Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for June, 2015

Celebrating World Music Day


FOR the past few years, India has witnessed an increasing level of activity on June 21, to celebrate Fete de la Musique, also known as Make Music Day or World Music Day. Now, hardcore music fans will happily state that for them, every day is a music day, and some will say that we also have International Music Day on October 1, besides genre-specific days like International Jazz Day on April 30 and International Blues Day on the first Saturday of August. Others may insist that this day is meant only to celebrate the ‘world music’ genre, and wonder why everyone else who doesn’t belong to this genre is making a hue and cry.

Whatever the objections, the fact is that World Music Day, as celebrated on June 21, is getting increasing prominence in India, just like it is in many other countries. The good thing about this is that more musicians get a platform to perform and thus reach out to their audiences. From classical and folk to film and pop, one has been noticing an increasing participation. This year is no exception, and below, we list some of the things happening.

Before that, a bit about this World Music Day business. The concept of an all-day musical celebration on Summer Solstice Day was initiated in the late 1970s by American musician Joel Cohen, who spent two seasons as a producer for the France Musique radio station. In 1982, French minister of culture decided to make it a national celebration, and ever since, it has been celebrated in 120 years across the globe.

As conceived in France, the objective of this festival has been two-fold. One was to encourage amateur and professional musicians to perform in the streets. The second was to organise free concerts, making various genres of music accessible to the general public.

Times have, of course, changed. Today, the celebration of World Music Day has gone on to include paid concerts, shows at clubs, appearances on radio and even mobile phone promotions. There are no street performances, in India at least. The bottomline, of course, is that the music community has accepted the changes, simply because it helps spot new talent and gives performance or media appearance opportunities to those already established.

Keeping that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the activities taking place this year:

Radio City: The radio station actually began its celebrations on June 19 with a three-day musical affair. Now in its third year, this series on Radio City 91.1 FM will feature both established and upcoming musicians. Artistes like Kailash Kher, Raghav Sachar, Neeti Mohan, Akriti Kakar and Shibani Kashyap are part of this, besides acts like ‘a cappella’ teams Chai-Town and Penn Masala, and YouTube acts Shraddha Sharma and Hanu Dixit.

Radio City outlets in Chennai, Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam will have special events the coming week. In Chennai, artistes like G V Prakash Kumar, Anirudh, D Imman and Sean Roldan will be on air from June 22 to 26. The Hyderabad and Vizag stations will be graced by music directors RP Patnaik, MM Srilekha and Koti.

Besides this, the web radio station will run a different range of specials across their 21 stations. On Radio City Freedom, RJ 2Blue will talk of 10 popular acts like Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Faridkot and Papon.

Artist Aloud events: This year, has got into a partnership with vH1 India to have a simultaneous event in five Hard Rock Cafe outlets across India. The event will feature Papon in Mumbai, Indiva in Pune, Parikrama in Delhi, Swarathma in Bangalore and Avial in Hyderabad.

The opening acts in each city were selected after online contests.

BB King tribute: In Mumbai, Blue Frog is hosting a tribute to blues legend BB King, who passed away on May 14, Organised by Mahindra Blues, known for its annual two-day festival in February, it will feature the Blackstratblues, the blues-rock project of guitarist Warren Mendonsa. Vocalist Tejas and keyboardist Loy Mendonsa will be among the musicians performing.

The Ragas Live Festival, New York: This unique 24-hour Indian classical music marathon will feature over 60 musicians. To be held at the Central Park, it is set to be broadcast in New York over the weekend, and streamed live on the Internet for listeners around the world.

The event will be streamed live on and it will be archived at the station’s website and at for listeners to hear it later. The performers include vocalists Mashkoor Ali Khan and Tripti Mukherjee, sitar player Krishna Bhatt and sarod players Aashish Khan and Tejendra Narayan Majumdar. Mailan kora player Yacouba Sissoko will perform with Jay Gandhi on bansuri and Ellenbogen on guitar. The Arun Ramamurthy Trio will play jazz interpretations of Carnatic compositions.

Music from Odisha: The Orissa government has planned a three-day festival featuring the essence of Odissi music at the Bhanja Kala Mandap, Bhubaneswar. A seminar on the state of Odissi music on the national and international arena will also be held.

