Sruti, April 2017
The exodus begins. Come March-April, and Carnatic musicians travel en masse to North America to take part in festivals galore there. Those programmes have become an essential part of the Carnatic music and Indian classical dance calendar. Without support from the diaspora, these arts will find it relatively difficult to flourish in these times of intense competition from a plethora of entertainment options and diminishing attention spans. The sabhas of North America, established by Indians who left these shores during the last century and nurtured by succeeding generations of NRIs, have done an enormous service, especially to Carnatic music, by inviting our artists year after year to perform in that continent. The global financial recession some years ago threatened to reduce the involvement of Indian émigrés there in the promotion of Carnatic music, but that turned out to be a false alarm. While the floods and a cyclone that devastated Chennai over the last two years have certainly affected the number of NRI visitors to the December season to some extent, there is no visible decline in either the music on offer in India or the interest in festivals endemic to the US at this time of the year.
There is much to celebrate in the way US Indians have embraced Carnatic music (and Indian classical dance). They tend to benefit from some excellent teaching by teachers and institutions that have sprung roots there, and also from gurus visiting from India and teaching via Skype. Add to this the tremendous encouragement of their parents who are keen on providing their very American offspring with strong linkages to their original culture, and their own commitment and industry, and you have an explosive mix. The result is the emergence of some outstanding talent in the diaspora that can challenge the best of our domestic products, even if there may be dilution of standards here and there.
The problem with most of the Carnatic music festivals in the US is that they tend to be replicas of typical Mylapore kutcheris and vizhas, even our own reality shows transplanted abroad. How much of an effort has been made and how difficult it is to attract Westerners to take a serious interest in our music is not something we know, but the overall impact of all these decades of hard work has been one of cultural ghettoisation, to go by the accounts of regular visitors.
Be that as it may, the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana will enter its 40th year soon after this issue of Sruti is out. V.V. Sundaram and his indefatigable band of volunteers have not only conducted kutcheris and thematic productions of music and dance, they have also added a valuable dimension to dissemination of the arts through their Sustaining Sampradaya movement. Through it, they regularly make available the accumulated wisdom and expertise of some very senior and accomplished vidwans and vidushis for the edification of the bright young talent in the US. Hearty congratulations and warm good wishes from all of us at Sruti.
Sruti will be present at the San Diego and Cleveland festivals of music in March-April. We hope our presence will encourage music, dance and theatre enthusiasts to join the Sruti fold and expand our community of sahridayas.