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Romance with ragas

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN
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musicSinger Karthik takes a creative detour to revisit timeless Carnatic compositions

Tuneful twistKarthikPhoto: R. Ravindran
Tuneful twistKarthikPhoto: R. Ravindran

When you met him for an interview at a hotel in 2005, he appeared restless like a college-goer and chatted casually like a long lost friend. He sat cross-legged on the chair, hastily tucking into a grilled sandwich. He had come straight from a recording and was hungry.

With Karthik, the hit machine, you get what you see. His voice shuns false notes, and he, pretentiousness. It didn't seem to worry him if his “I have no great training”, “singing just happened”, “I am plain lucky” …kind of talk made you think he had hurled himself into music just like that. So be it. But there is something about his vocals, effervescent and malleable that has composers offering him a desirable variety — the pop-inspired “Ennaku oru girlfriend”, the mellow “Oru maalai”, the peppy “Ava enna”, the high-pitched “Usure poghudhey” and many more. He has rendered hummable tracks not just in Tamil films but in Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi too.

And you thought there's enough going for him — mass appeal and money. But a youngster like him could have never been happy with formulaic working. Karthik keeps himself creatively charged with his band, stage shows and classical training.

The boyish singer's growing musical maturity was experienced by the packed hall at the R. D. Burman tribute show last year, where his medley of Pancham's plaintive numbers showcased his intensity and intuitiveness.

And now there's “Music I Like”, a contemporary take on classic Carnatic compositions such as “Maha Ganapathim”, “Krishna Nee Begane”, “Brochevaarevarura”, “Pibare Ramarasam” and “Nagumomu”. The music, a melodic orchestral arrangement by Sai Madhukar, gives a different ring to these traditional pieces while the singing is gentle and soothing. “I know people are used to a full-throated rendering of these great works but I preferred to handle them with subtlety as the album is a delightful interpretation of these works. The aim is to reach out to listeners across genres,” he says.

But why an album on classical compositions? “My friend Madhukar came up with the idea and I thought why not. Well-known vocalist Unnikrishnan guided me through the project,” says Karthik, who is delighted about his recent jamming with Western musicians from across the world at a jazz festival in Switzerland. He had gone there as part of an India show.

Elaborating on his tryst with classical music, he says, “The abandon and power of swaras, the rhythmic play of words and the technicality of the form open your mind to new ideas and aids in expressive interpretations. Through ‘Music I Like' I have revisited the compositions I grew up listening to.”

‘Music I like', an EMI release, is priced at Rs. 195.

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN

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