Kadri Gopalnath on his music, his instrument.
When Kadri Gopalnath performed at Banyan Tree's Dakshinayan festival of Carnatic music in New Delhi the other day, his fans were bewildered to find that the schedule had changed, putting the ‘Saxophone Chakravarti' as the second performer. But a respectable crowd remained for his concert. He has come a long way from the days when his mentor T.V. Gopalakrishnan advocated on his behalf with organisers to get him a slot. Gopalnath describes the steps as avamanam (insults), to Hanuman (the valiant), to samman (glory)! The abundance of good cheer the maestro, who divides his time between Chennai and Mangalore — when he is not travelling the world — blows into his instrument is redolent in his hearty laugh and his shining visage. Excerpts from a conversation:
On performing in Delhi
It went off very well. I particularly liked the audience. Nowadays I observe that people are coming in greater numbers, and they are knowledgeable (not only in Delhi but other cities). I started my concert at 8.45, and I expected people to leave, but they stayed! I also performed for Delhi University students. There was such a crowd, and they were so interested, because they are all students of music. I had tabla, mridangam and violin as accompaniment.
His mentoring under T.V. Gopalakrishnan
I can't even put it into words. He is so strong, it is like a lion's roar. Sometimes he is like a friend, sometimes a senior in the family. If he sang a sangati (musical variation) for me to play, the next time he sang it would be somewhat different. He doesn't repeat himself. He is an ocean. He would give me tips on what sounds good, what doesn't. He not only took class, he taught how to present a concert, what song to play after what. He is an expert in promotion.
On criticism the sax in Carnatic music is limited
Can all vocalists sing all ragas? We don't say stop singing! Similarly, some ragas suit some instruments. Everything has a limit, be it the nagaswaram, the veena, the violin, or vocal.
People don't take to something new easily. Earlier, the violin was considered ‘Western'. Now there is no Carnatic kacheri without it. People once told AKC Natarajan the clarinet was “ashuddham” and he was not allowed in the Tyagaraja aradhana. The same thing happened with me. I am still creating the market. I got insulted a lot earlier. TVG Sir persuaded organisers, “Give him a chance. Listen to him.” I played for free. Slowly it built up. But at no point did I think of changing my instrument.
The change came when I played in (K. Balachander's film) “Duet”. I was playing at Narada Gana Sabha (Chennai). The secretary said Rahman wanted to meet me next day. Subbudu (the late critic) warned me, “Don't go and join cinema.” I said, “No Mama, I won't.” But I like a challenge. I wanted to try. I played some 30 ragas for Rahman. He wasn't satisfied. Finally I played Kalyana Vasantam, and he said, “That's it!” After that movie I became known. I was in all the papers. It became difficult to travel in buses and trains. Of course I enjoyed the mass appeal. I did play for a few other film projects after that.
Film and classical music
In film music they mix the ragas. It's not for showing off your knowledge. People just enjoy it. But classical is the base of all.
POINTERS ON THE PATH
Kadri Gopalnath, born 1950, studied initially under his father, Nagaswaram vidwan Thaniappa. He describes himself as “a lazy student” of the nagaswaram. He disovered the saxophone when on a school trip to the Mysore Palace. “It was like seeing the girl and immediately tying the mangalsutra,” he says. He doesn't know what attracted him, but he never let go of the instrument and has brought it into the fold of Carnatic music. He studied under Gopalakrishna Iyer and later came under the mentorship of music maestro T.V. Gopalakrishnan.ANJANA RAJAN