Music

Sound of sweetness

Vocalist M. Venkatesh Kumar in performance. File photo: S. Gopakumar

Vocalist M. Venkatesh Kumar in performance. File photo: S. Gopakumar  

M. Venkateshkumar mesmerised Kolkata with his Khayal recital at the Young Maestros Music Festival organised by Jnana-Pravaha Scholarship in collaboration with Sangeet Ashram at Kolkata's Birla Sabhagar recently. The three-day soiree, preceded by a day-long session of scholarship contest of Bengal's talented aspirants, saw Kolkata's very own young maestros Tejendra Narayan Majumdar (sarod), Debashish Bhattacharya (slide guitar) and Sanjukta Biswas (vocal) give their best. Other invited participants were vocalists Manjiri Asanare Kelkar and Manjusha Patil, and flautist Rakesh Chaurasia. In the final half of the concluding morning session, Venkateshkumar sang a beautiful Alahiya Bilawal and a striking Brindavani Sarang. The disarming simplicity of the person was as striking during a music-oriented chat.

Your sonorous voice is noticeably different from the musicians from Maharashtra-Karnataka-Konkan belt; any special reason?

I belong to a family of folk singers from Lakshmipura — a small town in Bellary, Karnataka. I was born and brought up in a rural ambience. My father's singing initiated me to music. My maternal uncle is a Carnatic singer and well-known theatre personality. For them open voice-throw was a must for being heard loud and clear till the last row of the auditorium. I grew up in that ambience. Full-throated singing, therefore, came to me naturally and I never felt that it needs to be curbed now — even in front of a microphone. Moreover my guruji, Pandit Puttaraja Gawai, an amazingly learned blind yogi, nurtured my individuality with utmost care. I lived with him in the 100-year-old Ashram for 12 years. He taught music following the gurukul tradition. Learning at his feet was a spiritual experience as well.

Your style combines Gwalior with an aroma of Kirana. Did you do it purposely?

Guruji taught me all the finer nuances of pure Gwalior. You know our gurukul is in Gadag, the birthplace of Pandit Bhimsen Joshiji. We are very much influenced by his application of sur and his inimitable style. Who isn't! I believe that one must absorb the good influences to bring novelty in one's renderings. Perhaps that resulted in a blend of the two, but I essentially sing Gwalior.

You have authored books and teach in a music college. Do you think colleges and text books can groom performers?

If the institution follows the gurukul system, yes. Not otherwise; because music lessons cannot be separated from their total package of tradition and culture. Having said that, I must admit colleges can sow the seeds effectively and also produce initiated listeners well-versed in shastras. Thanks to good textbooks and age-old treatises available in the libraries, the students learn a lot of musicology. Sincere musicians cannot do without such knowledgeable audiences. Then, those, who seriously aspire to become performers, do go to gurus for advanced training, don't they?

Do your children follow your family's musical tradition?

They are good listeners but no, the continuous process of rigorous sadhana does not inspire them I suppose. They see me getting up at four in the morning and practising for long hours every day. The diligence and resilience associated with this form of art is very important. Today's comfort-loving, hectic lifestyle comes as a major deterrent.

How did you like the Kolkata audience?

This is a Mecca of musicians. Upon hearing that I have been almost everywhere in India, my guruji pointed out that I must sing in Kolkata. It is his blessing that Pandit Ulhas Kashalkarji heard me and gave me a chance to sing in the ITC Sangeet Sammelan a few years back. I cherish that memory, sweet — like the wonderful Bengali sweets — and always look forward to come back again and again.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2020 2:59:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/Sound-of-sweetness/article16242587.ece

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