Chennai was recently included in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for its rich tradition in sending WhatsApp forwards (bogusly) quoting UNESCO.
Just kidding. But you know it. Chennai has actually been honoured for its rich tradition in music, and this is specifically taken to be for the city’s celebration of Carnatic music, which of course forms an important part of the city’s cultural scene as it enjoys enormous popularity among, well, around 2% of its total population.
I am not trying to be deprecatory of Carnatic music, which I love and follow, and I in fact have the depth of knowledge to confidently identify the language of the song being sung, except perhaps when Aruna Sairam is singing. But that may be also because I don’t attend her concerts.
The thing is the UNESCO acknowledgement of Chennai as a creative city is a bit ambiguous because nowhere it spells out that it is for Carnatic music. I am wondering whether it could be for Karnatik music™. For the uninitiated, Karnatik music™ is specifically the Carnatic music that TM Krishna sings. (He is literally an exponent of it).
Anyway, whatever the UNESCO recognition may be for, I have my own favourites from the Chennai music scene, and here I would like to acknowledge them for their silent and not so silent contributions.
Chennai Rock Bands: When I say Chennai rock scene, the first thing that readily comes to mind is Pallavaram quarry. But actually Chennai does have a vibrant rock music culture in colleges and in clubs where there is creative, not to speak of physical, space for young musicians to get down and ‘jam’ way too loudly.
A typical Chennai Rock Band mostly comprises young college students who love uninhibited music, music that knows no boundaries, music that is spontaneous, music that is passionate, music that is from the heart, music that courses in the blood, music that courses in the blood full of weed.
Oops, ignore it. Chennai rock music groups don’t do weed. They mainline heroin. Just kidding, of course. Chennai Rock Music scene may be niche and small. But the following for it is committed. So committed that some of them still request for Hotel California.
Light Music Troupe: Every State, every city has many light music troupes. But what sets apart the light music troupe from Chennai is every one of them here has — you should write this down — Sapthaswarangal or Sruthi in their names. They can step on the podium even without a guitarist or forget to sing Kadavul Ninaiththaan Mananaal Koduththaan at a wedding, but they cannot have any other name.
Another specialty is some of these troupes play film songs — this should go in their CVs — in extreme formal clothes. In comparison to them, Placido Domingo would seem to be dressed like a dowdy teenager. But imagine listening to Aaluma Doluma sung by a dude in tie and formal outfit.
Most Chennai music troupes have that one singer who mimics TMS, another one who sings in the style of SPB and yet another one who tries to imitate Hariharan by wearing extremely garish clothes.
Chennai music troupes have earned a name for themselves by performing at functions like marriages or birthday parties, all occasions where nobody turns up for music. Jut as well, you’d think if you try to listen to them intently.
But they well and truly add to the flavour of the occasions, as their songs will ring in your ears long after they are played. That, of course, is a testimony to the fact they have damn good amplifiers.
Performers at afternoon slot in sabhas: Chennai Music Season is unique as it attracts thousands and thousands of listeners from across the globe and also locally, none of whom tend to show up for most afternoon concerts.
The afternoon concerts are the outside courts of Wimbledon. You make it to them only if somebody you are interested in is playing.
In many auditoriums it is not impossible to see more members on the dais than on the audience side. If you find more than decent (in terms of numbers) crowd for an afternoon concert you can rest assured that the young performer has a lot of talent and, even more importantly, has a lot of friends and relatives.
The point is it is only the acquaintances of the performer who mostly make it to the concerts especially in small sabhas. But make no mistake about it, most of these performers are extremely talented. It is to their abiding greatness that despite the lack of patronage they don’t stop performing half-way through.
I don’t know how many people read what I write in this column every week. But if I were to know that only a limited set of people read me, I would probably take it easy, feel distracted and