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Triumphant notes: Kadri Gopalnath.
Triumphant notes: Kadri Gopalnath.

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN

Kadri Gopalnath throws light on his tryst with the wind instrument.

There’s enough happening to keep artists busy almost through the year.

When Kadri Gopalnath blows his trumpet, (read saxophone), it is music to the ears. The tall, vivacious musician fell for its sound and toiled for 20 years to adapt this Western instrument to suit Carnatic music. Look at a saxophone today and what comes to mind are not just jazz and blues, but Bilahari, Begada, Kalyani … and Kadri.

When you meet the maestro, his spotless white kurta embellished with gold thread and white and red stones draws your attention as much as his saxophone that is dressed up in colourful beads, shining stones and small bells. “Well, when you talk of presentation, it applies to both the individual and his work. This is not a new concept. Many of our past masters were known for their impeccable dress sense. You have to perk up the listeners with a colourful performance and persona. Music is celebration,” says Kadri, with a broad smile.

Optimistic as ever

Kadri Gopalnath’s innovative streak began with the choice of the instrument that he tweaked to bring into the Carnatic fold. After years of dedicated blowing, he now traverses the globe performing classical and fusion (with jazz musicians) concerts. “India or abroad, puzzled expressions and scepticism greeted me wherever I went. But I had the lung power to play on and find acceptance.”

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Kadri is upbeat about the present scenario and the future of music. He is glad that musical walls have come down, genres are merging and technology has made learning and listening to classical music easier.

He feels youngsters have no reason to complain.

“There’s enough happening to keep artistes, both established and up-and-coming, busy almost through the year. Several cultural organisations have sprung up and temples celebrate festivals with kutcheris. Then, there’s the burgeoning NRI population that invites artistes for concerts and lecture-demonstrations. Tyagaraja Utsavams are being held in different parts of the world. The overwhelming response from the audience abroad, both Asians and foreigners, is not just thrilling; it also strengthens the cross-cultural bond,” he says.

At heart, a traditionalist, who revels in the eternal beauty of ragams and swarams, Kadri is ever willing to push the boundaries and partake in fusion exercises. “I see every performance as an opportunity to grow,” he says.

His first close encounter with an alien genre was in 1980 at the Bombay jazz festival. John Handy, a jazz musician from California, heard Kadri play and asked him if he would perform along with him. “I was a little hesitant but my guru, T.V. Gopalakrishnan, egged me on. And I realised how exciting and challenging it was.”

His musical interactions are not limited to the stage. He has recorded an album with jazz flautist James Newtton; ‘East-West’ has compositions of Tyagaraja, Beethoven and more; and ‘Blue Rhizome’ (2008) by the New Quartet features a tribute to the saxophonist called ‘Gopalnath,’ composed by Karl E.H. Seigfried.

Reflecting on his musical journey, Kadri says: “Winning awards, accolades and a diary chock-a-block with concerts feels like a fairy tale. When I took up the saxophone, passion was the only motivation. When people ask me why I took to this Western instrument, I really don’t have an answer. I heard it being played at the Mysore palace (he hails from Karnataka), was drawn towards its vibrant sound and decided to learn to play it.”

Much before it became known in Tamil Nadu, the saxophone was popular in Karnataka, thanks to royal patronage. Tracing the saxophone’s journey from the West to India, Kadri refers to Mummudi Krishnaraj Wodeyar, who even has a few compositions to his credit, his liking for Western instruments and how he made a local artist learn it. Kadri found an affectionate and caring guru in T.V.Gopalakrishnan. “He is amazing. Ready to make any kind of sacrifice for the sake of his disciples and encourages them in every situation,” recalls Kadri — “a trait that can make any disciple emotional.”

It’s not easy to go through those initial struggles without family support, a good guru and God’s blessings.” He thinks for a while and adds with a chuckle: “Luckily, I also have the energy and enthusiasm to tune in to the changing times and not get blown away by the drastic technological and lifestyle changes.”


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