The world’s famous Margazhi season is underway in Chennai. Yes, this season is exclusive to this city. Year after year, December that coincides with the Margazhi month in the traditional Hindu calendar is a time for the world’s largest gathering of Indian classical musicians and dancers.
Chennai is the epicenter of Carnatic music just like Bombay is to Hindi cinema. For decades now, several generations have made it home. Every other area takes great pride in their resident Carnatic celebrities. It is not uncommon to hear conversations in Chennai about how the great Semmangudi lived here or MS Subbulakshmi lived there or how some musician frequented their favourite restaurant or shop. So who are the next generation Carnatic vocalists to look out for? The list is long. There are many singers but very few voices whose music is worth noting. Here is a selection of the top female and male vocalists.
Let us start with the ladies first. Among the finest voices to be heard in recent times are the twin sisters Aarathi and Archana. With fluency in Telugu (the official language of Carnatic music for the longest time till the Tamil Isai movement began), both sisters currently train under veteran vocalist Vedavalli. Then come two nectarean voices with same names. Amrita Murali is a violinist and a vocalist. Hailing from a family of musicians, she is the granddaughter of Sankari Nagarajan, a graded artiste of the AIR. She began her training with violinists Vitthal Rammurty and T Rukmini before continuing further training with violinist R K Shriram Kumar.
Clockwise: Vidya Kalyanaraman, Vasudha Ravi, Archana and Aarathi, and Brinda Manickavasagam
Amrutha Venkatesh lives in Bangalore and trained in music from Guru M T Selvanarayan who worked with the AIR. Later she learnt Veena from Suma Sudhindra and vocal from Charumati Ramachandran. She is currently training in music from Veena Vidwan and vocalist Prince Rama Varma. The other Bangalore girl is Aishwarya Vidya Raghunath who took training from Guru Seethalakshmi Venkatesan. She is currently training with Vegavahini, the daughter of legendary T Brinda. Vidya Kalyanaraman of the robust voice trained with Padma Raja Rao and currently trains under Guru Suguna Varadachari. Brinda Manickavasagam, whose voice soars three octaves with ease,began training with Jayasri Rao, D.J. Balakrishna and Kanakadurga Venkateshbefore and continued her further training with Suguna Varadachari. Vasudha Ravi, one of the most wanted voices for dancers is also an excellent solo performer.
Amritha Murali, Amrutha Venkatesh and Aishwarya Vidya Raghunath
Among the male vocalists, there is a healthy competition for the top position. A famous old saying goes “If you are a male singer in Chennai, you are probably training under Guru P S Narayanaswamy.” This is true as he, fondly addressed as ‘PSN’, has been a Guru to most of the well-known names among young vocalists today. His star pupil is Abhishek Raghuram. Abhishek, the grandson of Mridangam Vidwan Palghat Raghu is also a grandnephew of the violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman. Born as a pedigree child into a family of musicians has its own benefits and Abhishek enjoyed a childhood in music. He is also trained in percussion instruments like Mridangam and Khanjira. Bharat Sundar, Akshay Padmanabhan and Kunnikudi Balamuralikrishna also learned from PSN after taking initial training in music from various Gurus. Under PSN’s gentle guidance, each of them is shaping out to be good soloists. Bharat is already one of the more popular of PSN’s students.
Clockwise: Thrichur Brothers,Vignesh Ishwar, Sandeep Narayan, Swarna Rethas
This year’s Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subrahmanyan’s students top the list. Sandeep Narayan migrated from the US to make Chennai his home and take up music as a full time profession. He is one of the most popular and highly admired vocalists. Prasanna Venkataraman, originally from Mumbai, trained with Gurus T R Balamani and after migrating to Chennai, from T K Govinda Rao. Swarna Rethas began his early training with Geetha Sridhar an AIR artiste, and later with Indira Ramanathan. He also trained in Mridangam from Vidwan MN Kandaswami Pillai.
Clockwise: Ravi Kiran, Ramakrishnan Murthy, Bharath Sundar, Prasanna Venkataraman
Ramakrishnan Murty began training in US from Guru Padma Kutty and later from violinist Delhi Sundararajan. Currently he trains under violinist RK Shriram Kumar. Ashwath Narayanan trained under the legendary KV Narayanaswamy and was one of his last students. He is already one of the most wanted voices, who is in demand from every organizer. Aditya Prakash, son of famous dance Guru Viji Prakash is another young voice who is popular both with music and dance performances. He also runs his own band. Srikrishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan, famous as ‘Trichur Brothers’ are sons of famous Mridangam Vidwan Mohanan. With strong training in music, they have become a popular duo among the current generation of Carnatic vocalists.
Clockwise: Ashwath Narayanan, Akshay Padmanabhan, Abhishek Raghuram, Aditya Prakash
Among TM Krishna’s students, the two voices worth listening to are those of G Ravi Kiran from Bangalore and Vighnesh Ishwar from Mumbai. Ishwar trained for fifteen years with Guru Palakkad Anantarama Bhagavataar before he met with TM Krishna in 2008 and moved to Chennai. Ravi Kiran trained with Gurus Gayatri Kesavan, Vasanta Ramanujam , RS Ramakanth and the great RK Srikantan before he began training with TM Krishna. Both these boys are highly promising and their voices are worth looking out for.
I have listed out here some of our young vocalists to look out for. The list does not include instrumentalists and accompanying artistes. Each of those categories is full of talented youngsters and deserves a separate column on their own. I am not so confident that Hindustani music has as many vocalists as Carnatic has. That way, one should be proud of these youngsters taking to music. Some are excellent, some working hard, a few others struggling to find their way. But all of them are confident about their commitment to music. They are savvy and smart. In a world obsessed with technical education, they have dared to take to the arts, knowing well how much of a financial risk this could be. Some of them are genuinely passionate and want to make good art with good intentions. One wishes them all the very best and looks forward to some of these names becoming real Carnatic superstars in the future.
(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Images by : Krishnamurty, Deepak Rajashekar, Savita, PK collection