How cancer helped Bengaluru musician Konarak Reddy redefine his art

After beating cancer, Konarak Reddy is all set for his upcoming concert, Bangalore 1974, which celebrates his 50-year journey in music.

Published - May 28, 2024 12:32 pm IST

Konarak Reddy

Konarak Reddy | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There is a quiet vulnerability for an artist while revisiting their past creations, especially when life has reshuffled their perception of the world. Konarak Reddy knows this feeling intimately. He wrote a song called ‘Look For Me In The Stars,’ several years ago. Back then, for him, it was merely a generic farewell melody. The lyrics tinged with a vague sense of goodbye. Last year, however, the meaning of the song changed. The meaning of his life changed. 

Last April, in Germany, the curtain closed on a play Konarak had scored. He and his family were eager to return to their farm near Bengaluru, where they host creative residencies and workshops. Amidst the anticipation, however, a discordant note disrupted their plans. Konarak increasingly felt uneasy. He had symptoms of colorectal cancer. After reaching Bengaluru with his family, the oncologist confirmed their worst fear.

“The treatment involved two phases: first, I underwent chemo for a few months. Then came the radiation, a series of 32 sessions. Thankfully, after this combined treatment, tests showed the tumour was gone, likely destroyed by the radiation.”

This two-sentence summary of his ordeal makes it seem like a minor inconvenience. It was, obviously, one of the most challenging times of his 69 years of existence — not just for him but also his family. “The three of us, my wife, daughter, and I, became a team. We faced it together for a whole year,” he says over the phone from Bengaluru, ahead of his upcoming concert, Bangalore 1974, which celebrates half a century of his journey in music.

“Knowing I wanted a distraction, my wife, Kirtana, suggested a concert. It seemed crazy at first – neuropathy (nerve damage that can cause weakness, numbness, and pain) after the radiation made playing difficult. Then, however, the music started pulling me back in. I started composing, creating visuals with AI, and reminiscing about the joy of playing music.”

Konarak rocked his first post-cancer show last December at Unboxing BLR, followed by another in March at Jagriti. The upcoming Bangalore 1974 concert, however, will be the defining moment for him. ‘Look For Me In The Stars’ will be the centrepiece — a song reborn, perhaps with him.

Konarak Reddy in the 70s.

Konarak Reddy in the 70s. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Music, his muse

Konarak, strangely, also feels a sense of gratitude for his cancer. For, it reshaped his entire relationship with music. Gone are the days of chasing stadium gigs, large crowds, and relentless pursuit of technical perfection. “Now, my wife and I are keen on travelling to beautiful, hidden corners of the country and playing for a close-knit audience. Maybe in Srirangapatna on the riverbank, under the stars, without any fancy setup. That’s what excites us,” he says.

He now sees himself as a conduit, channelling emotions and creating a space for a shared experience. “The audience isn’t just there to listen – they’re an active part of the experience. We’re all connected, sharing something special. As a performer, I’m just channelling something universal. And the audience picks up on that, creating this beautiful space where we can all relate,” he says.

Music is no longer about attaining technical perfection for him; it has become a near-spiritual practice. “It’s become more intimate, more personal. As you grow with any art form, you get closer to it and more deeply involved. That’s where I am now, completely immersed in the process.”

Konarak Reddy

Konarak Reddy | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Beyond notes

This spiritual connection, the ability to create something tangible from an intangible space, is what separates humans from Artificial Intelligence (AI), according to Konarak. At 69, he is not a luddite. Even for the Bangalore 1974 concert, he has used AI tools like Midjourney to create images. “It’s a powerful tool,” he acknowledges. 

“All that orchestration, composing, adding lines and drama – the repetitive tasks can be a real grind. And AI can help with those. But the heart of being a musician, an artist, is that connection with something beyond, a spiritual element you reach for,” he adds.

Konarak’s musical background spans classical guitar, rock, and the intricacies of Indian music. He recognises the indelible mark these influences have left on his work. However, he sees a fundamental difference between Indian and Western music. “One thrives on melody, the other on harmony,” he explains. A forceful fusion, he warns, risks diluting both forms.

His 50-year career has equipped him with a vast musical vocabulary. “Now, when I want to play something new,” he says, “I don’t have to start from scratch.” He can draw upon a wealth of knowledge and past explorations. This allows for a more intuitive approach, a freedom to weave techniques from his vast musical arsenal.

The upcoming concert is not just a celebration of Konarak’s longevity and survival from cancer; it is also a message of inspiration to others. “This whole experience has been a powerful teacher. It’s shown me the importance of focusing on what truly matters: my art and my family.” 

To other practitioners of art with severe health conditions, he says, “If you have a dream, a calling, chase it with everything you’ve got. But do it with respect, kindness, and awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. We’re all here for a reason: doing good in the world. So, keep going. Keep breathing. Keep creating. Because the world needs your light.”

Bangalore 1974, Celebrating 50 Years of Konarak Reddy’s Music, part of Guitar Book of Revelations Concert Series, is in collaboration with BLR Hubba. On May 29, 7 pm onwards at Bangalore International Centre.

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