When pop went the raga

Singer Nathalie Carudel of French band Nyna Vales and carnatic singer Akkarai Subhalakshmi performing at the concert. Photo: R. Ashok  

It was a mellifluous confluence of French pop music and Carnatic ragas at the live-in concert performed by Nyna Vales, a French band based in Nantes, France along with Chennai-based classical singer Akkarai Subhalakshmi. With over a dozen French songs on human emotions and relationships, the concert was a medley of moods. The trio of Nyna Vales – Yann Savel (guitarist, lyricist and composer), Nathalie Carudel (lead voice and backing vocals) and Guillaume Ozanne (drums and backing vocals) -- charmed the audience with their perfectly concocted music.

As Nathalie sang out stanzas, Subhalakshmi filled in the interlude with ‘gamakkams’ and gracefully picked up the guitar notes by Yann in her violin. With Guillaume renting the drums in the background, the concert presented an unusual yet pleasant music experience. “This is not fusion music,” clarifies Nathalie, “It’s more like a dialogue between the two different genres of music and we are trying to arrive at something that’s more interesting as an end result. We practised for 12 to 13 hours a day for nearly six months to finally make this concert a reality.”

This was the first performance in Madurai. Nyna Vales had visited Chennai last year as guests at the Global Isai Festival. “We happened to meet Carnatic musicians and listen to the classical concerts and fell in love with their music. That’s when, it struck us that some experiment can be done taking in both French and Indian music,” says Yann. “We conceptualised the concert after observing the Indian arts. It’s a confluence of two aesthetics and since Pop music allows a lot of improvisation we really enjoyed working on it.”

Akkarai Subhalaskhmi who stayed with Nyna Vales at Nantes in the Pays de la Loire region of France last May took five days to get a hold of the idea. “It involves a lot of on-the-spot improvisations, as I have to think of corresponding ragas that would choose each of the songs. I don’t sing a lyrical song in the concert but add a Carnatic touch to the French songs by doing just the Raga-alapana and Swara passages. I find the whole project challenging yet gratifying at the same time.”

“Instruments like the Sarod, Sitar and Ghatam are unknown to French music and the sounds they emit are really amazing,” says Guillaume. “I feel happy and proud to be part of this concert. I find the Carnatic music to be soothing and emotion driven.”

Nathalie has been working on bringing back the singing tradition of France since the past two decades. “France is known for the tradition of singing meaningful lyrical songs. Poems and stories were told through music. However, over the years, the lyrics lost importance and the tune was concentrated upon. I and Yann are trying to go back to the tradition and revive the idea of meaningful songs while still keeping the melody intact.” Nyna Vales has also come up with a CD titled ‘Les Rencontres Indiennes’ (Indian Encounters), comprising a collection of French songs with Carnatic instrumental and devotional songs as interludes. It is sung by a group of music students in Chennai and integrated with French pop in the CD called ‘Rencontres Indiennes’ (Indian encounters).

The concert is a project supported by Alliance Francaise – Madras in a bid to promote French language and culture. “Started in 1953, the Alliance Française of Madras is an international movement to the service of promoting French language and culture as well as an intercultural dialogue. The concert is part of our exercise,” says Pierre-Emmanuel Jacob, Direcor of Alliance Francaise of Madras. “After this, Nyna Vales will be performing in Chennai, Delhi, Chandigarh and Goa.”

“The objective of holding the concert is to motivate the French learners in Madurai region and to create awareness among the public about French language and culture. Moreover, this is also an interesting program for music lovers,” says Milton Powers, Professor and Head, Alliance Francaise of Madras – Madurai Chapter, The American College, Madurai.

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