Art must not be a preserve of the stage

Swetha Kannan Chennai | Updated on January 07, 2013

Carnatic music vocalist T. M. Krishna in Chennai. — Bijoy Ghosh   -  Business Line

Carnatic music has reached a point where presentation has become more important than content. If the presentation is beautifully packaged, even with zilch content, a concert sells today. That is a scary situation — T. M. Krishna.

With Chennai’s music season, the famed Madras Margazhi drawing to a close, popular Carnatic music vocalist T. M. Krishna wants to unwind. And lie low. But that may prove hard for this maverick musician who has been instrumental in quite a few path-breaking initiatives.

‘Svanubhava’ is this thinking artist’s pet project that popularises various art forms among students. Krishna has taken Carnatic music to movie halls and the strife-ridden Jaffna region with equal panache. When not singing, he is busy unearthing gems from music lore, writing on religion and philosophy or questioning the way things function.

For instance, Krishna surprised a rather traditionalist music fraternity this season by singing free and giving away the most-coveted ‘evening slots,’ reserved for veterans, to young and budding talent.

While the 36-year-old artist welcomes corporates chipping in, he does not like the “intrusive” manner in which they seek quid pro quo for everything they do. “Art is not something to support for banner space. It is an intrinsic part of society,” says Krishna, in a free-wheeling discussion on music, arts and a changing society.

Do you believe an artist is an agent for social change?

One danger of being an artist is being self-obsessed, about how many people you draw, how many places you travel to. An artist needs to engage with society. And I am not willing to shy away from that. We need to think beyond ourselves. If there is something that needs to be done, and I can be part of it, I will put my head out. I cannot keep quiet or be passive.

Purists have often accused you of deviating from the traditional concert order and structure. How do you react?

The questions I am raising are important for art. What defines what? Carnatic music has reached a point where presentation has become more important than content. If the presentation is beautifully packaged, even with zilch content, a concert sells today. That is a scary situation. I will continue to question it. My interest is in the aesthetics and to be honest to a raga, tala or composition and give it due respect.

What do you think of the increasing corporate involvement in Carnatic music?

It is a good thing. But banners on stage and corporate videos before concerts are intrusive and vulgar.

Art has a certain aesthetic and sensitivity. Corporates must find other ways to get their name out. There are many online ways possible today. The problem in our country is culture is not considered part of a human being’s existence. It is considered an additive. In Europe, the entire town, along with corporates, is involved in preserving a museum or conducting a painting exhibition. We have to rethink our belief that arts is an entertainment or leisure activity for the evening. In India, corporates view arts as outsiders.

Money is very important. I am not belittling that. I have great respect for patrons of art like Seshasayee (of Ashok Leyland) and Nalli. But my question to them is this: What is the nature of corporate involvement in the arts? What are you doing to change this and build a certain culture to support the arts?

An age-old criticism of Carnatic music is that it is a Brahminical preserve. Things are changing but it still remains largely confined.

It is a reality of history. But compared to the seventies, things are changing. Only slowly, and not radically. For instance, when I am singing in Coimbatore or Madurai, not all of my audience is Brahmin. I only wish musicians from other communities come forward and sing Carnatic music. That is the best way for change to happen. Then you have members of the community coming in to listen to them. While instrumentalists come from other communities, there aren’t too many vocalists. There has to be more effort from artists to encourage talent from various communities. Carnatic musicians singing in films have helped in this aspect. Instead of critiquing them, we must be thankful to them.

Are more youngsters today seeking music as a career option?

Yes, in the Nineties when we were coming up, it wasn’t so. The Internet has played a huge role in spreading the reach of Carnatic music around the world. Today, there are lot more people supporting it. The sabha culture – as much as it is flawed - is a gift to Carnatic music. It is a great feeder system to nurture young talent.

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Published on January 06, 2013
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