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Carnatic music or Bharatanatyam is not superior to other art forms: TM Krishna

Carnatic vocalist TMK talks about the importance of collaboration in concerts, how the next-gen is embracing change, and how art forms can be inclusive and accessible

Carnatic music or Bharatanatyam is not superior to other art forms: TM Krishna

TM Krishna with the team of Friends in Concert

CHENNAI: Popular Carnatic musician TM Krishna will be presenting a unique ‘Karnatic Musical Concert’ along with 12 other musicians. The production, titled Friends in Concert, will see four violinists, four mridangam players, two vocalists, two ghatam players, and a kanjira artist. “Thirteen musicians from different generations and backgrounds, who have been my companions throughout my life and musical journey (which began in 1988), are joining forces for the concert. ‘Friends in Concert’ is a celebration of music-making as a collective. Sometimes, we forget that music is a collaborative experience. A concert is not a battleground for people to fight; instead, it should be a place where we can appreciate each other. In a way, music should mirror the way we share space in society. We must be able to listen, enjoy, learn, celebrate, share, and even create together. This concert represents the coming together of 13 performers, each with their unique perspective, finding common ground in the joy of music,” says TM Krishna about the concert that will be held on January 19 at The Music Academy.

The musician adds that this concert is an exceptional opportunity for collaboration, unlike the typical collaborations seen among musicians. “In a traditional concert, we often witness a vocalist collaborating with a violinist or a ghatam artist. It’s relatively rare to see two violinists collaborating unless they are siblings. Here, we have four violinists from different styles. Productions of this nature allow us to explore new avenues, yet remain grounded in the essence of Carnatic music,” he shares.

The Friends in Concert musical production commenced with a virtual music production in 2020, bringing together 13 performers to create modules showcasing various ways of presenting music. “The virtual platform enabled us to reimagine the visuals of Carnatic music. The camera captured elements that are elusive on stage, allowing us to sit in a manner previously unexplored and challenging the traditional power structures inherent in concerts. These innovations were attempted during the virtual concert. Now, with a live performance, we aim to push the boundaries even further. The live setting adds immediacy to the exchange, providing the opportunity to witness the audience’s responses and triggers – all that a live performance allows,” promises the veteran singer.

Over a decade ago, TMK embarked on a journey to deconstruct the conventional structure of Carnatic concerts. He initiated changes in the presentation of Carnatic music, addressing aspects of form, content, and performance style while challenging hierarchies within the music and the community. “At that time, the entire transformation was novel, unsettling some individuals who felt pushed beyond their comfort zones, while others found it intriguing. Some regarded it as just a passing phase. Today, I am happy to witness the next generation taking it upon themselves to move the discourse forward. Various experiments are underway, not just limited to fusion but also within traditional forms. Younger dancers and musicians are actively engaging in self-discovery, learning, and adaptation. This generation is fast, intelligent, and more deeply connected to society and life than I was at their age,” notices the Magsaysay Award winner.

In the world of concerts, there’s still progress to be made in attracting a diverse audience. TMK feels that it’s crucial to recognise ongoing discussions about diversity. “While some positive changes are occurring - more young people are embracing diversity - issues persist, particularly in Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam, where diversity on and off the stage remains limited. Younger individuals are making efforts, showing openness to learning, correcting mistakes, and driving positive change. It’s important to understand that these transformations take time; cultural shifts aren’t instant. Also, promoting diversity requires collective engagement. It’s not a task for one person alone. Achieving a diverse audience and a variety of artists may take a generation. Most importantly, we should stop thinking that Carnatic music or Bharatanatyam is superior to other art forms. Carnatic music is just like gaana, cinema music, or rock and roll. Similarly, Bharatanatyam shares its artistic space with poi kaal kuthirai, Lavani and so on. The crucial first step, particularly for those with privilege, is to grasp that diverse aesthetics originate from various social, geographical, and cultural backgrounds. No one form is inherently superior to another. We must understand that what discourages certain individuals from engaging with art forms isn’t the music itself, but rather the way we speak, sing and discuss it. Forcing specific ideas as essential to music creates barriers, making it inaccessible to a broader audience. The key is to normalise music, making it more inclusive and accessible to people from all walks of life,” concludes the singer.

Merin James
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