D.K. Pattammal

Monday, 2 February 2015

Vignesh Ishwar

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

By Sushma Somasekharan

Photo By: Hariharan Sankaran
Sonorous voice. Charming stage presence. Effortless brigas. Perfect diction. Vignesh Ishwar has these and more and it is of no wonder that a national newspaper recently hailed him as an artist to be watched. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Vignesh started learning music at the age of three. He had his training with Palakkad Anantharama Bhagavatar for over 15 years and started learning from T.M. Krishna in 2008.

An undergraduate in Electrical Engineering and a graduate in Sound and Music Technology from the Music Group Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Vignesh is now based in Chennai to pursue Carnatic music full-time.He recently spoke to

How did you come under the tutelage of T.M. Krishna?

I heard him for the first time at AFAC school in Mumbai at a kutcheri arranged by my guru then, Anantharama Bhagavatar, for our music school Nada Brahmam. I was awestruck by his music. Following that, I attended all his concerts in Mumbai without fail.

My first close interaction with him was in 2006 at family friend Hariharan Sankaran’s residence in Mumbai. I decided that day that I wanted to learn from T.M. Krishna. Thus, every time he was in Mumbai after that, I requested him to take me under his tutelage. It was a dream come true, when in August 2008, he was in Mumbai to present a ‘Voices Within’ workshop, and asked me to come for class on Vijayadasami that year!

What art projects or events are you involved in, apart from performing?

Apart from performing, I am involved with Svanubhava – a festival by students for students in which we try to expose children to the various Indian art forms and create interest in them. It has been an amazing experience for me and I am sure it will continue to be so.

I was also a researcher at IIT Madras in the Computer Science department under the CompMusic project. This project aims at developing technologies for computational analysis of Art Music traditions. We are currently working on five music genres: Hindustani, Carnatic, Makkam Music of Turkey, Arab Andalusian music and Beijing Opera. The IIT Madras team’s primary focus is on Carnatic music. We are hoping to build technologies that enable exploration of music collections in a musically meaningful manner, using relevant properties from the music tradition thus making these technologies culture-specific.

For example, one of the technologies we have developed is to automatically extract the tonic or adhara sruti from the audio signal of a Carnatic music or Hindustani music recording. We are working on and have made significant progress in the spotting of similar phrases that are repeated in a song, and this leads to many other applications. I was in Barcelona last year doing my Masters in this project. My thesis work was to extract the pitch of the voice from an audio music recording.

My guru and I published a paper in one of the CompMusic project workshops on the various relationships between swara, gamaka, phraesology and relevance to raga identification. I am still involved with this project helping out in many ways.

Tell us about your fondest memory of the classes with your current guru.

Every class with Krishna Anna is a memorable learning experience for me. The one closest to my heart is my first class with him. I still remember waiting on Vijayadasami day with varied emotions such as anxiety, nervousness, happiness and excitement. He taught me Mahaganapatey palayasumam in raga Natanarayani and Veena pustaka dharini in raga Vegavahini. His unabated energy and enthusiasm for music are something I can only aspire to emulate!

What is your most cherished concert experience?

While every concert has taught me something different, the most memorable concert experience for me would be one at the Swathi Sangeetotsavam at Kuthiramalika, Trivandrum, in 2013. I was in awe of the grand ambience, the feeling it invoked within me and the rich history of the place. All I had to do was sing and everything else was taken care of on stage by the amazing team of artists – S.R. Mahadeva Sharma, K.V. Prasad, N. Guruprasad and Udupi Srikanth. The entire experience is still fresh and vivid in my memory.

Which artist has had the biggest influence on your musical journey?

Apart from my gurus, the artist I listen to the most is Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. The bhava in his music and the feeling that it evokes are so unique. Even a small sangati is entrenched in so much bhavam, it is hard for anyone to not soak in the essence and beauty of the raga. The sheer brilliance and ease with which he handles his music leave me spellbound every time I hear him.

What is the most memorable concert that you have been to?

There are so many that I have enjoyed, it is difficult to pick one. If I really had to name, one of them would be the concert of Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty at the IMG Janfest held at St. Xaviers College, Mumbai. He sang an astounding Pooriya that day.

Another one that left a lasting impression on me would be the Kalarasana concert of my guru T.M. Krishna on 4 January 2011 with R.K. Shriramkumar, Trichy Sankaran, B.S. Purushotham and N. Guruprasad. The Sankarabharanam ragam-tanam-pallavi left me in tears; I was taken beyond the realm of this world.

Another concert that left a mark was one by my other guru Palakkad Anantharama Bhagavatar at Borivili Ayyappa Samajam in Mumbai. I was providing vocal support that day. His rendition of Swararaga sudharasa in Sankarabharanam still gives me goose bumps when I think of it.

What changes have you witnessed in the Carnatic music industry over the years?

One of the biggest changes which I have personally witnessed is the gain in popularity of this genre of music not just in India, but overseas as well. The keenness with which Europeans follow Carnatic music was evident during my research work in Spain. I would attribute the growing awareness of our music to the increasing number of young musicians in the industry. There are many talented young musicians who have taken their pursuit in Carnatic music seriously and they are striving to create awareness and interest amongst everyone through their performances. It is very encouraging and heartening to see that more places and people are celebrating Carnatic music.

(Sushma Somasekharan is a young Carnatic vocalist)


  1. Brilliant singer....definitely one to watch out for (y)

  2. very impressive style,especially in rendering keerthana

  3. Recently visited his concert at Manipal university organised by Raga dhana... He's brilliant. So was the accompanying violinist Rajeev.. Too Good!

  4. Brilliant performance and mesmerising voice and rendering style