Sruti, February 2017
In recent years, old fashioned critics and rasikas have been complaining—often rightly so—about the increasing accent in Carnatic music on technical brilliance at the expense of soulful rendering of ragas in all their expansive beauty. In short, we were bemoaning the loss of rakti. I for one was finding this trend evident in a number of musicians who had captivated many of us with the great emotional quotient of their music less than a decade ago, when they arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air. Not only were they slowly turning into automatons that could thrill audiences with briga fireworks and swara-tala wizardry, they were influencing a whole new generation of musicians, who were bent upon impressing the world with their vocal sorcery or instrumental sleight ofhand.
Not surprisingly then, I went into this season with much trepidation, expecting more of the same from today’s established stars who had dazzled us two decades ago. I was not wrong, for many of them gave the impression of having plateaued in their pursuit of frenetic applause for their speed and virtuosity. Gone apparently was their ability to immerse themselves in the joys of “raganess”, as eminent writer Deepak Raja calls it. The whole experience was depressing, especially as the general mood was sombre, with all the disasters natural and man-made all around us. Serious doubts were being expressed about the December season continuing to be festive after our experience of the last two years, and though all of us were seeking a happy diversion from the after-effects of Vardah, the doubts lingered.
But the tide turned. Young musicians, who had, it seemed, only the other day embraced the philosophy of Speed thrills, had evidently listened to their own inner voices or advice from caring mentors. They seem to have realised that speed can also kill creativity and damage your voice beyond repair. They thrilled us with their return to nature with a vengeance, so to speak, proving that timely course correction can save them from premature decline in their musical ability. Many young vocalists, both male and female, gave weighty performances in which raga was king. As if to prove that instrumental music was still alive and kicking, some exciting young talent surfaced in string and wind instruments as well as the whole spectrum of percussion accompaniment. A delightful new development has been the increasing presence of young women not only in violin, flute and veena, but impressive strides have also been made in percussion talent on the distaff side. The confident stage presence of the youth brigade augurs well for the future.
Possibly gaining from better education and the mentorship of their gurus, as well as the benefit of technology in accessing relevant literature, the more intelligent among young musicians are able to widen their repertoire with a proper understanding of the lyrics and their contexts. They have not neglected the more complex segments of our music either, it seems. Some of their ragam-tanam-pallavi renderings would have passed the stern tests of experts in the field. Yet the apparent paradigm shift in their approach to music in favour of a deeply felt raga experience gives us hope for tomorrow.