These 4 musicians from Chennai are pulling the right strings to keep Carnatic music alive

From L to R: Sumesh Narayanan, Rajeev Mukundan, Praveen Kumar, Ravi Shankar Iyer (Image courtesy: Facebook profiles)

Music is food for soul. It is pleasurable, inspiring and enthralling. And like Hans Christian Anderson famously once said, “Where words fail, music speaks,” – it’s indeed true that the undying magic of exquisite and varied sounds has touched the lives of billions for centuries now.

One such form of music that has created a living bond between the art, its creator and the appreciator is – Carnatic Music.

Indian classical music as we know today is the outcome of a cultural amalgamation of numerous musical traditions. And Carnatic music is one such branch that has captivated people’s imagination for ages. However, with the advent of technology and with GenNext leaning towards westernisation, the essence of Carnatic music has somewhere lost its path. Most people today associate Carnatic music to being old-fashioned, drab and non-vibrant.

But, all hope is not lost yet.

There are musicians, especially in south of India, who are striving hard to spread peace and love through Carnatic music. One such band is Chennai-based Sparsh Quartet. This group, comprising of musicians with a strong classical background, is spreading the spirit of Carnatic music and yes they are doing it in style!

Folomojo spoke to Praveen Kumar, the man who is leading from the front, and here’s his take on Carnatic music and more.

Q: What is Sparsh Quartet all about?

A: We are a band of four members – myself (Percussion), Rajeev Mukundan (Violin), Ravi Shankar (Keyboard) and Sumesh Narayanan (Mridangam). Rajeev and I have a strong background in Carnatic music. In the south, I’m known as “Tanjore. K. Praveen Kumar” and I’m recognized for my Mridangam skills in the Carnatic music world. Ravi too has a deep connection with Carnatic music, but he has a wider range of interest as far as music is concerned. You will be surprised to know that he’s a self-taught keyboardist! And Sumesh has been an avid Mridangam artist since the age of 8. Together we try and put forth a healthy mix of Carnatic and Western music. We want to keep the flame of Carnatic music going and hence we try and infuse the magic of various forms of music to make it more appealing.

The Sparsh Quartet (Image source: Sunita Iyer)
The Sparsh Quartet performing at a wedding in Chennai. (Image source: Sunita Iyer)

Q: What does music mean to your band?

A: Music meant different things at different stages of our lives. Initially, when we started learning, music meant nothing more than a mundane activity. But now that we are full time musicians, all I can say is you can take up music as a profession only when your passion turns into lust and eventually into love.

Q: What kind of response do you receive for your performances?

A: Whenever I’ve performed solo at Carnatic music concerts or at any wedding, the response I received was very disheartening. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we started Sparsh. We brought about a slight twist to our traditional music and the response we’ve received so far has been phenomenal.

Image courtesy: Praveen Kumar's Facebook page
Image courtesy: Praveen Kumar’s Facebook page

Q: Why is the current breed of music lovers hesitant to walk the path of Carnatic music?

A: Carnatic music is intense and I personally feel that it is a state of meditation. Hence, one needs to get themselves involved in it with complete dedication, passion and perseverance – only then will they shine as musicians and spread their magic. In today’s world, time is a major factor. Most people don’t want to invest so much time in learning a music form and hence there is that slight apprehension. Unlike contemporary genres of music, Carnatic music definitely demands that extra dedication. Every second matters.

Q: So, has Carnatic music failed to strike a chord with GenNext?

A: Carnatic music can never fail. It is rich, deep and intense. Though not as many as before, you can still spot a handful of talented young performers learning Carnatic music. My problem is not with the age, but with the hierarchy. Since Carnatic music is a classical form of art, it has been preserved and practiced mostly by the elite class. We definitely have to break these barriers and make Carnatic music available to the lesser fortunate people. I’m sure there are a lot of talented artists who can benefit from the power of Carnatic music.

A selfie with renowned filmmaker Suresh Krissna (Image courtesy: Praveen Kumar's Facebook page)
A selfie with renowned filmmaker Suresh Krissna (Image courtesy: Praveen Kumar’s Facebook page)

Q: Your message for our readers.

A: Music is about losing your ego and letting the magic flow. If you’re someone who is fascinated by the power of music, giving Carnatic music a shot won’t be such a bad idea. I did, my group did and our lives have changed ever since.

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