In an interview with TNM, singer Vinod Krishnan talks on a range of topics from his first composition for a commercial label to the impact of MeToo movement in the Carnatic field.

People took my work seriously after Shape of You Carnatic mix Singer Vinod Krishnan
Features Music Friday, December 14, 2018 - 16:46

In 2017, singer Vinod Krishnan’s Carnatic mix of Ed Sheeran’s popular ‘Shape of You’ put him on the international music radar. The music video, which was done in collaboration with Aditya Rao and Mahesh Raghvan, gained over 6 million views on YouTube.

Vinod is the creative director of the IndianRaga project, an educational startup founded at MIT Sloan School of Management, USA. He has also created an array of video collaborations with several artistes, many of which have gone viral. A promising talent who was born in Chennai, Vinod has been a stage performer since the age of 11.

In 1998, he won the prestigious CCRT (Center for Cultural Research and Training) scholarship awarded by the Ministry of Culture. He received the scholarship for South Indian Classical music in the vocal category, for eight years in a row, until 2006.

In this interview with TNM, the singer talks on a range of topics - from his very first composition for a commercial label to the impact of the ‘Me Too’ movement in the Carnatic field.

It has been a year since your video 'Shape of You' released and you received a good response for it. How did that change your music? 

After 'Shape of You' Carnatic mix video was released, I have had more established musicians reach out and work with me. I have always had the ideas to make innovative music. Doing the Shape of You track only helped me validate that approach. In fact, I would say it helped open more opportunities and gave me some kind of identity and recognition. People took my work seriously after this.

How has your early years as a child influenced you as a musician? 

My musical genes come from my mother's side. My maternal grandmother is a self-taught musician and one of my biggest inspirations. She still endearingly narrates tales of how she used to hide in the kitchen to listen to her father teach other male students, as she grew up in a time when women were discouraged from learning music. My parents have been supportive. As a child, I used to be chauffeured around for music and piano lessons, performances and competitions.

You just composed your first song. When can we expect the next?

I have been composing for some time now. In 2018, my work went on a commercial label. On Vijayadasami this year, I released my first video as a composer and producer. Titled ‘Saajan’, it is a Hindustani bandish with lyrics borrowed from a traditional Hindustani literature. Vijay Prakash has sung it. Composed in a Carnatic raga Bahudari, we made a nearly five-minute song with just two lines that translate to "My love is home, I am very happy."

I have two such projects in progress now. One is a Tamil song, which a friend penned and I have composed as a romantic duet. I am in talks with some production houses to take this forward. Another project is on a Bharathiyar song with some new-age arrangements to it. You'll see these in the coming months.

With YouTube, instant stardom may become quite a challenge for a creative artist. What are your thoughts on this?

For several artistes looking at YouTube to promote their work, including myself, it’s a gamble. It's not just enough to do good music for YouTube. An artist has to figure out who their audience is, and must have good visuals and a good production team if you want to make it big. You could invest a lot of time, money and energy and not see the returns immediately. There is so much competition today that the audiences are spoilt for choice. But genuine, good music will find an audience.

There are a good number of fusion and indie regional bands in Tamil Nadu. How do you look at the music scene here?

In the last two years, I have made some good friends who are in Indie bands. I recently had the opportunity to perform with Staccato in Bali. IndoSoul by Karthick Iyer is another favourite. Karthick and I studied in the same school and college. He used to create such cool originals even back then. B Prasanna's Kannil Mazhai is a masterpiece. With these artistes doing live shows, the independent music scene in Tamil Nadu is definitely picking up.

Do you have a list of artistes you would like to collaborate with?

My biggest aspiration is to sing for AR Rahman sir. I would like to collaborate with Qawwali artistes Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammed, as well as Pakistani singer Javed Bashir, because they have done a lot to promote Sufi music, which is a new-found intoxication for me. Of course, I am always open to working with other bands and artistes.

You are the Creative Director of the IndianRaga project. How does that contribute to your music?

Being a creative director at IndianRaga allows me to study the musical arrangements, look at how they can be improved and what could be a winning strategy to get the best out of musicians who sign up with IndianRaga to promote their talents. I have had the privilege to guide many such teams, understand each member's talents and help them shape their music productions to highlight their strengths. It helps me manage my own music projects better.

In recent times, there's been a new movement in Carnatic music, at least in Tamil Nadu, with singer TM Krishna breaking boundaries. What are your thoughts on taking music beyond sabhas?

I want to quote Kamal Hassan from Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, where he says the seven notes belong to everyone. In this context, that sentiment strongly appeals to me. If Carnatic music is already enjoyed by so many people, why not take it to bigger audiences? The Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha is one such initiative that strives to bring all art forms onto one platform.

Certain Hindutva groups have clamoured against Carnatic singers for singing devotional songs of other religions. How do you look at this regressive idea?

As an artist, I haven't learnt any or heard of Carnatic compositions praising other religious gods until recently when TM Krishna outlined those in his interviews and concerts. So I am not informed enough to comment on this. But it was disheartening to see the unpleasantness and to read about the threats to the artistes. There are several moral and ethical sides to this. Above all, there's so much emotion when religion enters a discussion. I am sure there are organised and peaceful ways to deal with this. Our culture has debated everything extensively, right from the time of Adi Shankara, but with a lot of respect and restraint. If you didn't have a stronger counter, it was respectable to concede. If we bring that back, I feel this issue could find some mature conclusions.

The MeToo movement jolted the performing arts sector, with several big names being outed. What are your thoughts on this and what do you think is the right way forward to ensure such spaces are made safer?   

The #MeToo movement struck me hard. A man takes so many things for granted, things that are privileges he enjoys just because of his gender. Additionally, the bystander effect and refusing to acknowledge such an issue, too, exist. However, I am hopeful after seeing the solidarity among the younger Carnatic musicians on how they expressed themselves in this issue. Hopefully, the movement does not fizzle out and we can each take the responsibility to ensure a safe space for people we work with. Regardless of gender, no one should go through such harassment.

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