Song of Surrender

Monday, 26 December 2011

An unusual all rounder

By PNV Ram
 
Had he just focussed on the violin, he might already have gone down as one of the great solo and accompanying Carnatic violinists of all time, fit to rank with giants like Lalgudi G Jayaraman and TN Krishnan. As it is, he is certainly ranked with the top accompanists of today, with a sound as sweet as the best the instrument can offer. The trouble with—or rather the value of—Sriram Parasuram is that his accomplishments in music are wider than most musicians can only dream of, even if they have the breadth of vision to look beyond their own area of specialisation.
 
Both heredity and environment must have played equal parts in the evolution of this multifaceted artist who straddles the musical universe with expertise in several genres—both vocal and violin, Carnatic and Hindustani—and more than passable skill in western classical, jazz, sufi, folk and film music.  With an MBA from IIM-C—following his mechanical engineering degree from Bombay University—and a PhD in world music from the Wesleyan University, Connecticut, USA, Sriram built a superstructure of amazing variety on his upbringing in a typically academically inclined Tamil household in Mumbai also steeped in south Indian classical music. 
 
Many have been the deeply satisfying concerts in which Sriram’s empathetic, bhava-soaked bowing has enhanced the music of lead musicians such as his guru, flautist Tanjavur Viswanathan, contemporary instrumentalist Chitravina Ravikiran or veteran vocalists like RK Srikantan and Nedunuri Krishnamurti. On such occasions, you are transported to another, exalted zone, by a man you are convinced was born to play the violin, and wish he would go deeper still into the realm of Carnatic music with his instrument. But then you listen to a lecture-demonstration by him—along with Hindustani vocalist Suhas Vyas—on south Indian ragas in Hindustani music; a musical tribute to the genius of Subbarama Dikshitar who codified a sizable treasury of Carnatic compositions in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini of 1904; his presentation of Kabir’s poetry with folk singer Prahlad Singh Tippanya; or his popular TV programme Ellame Sangeetam Taan (It’s All Music), partnered by his wife and well known film singer Anuradha Sriram, in which he switches effortlessly in his role of vocalist from Carnatic alapana and compositions to Hindustani music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs, ghazals and Hindi film songs, and you know that it is impossible to tie such a versatile talent down to one form or branch of music.
 
Like such famous south Indians before him as A Kanan and N Rajam (Hindustani classical), Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan (Hindi film and popular music), and a few others, Sriram Parasuram has mastered an idiom outside his own natural legacy. Learning Hindustani vocal music from the late Pt. CR Vyas, he has reached the level of accomplishment of a ‘native’ practitioner. The difference is that Sriram is of concert level proficiency in both systems.
 
Sriram Parasuram has collaborated with musicians from different cultures. Javanese Gamelan, West African drumming, and Japanese Koto are some examples of exotica he has played or sung along with. Born in a musically gifted family he partnered his brothers Viswanath and Narayan (Three Brothers and a Violin) and composed the music for an award winning Hindi pop album Savariya. With his wife, he directed the music for the Tamil film Five Star and produced a Tamil pop album Chennai Girl. He has been awarded the President’s gold medal for Carnatic and Hindustani music.
 
What impresses you most about Sriram and Anuradha, even more than their versatility—she too is proficient in numerous styles of music including classical—is their firm belief that ellame sangeetam taan. Sriram can render a perfect alap and bandish, follow it without an interval with a complex ragam-tanam-pallavi and finish with a romantic film song, all in one afternoon, with not a trace of one form in another.

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