Vocalists Lata Ghosh, Bijay Jena, Sangita Gosain and Minati Mishra will be among the performers.

Aircel promotions:
Aircel is offering its customers limitless music without any subscription charges. On the day, customers can dial toll free code 543213 or 543219 and listen to any music/ song/ album of their choice free of cost. The drive is powered by Hungama.

Aircel has also dedicated a month from June 21 to July 31, 2015 to celebrate World Music Festival. Each week will be dedicated to iconic artists and singers who have made a mark in different genres.

As one observed earlier, there’s plenty of activity this year. Whether or not you’re in a city affected by the rains, this is a great way to divert yourself.


Freewheeling interview/ Carnatic flautist Shashank Subramanyam

Shashank Subramanyam,Flute Artist,in his house,at Mylapore,Chennai,on 4thDec2014.

Shashank Subramanyam in his house,at Mylapore,Chennai

THE audience is dominated by hardcore Carnatic music aficionados. The venue is the prestigious Shanmukhananda Hall in Sion. The date is June 13, and flautist Shashank Subramanyam is ruling the stage.

In his mid-30s, the musician is a picture of immaculate class and perfection. He’s been playing in front of gatherings since the age of six, and at 12, created a still-unbroken record of being the youngest to grace the seniormost slot at the Music Academy, Chennai. Today, he makes the flute sound so effortless, displaying remarkable phrasing and breath control.

He plays non-stop for close to three hours, and the coordination between him and extra-talented violinist Akkarai Subhalakshmi is simply amazing. Mridangam player VV Ramanamurthy and ghatam exponent Tripunithura Radhakrishnan control the rhythm section. All the way, it’s sheer magic.

From the varnam in Kaanada to the Purandara Dasa composition in raga Nata, Thyagharaja creations in ragas Devamruthavarshini and Saramati, and the raagam-taanam-pallavi, Shashank is in total control. He’d have probably gone on playing, if he doesn’t have to catch a flight to Germany later that night.

A few days before his Mumbai concert, Shashank gave this writer an interview. A part of it was published in the June 12 edition of Mid Day, Mumbai, the link to which is pasted below. For all his fans, the following is the complete text of the interview.

What are your observations of the audience for Carnatic music in Mumbai?

Mumbai has a substantial south Indian music loving community that is extremely qualitative. Institutions like Shanmukhananda, Chembur Fine Arts Society and scores of smaller organisations around the city have been promoting Carnatic music concerts and teaching activities during the past 80 years. This gave an opportunity for the non-south Indian audience to also get an exposure to south Indian classical music, with Mumbai becoming a melting pot of south and north Indian music and culture.

In recent years, Mumbai has witnessed many north and south jugalbandi concerts attracting different kinds of audiences. Among the organisers promoting such events, there are Banyan Tree, Idea Jalsa, Pancham Nishad and many others. In my own experience, I have committed listeners both from the north and south of India equally. Factually I have performed more for north Indian organisations in the city of Mumbai.

Let’s look at how your career has evolved. You started playing at the age of six and were hailed as a child prodigy. How did the early attention affect you?

Given the short learning time span for a human being, the focus on one thing takes a toll on other aspects of life. In my case, I used to work on music for more than 10 hours a day, even as a five-year-old. Therefore, my academic achievements became a casualty. Looking back I don’t regret this. Honestly, if one wants to super-specialise, the only way is to begin very young and achieve as quickly as possible to stay put in one’s career for a very long time. There are many examples of this kind of career graph from around the world in many fields, including the arts.

What made you choose the flute and who were your biggest influences as a child?

My father Subramanyam was an amateur flautist and I mostly learnt watching him practise at home. At the age of six, when I began performing for the general public, my biggest influences were my father who was my first guru, and my vocal gurus Palghat K V Narayanaswamy and others.

As you grew up, were there any special pressures to keep up with the adulation you received as a child?

