3 innovations Carnatic music must embrace

Karoke with Krishna and Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetty on vocals

Chennai, Dec 21: Carnatic music, or Karnatik music if you incidentally happen to be T M Krishna and reading this, is at a crossroads. But to be honest, it has been at the same crossroads right from day one, wondering how it can reach out and appeal to a wider cross section of the public.

The problem, however, is Carnatic music is slow to accept changes. Some people are still discussing the pros and cons of the standard Kutcheri format ushered in by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. For those wondering what is wrong in debating it, the thing is this Kutcheri format was brought in some seventy years ago. To put things in perspective, we live in a world where the RBI is already changing the rule that it laid two hours ago.

The happy news is there are plenty of things in Carnatic music that can straightaway be changed and the general public will be only too happy to embrace it. Like putting a life-long ban of Aruna Sairam singing abhangs in her concerts. Mind you, we have nothing against abhangs (Though we wish we could say the same thing about Aruna). Anyway, the point is Aruna Sairam singing abhangs is as stale as, we don’t know, probably a humour writer needlessly introducing parenthesis to delay the arrival of — why not? — purported punch line.

Here at Crank’s News we have come up with a few suggestions on the possible novelty that Carnatic music can think of. As with changes, some of this will shake the staus quo. Purists, who mostly would be longtime members and patrons of the Music Academy, may get seizures just reading these. They will suffer much worse if these things are actually implemented. And at least for such a happy eventuality, Carnatic music must court these changes. (We confess some of this may be puerile. but on the extremely bright side, we will have lesser Music Academy regulars to contend with).

Karoke with Krishna

Have you ever wondered what English music or our own film songs have but Carnatic music lacks? Exactly, singers who wouldn’t mind wearing outfits that Beyonce sports. Okay, what we have in mind is actually: Karoke music. Just imagine the multitudinous possibility if Carnatic music had karoke versions. And wouldn’t it be unimaginably beautiful if those karoke versions are available specifically for T M Krishna’s shows? We have this particular version in mind: A concert where the pakkavathiyams will perform live while Krishna’s songs can come over in the background. This is the best of both the worlds: You get to enjoy Krishna’s music (the best part about him) in a concert hall without exactly having to suffer him in a concert hall.

And Krishna himself can build this up as an avant garde experiment or some kind of protest effort to highlight the fact that pakkavathiyam performers are traditionally underpaid.

Now that we are done with the low-hanging fruit, which is to take easy potshots at Krishna, we move on to other things.

Fusion, with a difference

For long, Carnatic music’s idea of radical change is fusion music, which is essentially someone, say, L Subramaniam, and a Hindustani biggie with an uncombed hair since the Morarji administration combining together without — this is the real beauty of it — combining at all in a concert probably named with some metaphors symbolising South and North (‘Rasam meets Raitha‘). Both will be playing in their own style and you, in the audience, will be wondering: ‘Hey! where is the fusion here? This is just two different concerts under one ambit.’

And then there is other kind of fusion, where the performer while rendering, say, Vatapi will slip into, say, Water Music (Handel’s) and then get back. Again, it will at best be like the marriage between Kanye West and Kim Kardarshian — always uneasy.

But it is also getting patently boring. Carnatic music must innovate and look for real fusion music, which to suggest a random example, will have Anil Srinivasan and Sikkil Gurucharan. To be precise, Gurucharan on piano and Srinivasan giving the vocals. Will it work? Heck, as if their original fusion did. But this one will sure be a hoot.

Maathi yosi

For all its other faults, film music is never shy of experimenting. The latest trend in the Tamil film industry is to have songs sung by and music scored by people who have no skill for them. We mean this is their actual USP. A song by Dhanush or music scored by Simbu is now headline news. The industry has reached the stage where someone like Ilaiyaraja or Rahman is a liability for scoring music.

Carnatic music has to just follow suit: It can perhaps ask, say, Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetty or former Doordarshan director Natarajan (we know he is dead, but ghost theme is the flavour of the season in Kollywood)  to sing or play some instrument. It will be unique and interesting. At worse, it cannot be sillier than Ganesh-Kumaresh duo slipping into vaaipaatu in a violin concert.