round-up of NRI talent.

We all know that FBI stands for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States of America. What then would it mean if someone said the largest number of FBIs can be found in the U.S.? That, of course, will refer to foreign-based Indians, who are defined by the Income Tax Act in India and are popularly known here as 'Non-Resident Indians' (NRIs).

In recent years the number of Indian citizens living abroad has grown spectacularly, and their children born in foreign countries who are natural citizens of those countries are also counted among the NRIs in the public's perception here. Successive generations of foreign-based Indians are still very strongly attached to their cultural roots in India, and some talented ones among them are taking a lot of trouble to learn our classical music and dance well. Most of them live in the U.S., but some in other countries.

The annual NRI music festival organised by Hamsadhwani in Chennai in December for the past 15 years has been providing effective opportunities for such artists to perform Carnatic music in an authentic setting, as part of the massive musical activity in the city during the sacred month of Maargazhi. And it's reassuring to note that several such artists who have turned up to perform in this forum in successive years are tending to achieve progressively higher standards of accomplishment.

Impressive roll-call

The following collective impressions among the rasikas who attended the festival in December 2009 constitute a handsome endorsement of Hamsadhwani's sustained and earnest endeavours in this regard: Vocalists: Harish Ganapathy (U.S.) is talented and shows great promise. Dr. Sanjay Subramanian (U.S.) has shown marked improvement, and there's greater maturity in his voice now. Krishna Ramarathinam (Australia), who happens to be the great-grandson of past vidwan Sattur Subramaniam, shows considerable promise, with a good vision of the ragas.

Shobha Sekar, who is seriously concerned with Carnatic music teaching and training in Australia, is a brilliant and seasoned performer. Yamini Ramesh (Muscat) contiued to please, as she has done year after year. Shankar Ramani (U.S.) sings in a solid style. S. Venkatraman (U.S.) has a robust voice, and his selection of kritis was impressive and made the audience sit up. Vijay Narayan (U.S.) showed much sophistication in presentation. Shyamala Ramakrishnan (U.S.) continues to make rapid strides in successive seasons. Vaibhav Mouli (U.S.) sang in an orthodox and serious style. Ganesh Raman (U.S.) showed a distinct classical touch, choosing weighty ragas and kritis.

Instrumentalists: Anuradha Sridhar (U.S.) who accompanied the seasoned vidushi Lalgudi Brahmanandam on the violin, is highly accomplished. Vishal Sipuram (U.S.) thrilled the audience with his superb performance on the chitraveena. Notable among the mridangam artists were Master L. Subramanian, Naveen Basavanahalli and Akshay Padmanabhan (all from U.S.).

The youngest artists who showed excellent prmise were 12-year-old violinist Kamal Kiran Vinjamuri and 13-year-old mridangam artist Arjun Raghavan (both from the U.S.).

Astonishingly authentic

One of the most impressive NRI artists to emerge out of the Hamsadhwani set-up in recent years has been vocalist Roopa Mahadevan (U.S.), who is now sufficiently well-known in Chennai's music circles to be invited to perform in several Sabhas in Chennai during the 2009 winter season. Considering that she's actually a Stanford University post-graduate in ‘cognitive neuroscience’, the absolutely authentic quality of her Carnatic music is truly astonishing!

Roopa's exquisite rendering of the ragas Saveri and Thodi in her concerts in Hamsadhwani and Mylapore Fine Arts Club respectively (kritis 'Muruga Muruga' and 'Ninne Namminaanu sadaa') bore the stamp of a highly accomplished singer. Much of the credit must go to her gurus Asha Ramesh (a disciple of D.K. Jayaraman) in America and Suguna Varadachari (of the Musiri tradition) in India.