Music

Rooted in the classical

Vocalist Sankaran Namboothiri Photo: K.K. Mustafah

Vocalist Sankaran Namboothiri Photo: K.K. Mustafah   | Photo Credit: Photo:K_K_Mustafah

In a black and white checked three fourths and a T-shirt, Pranavam M. K.Sankaran Namboodiri, Carnatic singer, 40, could easily be mistaken for a nerd, sitting in the cool confines of the drawing room in his house at Vennala, Kochi. Well, he is a geek too. “Every day, I learn one ‘keerthan', when I don't have a concert. Nowadays, it's often from the Net. I write down the notation, learn it and then, sing the ‘manodharma' too, then and there. Of course, the ‘manodharma' will be different in each performance, according to one's mood and the audience, but it gets into my repertoire.” And what's his repertoire like? “About 4,000 ‘kritis',” Namboodiri says in a matter-of-fact tone. That he has been able to please the purists, the moderates and the masses, has been Sankaran Namboodiri's USP. “I am a traditionalist, but I do take part in jugalbandis and I sing film songs, though not at my concerts,” he remarks.

His playback singing is limited, but who can forget ‘Azhakarnna neela mayile' in ‘Kanakasimhasanam' and ‘Chittatin kaavil…' in ‘Nivedyam', which traversed different genres of music, like light, almost rap, classical (Carnatic and Hindusthani)? The enviable range, in voice and musical ‘gyan', entertained all sections of music lovers. Sankaran proved that a die-hard classical singer can sing anything, given the opportunity, like P. Unnikrishnan. That the composer M. Jayachandran's song from the same movie, ‘Kolakkuzhalvili…', a sweet song, no doubt, won the State award was not taken well by many music buffs that year, because ‘Chittatin kaavil…' was so much more challenging. But Sankaran is unperturbed. “Classical music is my priority but I love singing film songs too. I have won so many awards, right from my childhood, for all kinds of music,” he says looking at the cupboards full of trophies in the sitting room. One entire side shelf is stacked with CDs that he has sung in, devotionals and Carnatic. He has sung for 10 films so far.

For it has been music, music and music for Sankaran Namboodiri, all his life. The child prodigy from Perumbavoor, who started learning music at 10, got onto the stage at 11 and has been on and off it, ever since. C. S. Narayanan Namboothiry, his first guru saw the potential in him and groomed him in Carnatic music. His father, Krishnan Namboothiri took him to every competition around which he mostly won. At the Kerala State Schools Youth Festival, Sankaran Namboodiri got the first prize for Carnatic music for four years consecutively, from 1982 to 85. And then when he joined college, he became the Kalaprathibha that year, of Mahathma Gandhi University.

“What I cherish while at school was the time I sang before the then President Zail Singh, who presented me with Rs. 100. That same evening, on another stage, I won the Vayalar Gaanalapana Puraskaram at Kochi. Perumbavoor G. Ravindranath trained him before T. V. Gopalakrishnan, veteran mridangist, discovered him and moulded him further. The interest taken by Palakkad K.V. Narayanaswamy chiselled the rough edges of his music and a post-graduate degree in music instilled the confidence of theory in Sankaran. He is an A Top grade singer in All India Radio, the youngest (at 39) to get it in Kerala so far. His gurus include Mavelikkara Prabhakara Varma, Omanakutty, while all the while his father was a pillar of strength in furthering his classical music career. Sankaran, being the professional that he is, is averse to extremes.

“I am a traditionalist in many ways, though I take to different kinds of music. I don't like gimmicks and I listen a lot to stalwarts like GNB, T. N. Seshagopalan and of course K. V. Narayanawsamy. Stress on attire at ‘kutcheris' amuses me, for people come to listen to good music, not see what ‘kurta' I have worn. The ‘kutcheri' format is slowly changing, for people do not have the luxury of time any more. What used to be a three-hour affair has been reduced to two or two and a half even where purist-crowds assemble. So, one must change the format accordingly without sacrificing quality. The time allotted for the ‘thaniavarthanam' has suffered in the process, which is sad. Also, packaging a concert meticulously does not appeal to me. There must be a rough idea, no doubt, but ‘manodharma' must come from the heart, and the musicians, vocalist and accompanists must jell, making music spontaneous, not practised to perfection as is often seen. The soul is missing in such cases,” he points out. Reading the pulse of the audience, on the other hand, is crucial to making a concert click, he stresses.

Devotional CDs corner a chunk of the music mart and Sankaran is busy in that department. “Singing for Ilayaraja for an Ayyappan CD has been a rewarding experience and a great learning process, for he takes pains to teach you and explain to you why something must be like that”, he says.

Busy in the ‘kutcheri' circuit, concerts overseas have been very satisfying, with several trips to the U.S., Europe and Africa. “In Kenya, surprisingly, there was a very attentive audience. The basement concerts in the U.S., where 50-100 people come, gives you an opportunity to sing at leisure, both slow and fast music. Classical music cannot be like fast food. The scene is changing, with many youngsters feeling the need for a relaxed ambience to pursue serious music and with many among the audience yearning for spiritual solace through music, to beat stress.

His hobbies include reading, seeing ‘lots of Malayalam movies' and enjoying the social networking sites. He is on Facebook and Orkut and his site is www.sankarannamboodiri.

Wife Smitha, and son Sangeeth (what else?) Krishnan, are his critics at home. He has a dozen students and he hopes to begin a music school some time later.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2020 7:02:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/rooted-in-the-classical/article2780959.ece

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