Music

And Quiet Flows The Karamana: Two of a kind

Vocalists Trivandrum Krishnakumar and his wife, Binni Krishnakumar, are in perfect accord. In fact, they have found the chord of success, in their harmonious voices and in their “rock solid” relationship. The Chennai-based Malayali artistes are one of the few male-female vocalist duos of Carnatic classical music. The couple, who are both reputed soloists in their own right, are nowadays equally, if not more, popular as a duo. They’ve performed together on more than 150 stages, the latest being a series of concerts across South India, under the aegis of the Soorya fete. “We’ve been performing together at Soorya since 2008 (Krishnakumar has been performing as a soloist since 1996),” say Binni and Krishnakumar, who will be performing in the city on Monday (October 8) as part of the fete.

Indeed, the couple have taken the art of performing together to another level, where they play to their strengths and seamlessly blend their voices so that one does not overpower the other.

However, Binni and Krishnakumar will probably be the first ones to admit that performing classical music together is no breeze.

“The difficulty itself is the real challenge. One of the main reasons is the differences in sruti,” says Binni. Krishnakumar, who, at first, seems to be the more verbose of the two, explains: “The voice ranges of both men and women differ a great deal. Women, generally, tend to sing at a higher octave and frequency than men and thus it is difficult to synchronise male and female voices, particularly while singing a Carnatic classical composition, which requires variability in musical structure. Perhaps that’s why there are very few artistes who regularly perform male-female duets. Inevitably, either one of the duo must be an expert at adjusting sruti. In our case, thankfully, Binni has this remarkable ability to automatically balance her sruti with mine.” Apparently, there’s more. “Much like a marriage is the union of two households who follow two different traditions, a male-female classical duet is a match of two different music traditions – that’s two styles of creativity and thought processes attempting to be two of a kind on one stage! Phew!” says Binni, bursting into laughter.

The couple, who got married in 1999, have been performing together for around 10 years now, since they were called on stage to sing a few duets for Minister P.J. Joseph’s daughter’s marriage at Thodupuzha. “It started off as a lark. We ourselves were caught unawares by all the attention it garnered. Now, it’s sort of like our USP,” says Krishnakumar. “It helps that we have the same outlook towards music. We like the same style of music and even our taste in music is the same. What makes our combination work on stage is that there is mutual excitement, appreciation and a unique understanding of each other, all of which gives for an interesting and healthy competition on stage,” adds the 39-year-old singer.

Krishnakumar, a native of Karamana in the city, first met Binni, a native of Thodupuzha, when they were college students – while she was studying at the Government College for Women and he at Mar Ivanios College in Thiruvananthapuram. “Music brought us together,” says Krishnakumar, without missing a beat. But, of course!

“To be precise, we first got to know of each other during University Youth festivals 1990-94, where we both used to come first in the classical music competition (male and female). In those days we both used to learn music from the late Neyyattinkara Mohanachandran, a well-known professor of music. Krishnakumar was also a friend of my brother, R. Manojkumar, who is now a lecturer in violin at RLV College of Music. They used to take part in kutcheris together. On the pretext of calling my brother, he would call home and compliment me on my singing, we’d discuss the day’s lessons and sing kirthanas over the phone!” recalls Binni, with a giggle. Their decision to marry came as a shocker to their conservative families but today all seems well and the couple are “happily married” with two children, Shivangi and Vinayak Sundar.

It’s endearing to note that after more than two decades of knowing each other, the couple can’t stop waxing lyrical about each other, with references to ‘my wife’ or ‘my husband’ popping into the conversation in every other sentence! “I like her simplicity. Her voice has a rustic touch and it has this languorous flow. But it’s also a tad spicy!,” says Krishnakumar, with a laugh. His pretty doe-eyed wife is quick to respond: “I like the way he applies mathematical progression to his swarams. He’s also well-versed in the grammar of music, is a great vageeyakara and excellent at manodharma.”

When not neck-deep in music, the couple likes to travel. “Because of our profession, we get the opportunity to travel a lot –we’re constantly running out of pages in our passports!” They’re also big time foodies. “We love to experiment with the local cuisine, where ever we go. Our latest culinary adventure was in the Phillipines where we sampled a lot of coconut infused dishes.” Music really is the food of love, it seems.

Heart in music

K rishnakumar started learning music at the age of eight under the tutelage of his mother, vocalist Sarada Kalyanasundaram. After schooling at the Mannam Memorial School, he elected to study mathematics (his father Y. Kalyanasundaram is a retired professor of math). His heart, though, was in music and so he also went on to complete a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music. Perhaps it’s because of his maths background that he says: “Music is the permutation and combination of science.”

Both Binni and Krishnakumar are now disciples of veteran vocalist M. Balamuralikrishna. In his more than two-decade-long career, Krishnakumar has sung on more than 1,600 stages in India and abroad, and is an A-grade artiste of All India Radio. Krishnakumar has also made a name for himself as a music composer and also as a playback singer (in film, serials, dramas) of songs such as ‘The Moment’ (Grandmaster) and ‘Yadukula Murali’ (Puthiya Mugham), to name a few. The late music composer G. Devarajan selected Krishnakumar to sing his new format of ragam thanam pallavi that is sung in six tempos – ‘Shadkaala Pallavi’. Krishnakumar is currently researching on poetic/musical aspects of kritis by Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyyer for his PhD thesis.

Music in her genes

B inni comes from a musical family – all five of her siblings are music teachers. She began learning music when she was seven years old from Thiruvizha Surendran and later from Thamarakkad Govindan Namboodiri and is now a B-High grade artiste of AIR. She was Kalathilakam at the Kerala State School Youth fete, 1989.

Binni is quite well-known as a playback singer too. She won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for her debut song itself, the hit ‘Ra ra…’ from Rajinikanth-starrer Chandramukhi, composed by Vidyasagar. Since then she’s sung in over 50 films in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali. She’s also a well-known music teacher and has a long list of disciples. Singer Swetha Mohan is one of her disciples.

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Printable version | Jan 8, 2021 10:01:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/and-quiet-flows-the-karamana-two-of-a-kind/article3968866.ece

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