In the cover note for Carnatic vocalist T M Krishna’s iconic book, A Southern Music, where he drew attention to caste and gender barriers in the world of Carnatic music, Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy had called his music and mind “exceptional”. And him a “sensitive and socially committed critic…whose work smudged boundaries and defined the political context” of our times. Then, the note had gone out to an exceptional musician. The note now goes out to a fellow Magsaysay Award winner.
On Wednesday morning, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation announced the awards for this year, and while one of them has gone to national convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan, Bezwada Wilson, the other, for “social inclusiveness”, has gone to 40-year-old Krishna, who, according to his citation, “questioned the politics of art; widened his knowledge about the arts of the Dalits (“untouchables”) and non-Brahmin communities; and declared he would no longer sing in ticketed events at a famous, annual music festival in Chennai to protest the lack of inclusiveness.”
Krishna is travelling to Russia at present and was unavailable for comment. In a previous interview to The Indian Express, talking about bridging social divisions through arts, Krishna had said, “To me, ‘art music’ is far more democratic than ‘classical’, which is a sociopolitical formation.”
Born into a Brahmin family in Chennai, Krishna trained under Chengalpet Ranganathan and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, and performed at his first concert at 12. Known for his sonorous voice, he’s known to not follow strict forms of Carnatic classical music even during the kutcheris (concerts) and perform the way it is “profoundly moving”.