‘The word classical can be burdensome’

Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna on why he wants to dispel the idea that his music is exclusive, and his new book

Published on:February 16, 2014 12:23 am

Thodur Madabusi Krishna’s impassioned un-concerts evoke both thunderous applause and sensitive silences. At 38, he is that rare Carnatic vocalist who has boldly rejected and criticised the kutcheri format for its productisation of classical music and its Brahminical hangover. He has taken the alapana — a creative, free-form delineation of the raga usually sung as an improvisational prelude to the kriti, the most popular compositional form in the Carnatic music repertoire — and wrenched it free of its moorings. He continues the controversial discourse in his new book, A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story (HarperCollins). Excerpts from an interview:

What is it like to be a star in the Carnatic music industry?
It is interesting to be viewed as being different. Because of that people probably don’t expect many things of me that they do of other stars.
For musicians, performance is a big high. Tell me who wouldn’t want thousands of people applauding. Adulation is a wonderful thing, but you have to know that it can disappear tomorrow. You have to see that you are so fortunate to be able to touch, hold, feel and comprehend music in your own way. As long as you feel that, you can handle people falling at your feet. Distancing yourself from the art is very important. It is the art that is doing this to everybody including you.

You talk about “the heavy mantle of class-ical music”. Do you feel burdened by it?
Yes, I feel the word classical can become burdensome. Shastriya sangeet means something that is old, something that has tradition, something that is pristine, something that cannot be touched. It is a sociological term that implies exclusivity and class difference. I find art music a far more acceptable expression.

With your music, and now in your book, you have questioned the purpose and the social context of classical music, and risked antagonising a section of the conservative Carnatic music community. How has it been received?
For several years now, I have been inquiring about art music, its philosophy and aesthetics. When HarperCollins asked me if I would write a book, I thought it would be good to look at the art form through the eyes of an insider and to explore questions like why music is practised in a certain way and how art gives artistes a certain view of life. It was not an easy book to write. The book can also be read from the angle of sociology, and can appeal to any serious reader of art and philosophy.
From within the community, I know that many people are upset. I know people are dissecting it. I only hope that it leads to some discussion about form, philosophy and context. There is probably one section of musicians that agrees with me on many controversial things but they, for their own reasons, will not say it. Outside the community, all kinds of people have picked it up; some have said that it has helped them question what is happening in their own fields.

You say you don’t …continued »

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