On the tambourine trail

BEAT TREAT Ganesh Kumar with the kanjira  

“My life revolves within the six-inch diameter of the kanjira,” declares Ganesh Kumar, fresh from the experience of allowing the instrument mingle with members of its ilk from across the globe at the ‘Tamburi Mundi’ (Frame Drum Festival) at Freiburg in Germany. “There was the bodhran from Ireland, tamburello from Italy, tar from America, doyra from Uzbekistan and bendir from Brazil. But it was delightful to hear the kanjira and its distinctive tonal spectrum, loud and clear, amidst the thuds and echoes of percussive ensembles,” says the excited artiste, who performed with the acclaimed drummer Glen Velez at the festival and conducted workshops too.

“The give-and-take exercise is as enjoyable as it is educative. It brings to the fore the improvisational quality, traditional flavour and depth of Carnatic music. You need to constantly push yourself to re-energise your artistry,” says Ganesh, who cherishes his association with jazz greats such as Bela Fleck, Steve Smith, Victor Wooten, John Wubbenhorst and George Brooks.

He has delved deep into these experiments and the influential characteristics of the kanjira in his forthcoming book Kanjira: A Guide to South Indian Frame Drumming (with western percussive notations). His two-part instructional DVD is an add-on to the many Skype lessons he conducts for rhythm-enthusiasts around the world.

“These rendezvous have brought me closer to diverse sounds and cultures,” says Ganesh, now working on an album with a flamenco guitarist. “The most thrilling aspect is the constant search for a meeting ground and laying a new path for a compatible musical journey,” he adds.

In fact the thesis of his Fulbright Fellowship that he pursued at Queens College in New York was on ‘Application of Indian Hand Drumming in Jazz music.’ He then worked along with the U.S.-based Cooperman Drum Company to design synthetic kanjiras that were launched under their Artist Innovation series. “I found these kanjiras made of maple wood and mylor to be a good substitute to the original made from the skin of the endangered monitor lizard.”

With the obliterating borders of the beatdom, the kanjira, once a mere upa-pakka-vadhyam in Carnatic cutcheris, is on a roll. The past decade has been the most happening period in the life of its not-so-celebrated practitioners as the instrument seems to have found its groove in the international soundscape. “The increasing cross-genre interactions and the growing awareness about the kanjira have given a new meaning to our creative commitment,” says Ganesh. A student of kanjira exponent T.H. Subash Chandran, Ganesh was initially trained by the inimitable Hari Hara Sharma (father of ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakaram).

“For over 30 years, popularising the kanjira has been my one-point agenda. I want the world to experience the divinity in its rhythm. But of late, I have been trying to tap into its healing power. I want to use konnakol (syllables) to reach out to children with autism. The recitation of these rhythm patterns might help develop their cognitive skills,” explains Ganesh.

Bob Dylan’s ‘Tambourine’ song is one of Ganesh’s favourite. “I know it sounds funny, but it feels like an ode to the kanjira.” And he hums ‘Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me…’

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 11:59:01 AM |

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