Although I began performing when I was six, I got into the big circuit at the age of 12 with a performance at the Music Academy, Chennai in the seniormost slot called the ‘sadas’ during the 1990 music season. Since the expectations were sky high, and also considering the fact that I was relatively young, my father contained and restricted my public performances, thereby making sure that I lived up to the expectations of the audience every time I performed. This also ensured that I could continue to develop and evolve as an artiste.

Who have been your favourite flautists?

From amongst the Indian classical flute players, legends T R Mahalingam from the south and Hariprasad Chaurasia from the north are certainly my favourites although I have followed my own instincts and technique to play the instrument.

Besides pure Carnatic music, you’ve performed at various jazz festivals. What line-up of musicians have accompanied you?

I have been a part of many jazz bands from around the world of which my brief association with guitar legend John McLaughlin is worth taking note of. I was a part of the Grammy-nominated album ‘Floating Point’ along with him. I also perform with well-known European bands including The Jungle Orchestra, Blue Lotus and many others. Some of the festivals that I have performed in include the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Skopje Jazz Festival in Macedonia and Delemont Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

What has been your experience with the Jungle Orchestra?

The Jungle Orchestra, a concept that was initiated by Duke Ellington in the 1920s and further developed by Pierre Dorge, a composer and guitar player from Denmark, is inspired by sounds of the jungle that are incorporated into a concert of jazz music. I met Pierre Dorge when I was teaching at the Rytmisk Conservatory in Copenhagen in 1997. In 2007, we thought of performing at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. It was a very nice interaction with 10 musicians in the band playing drums, percussion, guitar, piano, saxophone, trumpet, flute, etc. Ever since, we have performed around the world including in India.

What is the response of foreign audiences to Indian music?

Many of those who attend our performances in the West or East are either musicians themselves or highly knowledgeable music lovers who are exposed to many genres of music from around the world. They particularly appreciate the complex rhythmic content and the meditative aspects in Indian classical music. They also appreciate the creative blending of melody and rhythm in our system.

What level of interest do youngsters show in Indian classical music?

Although we can’t assign a number or percentage to the decline in interest amongst youngsters, it could be emphatically stated that the decline is very alarming. One example of this could be seen in the age group of people attending live performances. However, it is a little more encouraging to see the growth of interest among Non Resident Indians in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. Most Indian kids would try to pursue one or the other form of classical music or dance and some of the young musicians from the countries mentioned above are making names as performers in south India.

Could you tell us about your concept ‘Spirit of Krishna’?

‘Spirit of Krishna’ is an amalgamation of the traditional folk and classical music. The Manganyars of Rajasthan and myself are a constant part of the team. The percussionist and the sitar artistes are mostly guest performers who are invited to be a part of the team from time to time. We present traditional compositions on Lord Krishna in many languages and also incorporate a big section wherein the musicians indulge in creative improvisations. In addition, at times, we also include classical dancers to enhance the presentation.

Do you think collaborations with Hindustani musicians will help expose more north Indians to Carnatic music?

For the past five decades, jugalbandi concerts have been taking place both in the north and south. Citing from my own personal experiences, the audiences have immensely enjoyed both systems equally. However, when it comes to presenting a Carnatic solo to a conservative Hindustani music audience, many in the concert establishment have apprehensions about its success. This is grossly unjustified though. I am of the firm opinion that Carnatic music, if packaged to suit Hindustani music lovers, will be greatly appreciated and right from the beginning of my career, I have been doing just that.

The north Indian music festivals where I have performed Carnatic recitals include Dover Lane (in Kolkata), Hariballabh festival (Jalandhar), Saptak (Ahmedabad), Sawai Gandharva (Pune) and concerts at NCPA (Mumbai). It is time that organisers in the north become more open minded and present music lovers with at least one Carnatic music concert in any series or festival. In some ways, this will be a reciprocation of how south Indian organisations have been offering Hindustani musicians to their audience for quite some time now.

What projects are you working on now?

Careers in music, like anywhere else, involve a constant and continuous evolution in progress and in that direction I keep working on many projects. One of them is to popularise a format of presenting Carnatic music to the north Indian music lovers and the uninitiated music lover as well.

When you aren’t involved with music, what hobbies and interests do you pursue?

Travelling, teaching students, aviation, cars and catching up with the news and happenings from around the world.

