Violinist Idappally Ajith Kumar has been there on the kutcheri circuit for the last 23 years. A man of few words he considers himself “blessed to be a musician”. Open to experiments without compromising on “purity”, he has accompanied almost all the leading vocalists in Carnatic music. A guest lecturer at the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, for the last eight years, Ajith talks to FridayReview about his career and what music means to him. Excerpts…
I don’t have a musical lineage to speak of. But when I saw my sisters taking music lessons from Bhavani Bai Thampuratty of Kilimanoor Palace, I also wanted to learn music. She was our neighbour in Edappally and so I also started learning vocal music from class five onwards. After teaching me the basics, she suggested that I should take up the violin so that I could accompany my sisters. Though my sisters didn’t pursue music, I fell for the violin and started taking lessons from V. Anilraj, music teacher at my school (St George’s High School, Edappally). It was he who advised me to undergo advanced training from Nedumangad Sivananandan sir. While doing my pre-degree from Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, I gave my solo debut performance at a temple near my home. Soon I got busy with concerts and there was a break from academics. Music was everything for me and so I decided that I would do only a music-related course. In the meantime, I took an ITI diploma course. But when a BA course in music was started in Maharaja’s College, I joined the course (in vocal stream). I did post graduation in violin from RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Thripunithura, which I completed with a first rank.
On his inspiration and influences
The biggest influence on my life has been my gurus Sivanandan sir and Mavelikara P. Subramaniam from whom I learnt Carnatic vocal for quite sometime. I have also accompanied Subramaniam sir for various concerts. His advice means a lot to me and his style has had a huge influence on my career.
As an accompanist
Being an accompanist is always challenging. I am really lucky to have played for all those musicians in South India whom I adore and respect a lot. I always cherish sharing the stage with Parassala B. Ponnammal and R.K. Srikantan. They give immense encouragement to accompanists. I’ve accompanied M. Balamuralikrishna, T.N. Seshagopalan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, Mavelikara Prabhakara Varma, T.K. Govinda Rao and Sanjay Subramaniam among others. I enjoy playing for Sankaranarayanan sir too. He gives space for the accompanists and our timing has to be correct to fill in the gap. I enjoy that give-and-take process on stage with him.
Though I haven’t done any fusion programmes on stage, I have seven albums with Sreevalsan J. Menon such as ‘Krishna’, ‘Monsoon Anuragam’, ‘Kshetranjali’, ‘Begane Baro’, ‘Sringaram’ and ‘Ramanan – Oru Swanthantra Sangeetha Avishkaram’. The first one, ‘Krishna’, had pure Carnatic kritis that were given a fusion touch. ‘Ramanan…’ was based on Changampuzha’s work, Ramanan. A musical interpretation of the work, highlighting the emotional content, was a pleasing experience. I have composed for a few devotional albums (such as ‘Dakshinakaashi’ and ‘Naadaneerajanam’). Also, I’ve played in various films for composers such as V. Dakshinamoorthy, Raveendran, Arjunan master, G. Devarajan, M. Jayachandran, Berny-Ignatius and Alex Paul.
On fusion concerts
I’m not against playing film songs or light songs on the instrument on stage as long as it is meant for such an occasion or such an audience. But, these days, I find certain violinists trying to simplify the ragas during kutcheris… I don’t approve of that. There is nothing as rich and diverse as Carnatic music. Music from any other part of the world can be interpreted in Carnatic music. Western notations can be interpreted so beautifully in our music whereas the reverse need not happen always. For example, when I went on a tour to France, though I could play a Western notation on violin, they found it very difficult to play a Carnatic raga which I presented. There is no other music genre that is influenced so much by sruti. The microtonal nature of Carnatic music makes it stand apart.
Following the Lalgudi style
I have always tried to follow the maestro’s style. The purity in his style and presentation was unparalleled. Each raga he played had an individuality. The rare ragas he presented were always a treat.
Reception for classical music
Acceptance and appreciation for classical musicians are still there. If you do something in the proper way, it will always be applauded.