Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Sumesh Narayanan

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

By Sushma Somasekharan

Photograph by Sharan Sivakumar
Sumesh S Narayanan (20), a young and vibrant mridangam artist, has been under the tutelage of Sri Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam since he was 8 years old. He had his arangetram in 2005 with the late Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan as the chief guest of the evening. He won the Best Mridangist Award for his junior time slot at The Music Academy in December Music Season 2012. It is hard to not be impressed by his earnest answers; they show his genuine passion for the art form and his desire to appreciate music without letting any distractions affect his approach to it.

When was your first break?

I got my first ‘break’ when I played for Bombay Jayashri Akka in August 2012. It was a concert held in a school. I received a call at 7.30 am from one of Jayashri Akka’s students, Poornima, about a concert for SPIC MACAY and I agreed to play, assuming that it was for Poornima. She then said, ‘Okay Sumesh, I will let Jayashri Akka know that you’re free on this date to perform with her.’ I was shocked! I asked her repeatedly, ‘Are you sure this concert is not for you and it is for Akka?’

It was only when Akka called me again for a concert at Meenakshi College and we performed for an audience of about 1,000 people that I knew for sure that I was not in a dream. I have performed with her on a number of occasions since.

Any special memories?

One of the most memorable experiences has been performing with Akka and Flautist Ronu Majumdar Dada for Friday Review November Fest last year. I have been a great fan of Ronu Dada’s music and I never thought I would have the opportunity to perform with him. We presented the show in Kochin, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Kuwait; we are presenting it at Dubai next week. If not for Akka, I would not have such memorable experiences and learning opportunities at such an early stage of my career.

Do you ever get to choose the main artist you want to accompany?

Currently, I play for almost any artist who approaches me. I respect that someone has heard of my talent and is approaching me with a concert opportunity. However as an artist grows, he may become selective in his choices. This is because the artist has to aspire to grow musically and hone his talent and in my opinion, one of the most direct ways to achieve that is when artists challenge each other on stage.

There is not much money in being a percussionist in Carnatic music. Do you agree?

Yes, I agree, but I won’t make a big deal out of it. My main priority now is to expand my knowledge and explore different opportunities. God has blessed me with good familial and financial support. Hence, I am able to enjoy music for what it is and not be concerned with the financial aspect of it as yet.

What I learnt from my guru is not just mridangam skills but many life lessons too. His road to success was not an easy one. When he initially moved to Chennai from Tiruvarur to pursue a career in mridangam, no one was willing to support him as no one knew who he was. He struggled the initial few years to achieve the great levels of success that he enjoys now. There have been occasions when he travelled out of Chennai for concerts at reputed festivals and the lead artist paid him only a fraction of the total fee received.

What do you think about some vidwans not accompanying women?

Artists have their own reasons as to why they make such a choice. Personally, I would not like to differentiate between female and male artists. My main objective is to be a good musician and restricting myself as such will not allow me to be so. I want to be able to explore music with good musicians regardless of their gender.

You are involved in a lot of fusion work and explore different genres of percussion. Do you try to bring in those influences when playing the mridangam?

As much as I admire other styles of world percussion and spend a lot time scrutinising them and appreciating the nuances, I do not feel comfortable bringing in influences of other percussion when I play the mridangam. I guess I am a purist in that aspect; I do not accept kalappadam in Carnatic music. Play a tabla like a tabla. Play a mridangam like a mridangam. Why mix both?

What do you expect from your career?

I want to grow as a musician. I am also a guitarist and a composer. In fact, I recently scored the music for a documentary called ‘Magical Madurai’ which is going to be screened at a film festival in Brazil. That was my first step towards getting my compositions recognised. In a few years, if everyone recognises me as a composer and not as a mridangist, I would still be happy. My main objective is to always be involved in music and for my musical talent to be recognised.

Sushma Somasekharan is a young vocalist

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