Could you tell me about your family’s support to your music.

For the past three decades, my entire family has been dedicated 24/ 7 to the cause of music. My father, a former bio-chemistry professor, has been my teacher. My mother has been a music lover, and sister Shantala an upcoming flautist. My wife Shirisha is a very talented Bharatanatyam dancer and daughter Swara a serious music student. They have all made up for a very healthy music environment.

Finally, as someone who began and succeeded so early, what advice do you give to youngsters who want to learn musical instruments and follow music professionally?

The success rate for a bright professional career in classical music is one out of a 10,000. This is because there is very little focused and committed patronage from the state and central governments. Although there is plenty of talent, parents are often haunted by the scarcity of opportunities and are thus apprehensive. Therefore children are advised to take up professions which ensure a stable livelihood.

My only suggestion to talented youngsters is to take up the arts as a career if they have sufficient financial backing to fall back on, in case of a failure in their arts careers. In spite of the uncertain future faced by students of the arts, if they still wish to pursue this field, it is their extreme passion that will have to play a role immaterial of the outcome. I am one who belongs to the latter.

The link to this writer’s article in Mid Day on June 12 can be found on

CD review/ And A Half – Arka


Album: And A Half

Artistes: Arka

Label: Times Music

Price: Rs 295

Rating: *****

WE’VE all known Selva Ganesh as an outstanding player of the Carnatic percussion instrument kanjira, and as one of the members of the group Remember Shakti. Now, the son of ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram adds another feather to his cap via the fusion band Arka.

Here, Selva is joined by five extremely talented musicians – vocalist Karthik, flautist Ravichandra Kulur, drummer Gino Banks, bassist Mishko M’ba and guitarist Santhosh Chandran. Recently, the group launched its album ‘And A Half’, which as its title suggests, contains compositions with odd rhythmic scales ranging from one-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half.

Blending styles as diverse as Carnatic, Hindustani, rock, jazz, funk and flamenco, the album is a symbol of mathematical precision. Technically, everything is bang on target, and the tunes grow on repeated listening. Karthik, well-known for his playback singing and his work with AR Rahman, excels on the sargam passages, presenting complex phrases with effortless ease. Though he is sometimes reminiscent of Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan, he has a presentation style that’s his own, and a supreme command over the nuances.

The other musicians are in perfect sync, and there is some terrific interaction between them. Selva’s spoken konnakol portions blend smoothly with Karthik’s vocals, and the accompaniment of Ravichandra’s flute, Gino’s drums and Mishko’s bass is first-rate. If anything, one feels Santhosh is a bit underplayed, but wherever he appears, he’s a delight.

‘And A Half’ contains eight tracks, beginning with ‘Arka’, a piece in seven-and-a-half. With lyrics by Manoj Yadav, it has some incredible interplay between vocals and flute, and supple drumming by Gino. ‘Meera’s Maya’, set in two-and-a-half, is a melodious number with the lines ‘Mhaare ghar aao preetam pyaara’, sung to the backdrop of marvelous flute lines.

‘Mini Tiffin’ bubbles with energy, with its funk-filled groove and flawless coordination. ‘Chain ko diya’, written by Gayatri Ganjawala, has an infectious hook, with Karthik singing ‘Mera wajood tere bin kuchh nahin’. On ‘Flamingo’, guitarist Santhosh excels with his flamenco-based sequences.

‘Parmaatma’, written by Manoj Yadav, has been set in a five-and-a-half beat cycle. After a slow bass and flute intro, it suddenly picks up tempo. ‘Ca Va Bien’ has some superb coordination between bass, drums, kanjira and voice. Set in one-and-a-half, the final piece ‘Boom Shankara’ is filled with verve, with the lines ‘Boom boom Shiv Shankar Mahadev Shiv Shankar’.

Each of the eight numbers has been masterfully presented. A lot of thought has gone into composing these tunes, which demanded total perfection from each artiste. While that has come naturally on the CD, one also saw that quality during the live performance held at Blue Frog last week to mark the launch. Clearly, Arka is a group with a future. It’s one of the most eclectic and exciting sounds to have come out in the recent past.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

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