The many dimensions of the musical persona of Berlin-based Manickam Yogeswaran of Sri Lankan origin are not easy to fathom just from hearing him sing at one recital. You are talking here about a singer who trained himself to play the flute just by listening keenly to the nagaswaram, and to skilfully handle the mridangam, merely by a playful mimic of the percussion device on any solid object he laid his hands upon.
However, a conversation over coffee at Chamiers, days after a performance for Tamil Isai Sangam at Raja Annamalai Mandram, gave a glimpse of the different facets of the disciple of T.V. Gopalakrishnan and his exposure to Hollywood.
Yogeswaran’s forays into western classical ensembles, and his key role in global music forums for nearly three decades is a career graph, perhaps, typical of the wider scene in the performing arts these days. At the same time, it is the emotional need to stay anchored to the cultural milieu of one’s roots that probably explains Yogeswaran’s crucial engagement with Carnatic music.
It was with a varnam written by TVG, whose tutelage he came under in 1989 in the U.K., that Yogeswaran commenced singing.
Soon you observed the seamless manner in which he switched from Bhairavi, then through at least three separate scales bearing the name Ranjani, besides several other ragas featured in that single composition.
One could not but commend the audacious attempt so early in the recital.
In a similarly bold vein were presented compositions in Poorvikalyani and Thodi in particular, traversing different octaves with an avowed aim of exerting one’s capacities to find aesthetic self-expression.
Capping the 100-minute recital was the most recent tillana Yogeswaran composed, set in Hamirkalyani.
The journey of nearly four decades, he recalls, began with a major concert he presented as a teenager in the late 1970s at the Ariyalai Siddhivinayagar temple in Jaffna. “I never looked back,” he says with pride, after that recital at the chariot festival, as he remembers his early mentors Balasingam and Muttu Kumaraswami — both direct disciples of Dandapani Desikar at the prestigious Annamalai University.
Yogeswaran’s major collaborations in the world of western music began in the 1990s, with two Hollywood movies. Since he lent his voice for ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ of Stanley Kubrick and ‘Twentyfifth Hour’ by Spike Lee, his presence in European theatre and music ensembles has been a recurrent feature.
Noteworthy among them are his association, as an Indian voice, for contemporary choir music under the direction of Orlando Gough.
The challenge now, he says, is to nudge current generation of South Asians from a false sense of security about the future of this traditional art form. The conveniences afforded by technology, in terms of access to the treasure trove of recordings of great masters, ought not to breed complacency in the search for creativity, he argues. The key lies in continued reliance on the rigours of relentless individual ‘sadhana,’ a hallmark of classical music.