Konnakol gets a modern makeover!

In conversation with Bengaluru boy wonder Shivraj Natraj who shot to fame with his incredible konnakol beatboxing! 

Coming from a family of musicians, Shivraj is the fifth generation. His journey with music started at the age of 6 under his own father Sri Natraj Pushpavanam from whom he starts his Carnatic vocals and Mridangam tutelage. From there on, he moved to the acclaimed Vid. A V Anand to further his studies in percussion. Having picked up the bug of beatboxing from viral YouTube videos, Natraj says, “It was during my time at at Sri Ramakrishna Vidyarthi Mandiram where my warden Swami Swatmaramananda promoted this idea of mixing konnakol and beatboxing that made me realise my niche and gave me many opportunities to perform for devotees who turned up in large numbers during any festival, or function at the Ashram. Later I came to know that only a handful in the world do this kind of fusion, and I cannot thank Swamiji enough now.

An engineering student at RVCE Bengaluru, Shivraj soon took to Facebook where he started posting short videos of his beatboxing skills that had him perform short rhythmic calculations or grooves in different time signatures that were first recited as konnakol and then transposed to beatboxing. Very little did he anticipate that his videos would go so viral that many exponents in the classical circuit like BC Manjunath, Ghatam Giridhar Udupa, etc. took notice of the boy’s skills. Of course the popularity among college festivals, performances around the city with his band Project Mishram, and mere word of mouth spread his name. But the biggest was when the boy was called to represent the country along with famous flautist-singer Varijashree Venugopal at ‘La Voca Artistica’, a conference in Ravenna, Italy that brings talents from different parts of the world to showcase and explore the diversities of the voice and how differently they are used with varying context. Talking about his experiences and otherwise, Shivraj unwinds.

Tell us about your experiences in Italy representing India as the youngest musician from the country

The journey to Italy began in March, when  Dr. Albert Hera, the art director of the world vocal convention for vocal cord specialists and vocal musicians, “La Voce Artistica”, invited me to the convention over Facebook. I was excited, yet skeptical at first. In due course of time, the necessary paperwork was completed and I was all set to fly to Italy. I came across so many talented and established musicians, as well as renowned physicians from all over the world who approach the voice so differently. Lots to embrace!

Their reception towards our music? More specifically to your talent?

Our section was very well appreciated by the audience who understood the concepts of Carnatic melody and rhythm that we presented. We even received a standing ovation. The amount of respect and love that we received from the musicians there, left me spellbound. My talent was new to them, and they were awestruck by the possibilities of what I can do. Later we were interviewed by one of the jazz exponents, Sir Gege Telesforo, followed by a jam of konnakol, beatbox, Carnatic scat and jazz bebop singing by all three of us, which will be aired on one of the major Italian TV channels soon.

Tell us about your band Project Mishram

Project Mishram is a progressive Carnatic fusion band that infuses various genres of music like djent, progressive metal, jazz, blues, reggae and EDM to bring out a unique sound, yet centring around Carnatic music. We are more than two years old, and have won over 25 festivals all over the country. We have played in various venues across Bangalore, and we recently released our single : SpoonShift1 has been well received by viewership all over the world with 130k+ views across Facebook and Youtube.

Upcoming collaboration? 

I have a project coming up with the famous Nirupama – Rajendra, wherein we will be performing at the Konark Dance Festival early December. The team consists of a stellar cast! This is a new challenge to me, and I am looking forward to this!

PHOTO COURTESY: SIDDHARTH ACHAR