Neocarnatic gajabuja gilma

For the Tamil challenged, Gajabuja means “megabigbang” and gilma means “Strange stuff”

The audience has changed. They now tote cellphones with annoying ringtones. They arrive in chauffeur driven Ford Ikons. The jewelry is contemporary Tanishq. The sarees sport bold new colours and patterns. The women now hold Phds. The cafetaria outside serves sandwiches and the filter coffee comes with no default unholy amounts of sucrose.

But the music hasn’t. The Madras Music Academy is stuck in a 1950s timewarp. Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, it is said, laid down (pretty hard I believe) the rules of the Carnatic concert. Of course, it’s not all his rules. He just formalized the whole thing.

  • Salute the elephant god for starters,
  • Sing prathi madhyamam and suddha madhyamam songs alternately and not together
  • Tukdaas (lighter songs) towards the end and serve Madhyamavathi for desert. No deviations. Capeesh?
  • No accompanying instruments other than violin and mridangam. Optionally ghatam, ganjira and morsing.
  • Mic settings as follows: Vocalist: 400 db, Violinist and others: audible to dogs and bats using hearing aids.
  • Do not even engage one tenth of a neuron in considering announcing song names, raagas, taalas and god forbid, song meanings and symbolism ahead of the performance. This is an elite audience dammit. They will either know, or pretend to know.
  • Violinist parrots note-to-note exactly what the singer does. Any originality is frowned upon.
  • The lyrics should have been written more than 400,000 years ago.
  • If it’s experimental, it’s not carnatic. It’s the F-word. Fusion.

I am not sure this can go on for ever. While it’s nice to delude oneself about the inherent awesomeness of our music, let’s face it. No form of music survives unchanged for centuries. Shift happens. Institutions will tend to stifle innovation, but musicians deep down don’t like formulae. They prefer the explosions from the failed experiments in the chemistry lab than the dreary theories that arise from the successful ones.

Here are a few ideas to disrupt this 50 year old state of antiquated affairs.

How about some basslines for a change? The carnatic soundscape lacks severely in the bass end of the sonic spectrum. A bass guitar adding some grooves to the mridangam will do nicely.

How about a few other instruments for a change? Keyboards, Electric guitars and Cellos can provide excellent accompaniment to vocalists without necessarily “spoiling” the purity of the music. Especially Cellos for female vocalists. Today, both the female singer and the violin uneasily occupy the same high treble end (Shriek Shriek) of the spectrum.

Vocal harmonies anybody? Not all the time, but at specific sections of the song, where the harmony could add depth to the overall effect.

People do not always know the difference between Karnataka Devagandhari and Abheri. Please tell us. Also, we would love to know what “Orajoopuchoo” means. It simply sounds way too cool.

I had the privilege of playing the violin for 15 minutes at the Podworks unconference (rather ordinarily I might add). While I played Rajaji’s “Kurai Ondrum Illai“, 2 very smart people bought up the wikipedia article on Rajaji and the song lyrics and meaning on the large projector. Why couldn’t the Music Academy do this at their concerts?

And um..since no serious article is worth its weight in words without a few jalsa suggestions,

My younger brother recommends a Carnatic moshpit

Techno dance beats for Thillanas (Aren’t they about dance too?)