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Many STRINGS attached

Sankarshan Kini did his engineering, as it was `the most logical thing to do after school'. But a passion for music has taken the musician who plays six instruments elsewhere

Sankarshan Kini didn't want to sit in a cubicle doing a `good job with good money' and not be able to see the end of his work. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar

SANKARSHAN KINI counts off on his fingers the number of musical instruments he can play. "Tabla, guitar, violin, harmonica...," he begins. "Did I say recorder? OK, recorder, pungi... that's what they play for snakes (though I think it's an instrument best left for snakes)...Yeah, that's it ... I think." The musician who plays six instruments is an editor with the music magazine Rave, where he writes their Hindustani and Carnatic classical music pieces and reviews concerts.

He joined the Rave team soon after the music magazine was launched, with an unlikely background — five years of engineering at Manipal. But Sankarshan says he took no time at all in deciding to join Rave. So why did someone so obviously passionate about music take up engineering? "It was the most logical thing after school," explains Sankarshan. "You do engineering, then get a good software job with good pay, leave your brains behind at home and fry." In that kind of job, you don't always see the fruition of your work, says Sankarshan. He says he didn't want to sit in a cubicle doing a "good job with good money" and not be able to see the end of his work. He had found himself in a bubble at Manipal: "Days at college, life in the evening, few exams that you go home to study for, and then the same thing again. Music was a driving force."

It was at Manipal that he met Rishi who later came back to Bangalore to start Rave. At college, with some others, they formed their own band, unusually named Acouzma, which apparently means aural hallucination. Influenced by Alanis Morissette and the Grateful Dead among others, the band's jam sessions gave Sankarshan what he describes as one of "the most amazing musical experiences that I've had for that long a duration."

Between the months of April 1999 to January 2000, music took over Sankarshan's life. Jam sessions sometimes lasted up to six hours a day, and in collaboration with other musicians, the band travelled, performing in Bangalore and Goa.

Although Sankarshan had played with bands such as Gangamma's Pleasure in Bangalore, it was at Manipal that music became all encompassing. Not just did he keep rhythm in Acouzma, he wrote songs and composed jingles as well.

In response to the naοve question — "So which do you prefer, writing or playing?" — Sankarshan explains that music is a process: you first write it, then play it.

Much of his understanding of music comes from playing different instruments. Coming from a family which is passionate about music ("They're passionate about music as a hobby," he emphasises), not surprisingly, his first lessons in music came when he was only five, as his mother taught her students Hindustani classical music. His father, also musical, soon began teaching him the tabla, and the lessons were characterised by the discipline he says his father imparted to everything — whether math lessons or tabla.

Sankarshan also learnt to play the harmonica from his father; watching him play, and then fiddling around with it himself. He picked up the recorder in class four, since his sister was learning to play it ("Sibling rivalry forced me to learn it."). The blues harp and guitar were picked up at music club at school in Mallya Aditi International School.

Sankarshan's violin was presented to him by his grandmother, who quickly saw the need for accompanying lessons since, "with other musical instruments, you can bear a lot of displeasure, but with the violin you can take just so much". After suffering his forays into violin playing, a neighbour took Sankarshan on as student and he learnt Carnatic classical violin for three years. Western classical music was picked up during rehearsals for the musical Animal Farm, where Sankarshan's parents composed the music and he played the tabla. The violin player needed a back up, so by working with him, Sankarshan says he easily picked up the fundamentals of Western classical as well. "Music is just sound," Sankarshan says. "It's the understanding which is divided into schools of application."

Working at Rave magazine has widened his perspective of music as a performing art, he says, and now he's sure he wants to be a performing musician. "You'll always be a musician, but being a performing artiste is a profession," he says, adding that making it a profession would be demanding in terms of discipline and concentration. He wants to play commercial music without "selling out", which would be the easy option, he says, likening it to a "secure software job which has instant gratification but a short life. You've got to look at money but not compromise on musical integrity." Sankarshan reflects that most musicians either sell out or are financially unsuccessfully, but he's setting his targets high and says he's prepared to find the balance. He's setting up a troupe, and the kind of music he hopes to play is World Music, though "not World Music as we know it". He hastens to add: "But music as sound that can generate emotion and make the listener want to listen to more."

Till then, it's work at Rave where he's still being challenged by writing about music, rather than creating it. Sankarshan Kini can be contacted at


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