Friday Review

Nithyasree: ‘Music is enlightenment’

Like this Rajaji’s piece that she has often sung at her concerts, Kurai Ondrum Illai, Marai Moorthy Kanna (I have no regrets/grievances Lord) Nithyasree confesses of having ‘zero feelings’. The untimely death of her husband in 2012 left her shattered, but music has proved a great healer. “When I sing, I have no anger, no happiness, no sorrow, no frustration and no depression,” says Nithyasree with a serene demeanour. She was in Hyderabad recently to perform for the South Indian Cultural Association (SICA) at their annual fest. Carrying the legacy of D.K. Pattammal (paternal grandmother) has never been a burden for Nithyasree, “it’s a blessing,” she says.

Excerpts from an interview on the eve of her concert in Hyderabad.

Being the granddaughter of D.K. Pattammal, did you start your music career with a lot of expectations from rasikas?

There were expectations but I was never under pressure. In fact I consider myself fortunate and blessed that I’m exposed to music due to their presence in my life. I was given the freedom to pick my choices. In fact I’m a Commerce graduate, so at one time I even considered taking up Chartered Accountancy, but I eventually turned towards music.

Have you ever been compared with Pattamal during your concerts? Any comparisons drawn?

Pattammal had a chaste style, which I always admire and am conscious about. People do say that I have a strong pronunciation which is similar to hers.

Was it A.R. Rahman’s magic that lured you to foray into playback singing? Coming from a family of pure Carnatic musicians, how was this accepted?

I realised that cinema is a powerful medium. People with or without knowledge of music appreciated the song in Jeans. I can still remember that day vividly when I got a call from Rahman sir’s office to come and meet him. I didn’t know what to expect. And he said ‘you have to sing this’. I was all flustered and said ‘but I never sung light music or film songs’. But he insisted that it’ll be different and he wanted that song in my voice. So I went ahead and recorded the song Kannodu Kaanbathellam ( Kannulatho choosedhi… in Telugu) and immensely enjoyed the popularity that it received. And more film offers started coming after that.

Apart from your regular live concerts, you have recorded for a number of CDs. Is there a difference in the experience of while performing for both?

They are very different. A concert is a three-hour live communication with the audience, a one-time experience the audience cherish in their minds. Though it is only for three hours, true music lingers on. Rapport between the audience and the artiste is special and rasikas come for that experience. But recording for a CD is different, in the sense you are conscious that it is forever. It will have the stamp of your name. So you are focussing only on your voice and rendition and not bothered with anything else. I always maintain that music is not just entertainment, it is enlightenment.

Audience’ Tastes keep changing, so and do you feel compelled to cater to audience their demands at concerts?

Yes, sometimes we are compelled to sing popular and racy numbers, because a majority of the audience want them. So we have to package our concert in such a way that between a few fast songs, a slow and rare raga can be introduced. There’s no point in giving them what they cannot chew.

As an artiste will that suffice your own craving to render your favourite numbers?

We cannot be rigid. Mostly we artistes are mentally prepared about which sabha is organising and what kind of audience will be coming. We do want the audience to enjoy the concert. At the same time, just because audience are demanding, we cannot make too many compromises. We have to strike an optimum balance between maintaining the standard and pleasing the audience. There are a few old timers who insist that the sanctity of music should be maintained at any cost. But there are others who feel if you stay rigid you cannot reach common people...so we package our concerts in such a way that we please the purist, youngsters and also those who prefer fast-paced numbers.

Audience tend to come up with their own requests at concerts. Does that disturb your tempo?

If it is a light piece towards the end and if it is not affecting my programme then I oblige. If I cannot include it in the schedule, then I politely turn it down.

Did music come to your rescue when you were going through the personal tragedy?

There was a time when music was a co-traveller with me. I hadn’t realised how fortunate I was that I’m a musician. But after undergoing that difficult phase in my life, through music, I was successful in detaching myself of all the feelings. I’ve realised I become zero when I sing. No anger, no happiness, no sadness, no frustration and no depression… where people need to do pranayama, yoga, meditation etc., to de-stress, I have music. Music has been my closest friend. Music pacifies me. Music is my profession. Above all music is my identity.

As a single mother, how do you face the challenge of bringing up two young daughters amidst your concert travels and recording sessions?

Bringing up children is a challenge for any career woman. I’m fortunate to have a good support system in the form of my parents. My children are also understanding.

Do your daughters show an inclination to towards music?

Because of the atmosphere at home, they are aware of the natural sense of shruti, talam….but they have to put their individual effort to realise their potential. They are too young to decide right now. I want them to be happy whatever they do in life.

Is singing a religious ritual or expression of art form for you?

Even I’m asking that myself. I guess it’s both. When I perform at a temple specially after a darshan, then am energised and sing in praise of the diety...it is purely with bhakti bhavam. Then my singing is an expression of my faith. But at a regular concert music overtakes everything…it’s just pure music.

Are there any favourite kirtanas?

I cannot list. When I present something on stage, that becomes close to my heart. Sometimes even a small note can be enjoyed by you. I’ve also realised singing should be unwavering. You cannot get distracted even for a second. Suppose I do a sangathi particularly well, and I think ‘oh this fell nicely in place,’ there’s a chance that the next phrase will be an apaswaram. You cannot let any thought enter your mind.

You have been a judge in many a music reality shows on television. Do you see talent getting groomed through these shows?

It’s good when more youngsters are striving to sing well and with perfection. These shows nurture and showcase some incredible talent. Thanks to these music shows, lay people started respecting Carnatic music more. They know learning Carnatic music is not easy. But what worries me is how children will learn to handle this overexposure. Some children are overbooked with concerts. Where is the time for them to blossom fully? I hope they’ll grow up to become good musicians with original contributions.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 9:36:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Nithyasree-%E2%80%98Music-is-enlightenment%E2%80%99/article10217569.ece

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