T M Krishna’s recent announcement about boycotting the December season concerts has elicited diverse reactions. While ‘Sabha’ organizers see this as nothing more than his latest stunt, his devoted fan following perceive it as their rebellious idol’s next avatar.
What does Krishna have to say?
I am not against singing in Sabhas altogether, but only during the ‘Markazhi’ season. I will be singing in sabhas and elsewhere for the rest of the 11 months. This is a decision driven by several factors. Couple of decades ago, Carnatic music concerts flourished all through the year to a jam-packed audience. The December season festivities were but a culmination of the year-long accomplishments of the Carnatic musicians. In the present day, though, concerts do not happen except during the last month of the year, the reason simply being, reduced footfall. This has led to an increased competitiveness among musicians to procure slots during the season, which I deem amiss.
One particular season, I chose not to sing. I enjoyed attending and listening to all other musicians’ concerts. So that impelled me to propose that my concerts not be ticketed. It’s an arduous task, getting tickets during the season, more so for the middle class. I wanted to alleviate that to the best of my ability. Pondering further, I decided not to get tangled in the seasonal traffic anymore.
What makes you believe that a single individual’s decision can change the system?
I believe this can be a beginning for the change we expect to see. With the risk of being accused of making false allegations, I shall state that it is not uncommon practice that slots are being bought for money, seriously hampering the performing chances of those sincerely committed to the art. The racket of corruption prevalent in the sabhas causes me utter disquiet. I too am aware of what sells on-stage, and haven’t been a stranger to such tricks, in the past. I have embarked on a self-correcting path, as I now realize that art ought not to be thus commoditized.
You ventured a concert in a ‘kuppam’ (fisher people region) with the idea of bringing Carnatic music out to public. How significant were your efforts on that end?
Last year, we conducted concerts at Urur Olcott Kuppam, adjacent to Besant nagar, Chennai. Not so well-versed about fisher people’s culture and what they’d like, we included Villuppattu, Thappattam, Koothu, and Bharathanatyam in the agenda, as a safe bet. The event drew positive response from not only the residents of the kuppam, but also the general public, at large. Regular sabha-goers attended too. Therefore, the event served as a confluence for people from all walks of life. It was certainly a beginning of sorts. I can safely say that if not anything great, the event clearly brought art music closer to people.
How did the residents of Kuppam respond to Carnatic music?
Oh, they certainly enjoyed it; with what would you measure that? I, for instance, immensely enjoyed Koothu; but I could not make out its various nuances. So I’d say that the people enjoyed Carnatic music displaying the same blithe wonderment that I did watching Koothu. The more people listen to Carnatic music, the more they would be able to understand, appreciate, and enjoy it. All we need to do is stop confining it within the walls of sabhas and work on rendering it freely accessible.
Some have no qualms admitting you are their most loved musician, but for your communist ideologies. Your thoughts on that?
I am not a communist. I don’t agree totally with that philosophy. I only ask you to empathize with my voice, both literally and figuratively, pretty much the way you do when I sing!
Whom do you recognize as the most promising singer in today’s generation?
One Mr. Ramakrishna Moorthy has captured my interest. He is a no-nonsense musician with deep focus in singing. I believe he has bright prospects for a successful musical career.
There is a dent in our educational curriculum to learn Carnatic music. Do you think you could do something about it?
I wish to make something clear here. Music is not that easily learnt. It is a tedious task requiring much focus, effort, and hard work. However, the current practices can be streamlined for effective learning, for which groundwork is underway. Please give me some time!
What is your take on the reality music shows on television channels? Do you think they contribute positively to music?
I don’t believe that these short-term antics of getting contestants to sing commercial music will bring about anything good to the art of music. Reality shows can never nurture soulful music. Moreover, children not older than fifteen years of age are exposed to flashy limelight for a very brief period and then left to their own fate, resulting in dire effects to their psyche in their teens. How many winning contestants have gone on to become successful musicians post the reality shows? It’s the parents’ responsibility to deeply reflect on these issues. They are to blame for the frenzy they let their kids undergo.
In all these years, have you been able to shed your caste identity?
When asked if I am a Brahmin, I wish to say ‘No’ with all my heart. However, I must and I do question myself if I am being true to myself. I must admit that I am afraid that an identity so wilfully disowned could fiercely crop up when one least expects. Hence I believe in accepting the identity as is and work on ways to passively resist the same.
Interviewer: Arul Ezhilan
Translation: Deepalakshmi J