In conversation with classical musician Sandeep Narayan ahead of MadRasana 2018

Catch our exclusive interview with the talented artist Sandeep Narayan ahead of MadRasana 2018. He spoke to us about his music, favorite raagas and more.

Your all time favourite raaga to perform at ANY stage?

This keeps changing frequently, and although it is asked often I always struggle to say any one ragam. One of my favorites which I keep going back to is probably Sankarabharanam. It’s one of those ragams that looks so simple on paper but is incredibly difficult to execute at the level of classicism it deserves.

What is the most unique aspect of Carnatic music compared to all other music genres in the world?

50-75% of our concert presentation is improvised on the spot. And we very rarely rehearse or even discuss the concert before hand with our co-artists. Some ideas may be explored at home, but we usually do not even discuss that with the other artists who are to perform on the stage with us, and yet we usually can execute it seamlessly. Creativity flows and we feed off of each other’s energies on the stage. And we have to work within a set of rules and boundaries, which I think only makes it all the more creative to think of new things within this established framework. Another huge difference in Carnatic music that the majority of the songs we perform are composed by others before us, but each artists presents them in their own individual style. This is different from pop music where almost all of the songs are originals, and differs to western classical where the goal is to recreate the original compositions of Beethoven, Mozart, etc.

Tell us about your experience at MadRasana and your opinion on this beautiful concept

My experience with MadRasana has been nothing but wonderful from the start. A couple of years ago Mahesh Venkateswaran (MadRasana founder) had approached me to do a concert in his garden, and after that we have worked on many projects. Our latest was a collaboration between music director Sean Roldan and myself, of the Tulsidas bhajan “Gopala Gokula” for MadRasana Specials. This was the first of it’s kind for MadRasana. Another first was the concert at Sathyam Cinemas held on December 23rd. I am extremely proud to have been part of this unique festival, and to have sung the inaugural concert. I can now say that I sang the first live Carnatic concert in Sathyam Cinemas, a place so close to the hearts of all Chennai-ites! By breaking some of the stereotypes and preconceived notions, while still presenting traditional South Indian classical music, we welcomed many individuals who had otherwise not been to a single Carnatic concert before. It stood out as something different and attracted a huge number of familiar rasikas (those who attend concerts) as well as first-timers.

What was the biggest challenge in coming back to India from US to become a full time music performer? What was it like to be the first ever person to do this?

The biggest challenge for me was in the initial few years when I moved and most people in the music community did not believe that someone who was born and raised in the US would move to Chennai to take up this career. That made it difficult to be taken seriously and to get any concert opportunities for a long time. It has become more common and I’m very happy to see more NRI friends following suit and being successful. Because things were different when I moved to Chennai in 2006, I had to be more confident and tune out the negativity around me. I must say I am very lucky that at the few times when I felt I was making a big mistake, I had a great support system around me in my family, friends, and gurus. They made sure I stayed focused and dedicated, and did not give up on my ambitions. It’s quite funny how things have changed, because recently I was talking to some artists who were born and raised in Chennai but they told me they end up spending at least six months in a year in the US these days. Whereas I spend all year in India, only traveling abroad for my concert tours a few months in a year. Earlier this year I performed a concert in the US and after returning to India, a rasika saw the concert photo on social media asked me if I still live in the US. I had been just been there for one week, and have lived in Chennai more than 12 years! 🙂

Do you think most of the Carnatic musicians in give worthwhile importance to lyrical beauty of the compositions

I think there has been a sort of revival of focus on lyrics lately. Especially in Tamizh, but even in other languages like Telugu and Sanskrit. I personally have started to place more importance and am making extra efforts to learn the meaning and highlight the lyrical beauty in compositions as much as I can.

Would you mind performing an RTP of an extremely rare raga when given a chance, compared to the already popular ones like Shankarabharanam or Kambhoji?

I love to perform RTPs in rare ragams. Sometimes it may be a Hindustani ragam which is just rare in Carnatic music, or actually a very rare ragam such as vivadhi ragam. Just two months ago I presented an RTP in Chennai in ragam Durga, and for MadRasana at Sathyam I presented an RTP in Bageshri. I have also sung RTPs in ragams such as Nalinakanthi, which are not usually explored very much, and vivadhi ragams such as Chalanatta, Rasikapriya, and Shoolini. I plan to do an RTP in Varunapriya soon, which is a new ragam I recently learned.

Do you have plans to perform fusion with Hindustani musicians to open new horizons of Carnatic music?

As of now I have not planned anything. I do have some friends with whom I like to exchange musical ideas. It helps us to expand each others boundaries, but so far we are yet to perform together publicly. I have done jugalbandhis and collaborations in the past. In fact the MadRasana Special “Gopala Gokula” itself was a collaboration between classical and non-classical genres, which is something I’m very proud of. So the idea of performing with artists of Hindustani music, or any genre for that matter, is something I am open to but it would have to be under the right circumstances and with musicians I feel are interesting to work with. And they should also feel the same way about me!

Picture creditKunal Daswani