Saturday, August 5, 2017

TM Krishna - The man, his music and his mission

The hall was already full and the concert was already in progress when I walked in to Unnati auditorium. TM Krishna was immersed in delivering Sri Dumburge in Ragam Sriranjani in his inimitable style. I looked for a spot to sit but every inch of the hall including the mat on the floor were filled with people. But I was happy to stand on the last row and soak in the music flowing in from the stage.

Traditionally Carnatic vocalist sits in the middle flanked on both sides by violinist and mridangist. The second percussion artist sits behind the vocalist on the right side. But TM Krishna, known for questioning the tradition, ensured that no artists sit behind him and ensured that everyone is given equal importance on stage. He himself sat in one side rather than in the centre.

Photo credits: Unnati

Over the years TM Krishna has molded a different style of singing, which is refreshingly different from a rather rigid traditional way of performing this art form. He once famously said that he does not perform for his audience, but he performs because he enjoys doing so. On stage as he swings his arms with wide sweeping gestures as he brings out the nuances of a raga, he seems to play with each note of the raga like a skilled juggler. He seems to see those notes floating around him in the air and plucks them with his finger or lifts them or pushes them down as he takes the audience on a wonderful voyage over the waves of the ragas.

TM Krishna, recipient of last year's Magsasay Award, is known not just for his singing prowess but on his concerns for social and environmental issues. For yesterday's concert at Unnati he ensured that he would not use the car provided by the organizers, but instead would come in Metro from the railway station. That sums up the man and his concerns for things around him. That attitude sets him apart from other more gifted artists of his time. No surprise that he took time off to sing a song called Porombokku Padal to highlight the environmental disaster unfolding in Chennai Ennore Creek due to land encroachment.

This is the man who quit Chennai Music Sabhas in an attempt to bring music to common men by starting a new music festival at Urur Olcott Kuppam, a fishermen's colony in Chennai.  His effort to team up with Jogappas, a transgender community who make a living through folk songs and dance, is really commendable.

Carnatic music was born and evolved in temples of south India and almost all compositions are on various daieties. Yesterday, TM Krishna used Ragam Khamboji to sing a song on Palm Tree called "Eeterimele Ekaanthamai Nindrirukkum Panaye". Palm tree is symbolic of the Tamilnadu landscape. It was interesting to hear Carnatic composition rendered on a mundane thing like a palm tree.

His contribution to music goes beyond stage performance. His path-breaking book, A Southern Music - The Karnatik Story, was a first-of-its-kind philosophical, aesthetic and socio-plitical exploration of Karnatik Music. For this he was awarded the 2014 Tata Literature Award for Best FIrst Book in the non-fiction category.