Driven by the ganjira’s sound

B Shree Sundarkumar

B Shree Sundarkumar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

B. Shree Sundarkumar on why he chose to pursue the instrument

Ganjira artiste B Shree Sundarkumar articulates his views as resoundingly as he plays the instrument. He strongly believes that all artistes are equal on stage, regardless of vocal or instrument, age or tenure.

His first concert was at age five on the mridangam. His father and first teacher, Dr. KBS Mani, put his all into grooming Sundarkumar. A practicing veterinary doctor, Mani did not take up music professionally. Both Sundarkumar’s sisters, B Lakshmishree and B Vijayashree, are vocalists and his maternal uncles are all into music — AS Krishnan - morsing, AS Ranganathan - mridangam, AS Shankar - ghatam and AS Murali – vocal. At six, he joined Guru Karaikudi Mani for further instruction in mridangam, along with Mani’s older students. Sundarkumar soon got opportunities. “Sri Yagnaraman of Krishna Gana Sabha promoted talent, regardless of age. As a result, I got to play with veterans like N. Ramani Sir, Thanjavur Venkatesa Iyengar Sir and OS Thiagarajan Sir, even as a child.”

A concert he attended at The Music Academy in 2001 was a game changer — Trichur Ramachandran with Umayalpuram Sivaraman and G. Harishankar on ganjira. He recollects the mridangam maestro doing the thani avartanam for a very early piece in Adi talam one kalai. Sundarkumar wondered how Harishankar could possibly translate in one hand what had been done with two. “I was just blown away. I could not even see Harishankar Sir’s hands.” He promptly went to Saptaswara Musicals and bought a ganjira. “My mother (AS Vijayalakshmi) scolded me for wasting money when we already had mridangams at home.”

He spent hours practicing, playing alongside recordings, listening, observing Harishankar and translating his mridangam skills on to the ganjira. “I learned to produce a full and complete effect on the ganjira with far fewer available tones,” says Sundarkumar. In six months, he showcased his skills to Guru Karaikudi Mani, who told him to switch over to the ganjira.

Says Umayalpuram Sivaraman, “Sundarkumar modulates the tone of the ganjira in different colours. Achieving this dexterity requires sadhaka but appropriate channelisation showcases the artiste’s skill. Sundarkumar possesses this in abundance.”

At a Sadashiva Brahmendar festival in 2002, he played for veteran flautist N. Ramani. Sundarkumar floored everyone. “Ramani Sir and Srimushnam Raja Rao Sir (who played the mridangam) were most appreciative.”

Ganjira exponent BS Purushotham says that Sundarkumar can replicate with one hand anything played with two on other percussive instruments, including strokes played on mridangam, thavil, tabla, drums…He draws attention to Sundarkumar’s detailed delineation of sankeerna nadai which “few have tried exploring.”

Sundarkumar’s Kanjira Man Foundation promotes solo concerts of percussion instruments and organised a three-day festival last year. “A dedicated event celebrating percussion was necessary to promote them and give them their due.”

He worked on the movie Sarvam Thaala Mayam by Rajiv Menon with music by AR Rahman. He has collaborated on several fusion projects including with drummer Ranjit Barot, playback singer Kailash Kher on MTV Unplugged, lyricist and singer Amit Trivedi on Coke Studio, L. Shanker, late fusion violinist Balabhaskar, drummer Sivamani, and more. Guitarist Darryl Dobson and he released a Jazz CD in the U.S. titled Ninth Wave. Sundarkumar had also formed a fusion band called MAyA with veena artiste Rajhesh Vaidhya, drummer Gino Banks and flautist Naveen Kumar. Their first album received the Best Instrumental Fusion Album award at Palm Expo in Bombay.

Shree Sundarkumar feels music should be put at the forefront with the artistes seeing themselves as mere instruments to communicate the artform.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 12:18:48 AM |

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