When Chinese lyrics drum up a Carnatic storm

SIFAS is gearing up to host the tenth edition of Alangkar, their annual festival spread over three days. It will be jointly presented by the Consul General of the Republic of Singapore.

Published: 06th December 2018 05:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th December 2018 05:31 AM   |  A+A-

Students have been undergoing three months of rigorous practice sessions

Express News Service

CHENNAI : Can you imagine what it would sound like to have Chinese lyrics to Carnatic music or accompanists playing traditional Malay drums? In a first, the Singapore India Fine Arts Society will present a concert featuring non-Indians as a part of a group of musicians and dancers. Conceptualised and conducted by Guru Tripunithura Sreekanth, Laya Sangamam is inspired by the diverse and multi-cultural influences that enrich the land of Singapore.

SIFAS is gearing up to host the tenth edition of Alangkar, their annual festival spread over three days. It will be jointly presented by the Consul General of the Republic of Singapore. “We collaborated with the Consul General last year and came up with this unique idea of offering a rich palette of music. Ours is the oldest fine arts institute in Singapore functioning for 70 years.

We offer a pan-Indian curriculum. Eminent musicians and teachers from all parts of India work there as faculty. Off late, non-native Indians have started learning Carnatic music because it is competitive, it helps them with mathematics and has a variety of ragas. This is a growing trend among western, Malay and Chinese students,” says Vidhya Nair, the president of SIFAS. 

Around 22 students, teachers and alumni members are expected to participate in the festival. Among which most of them are attending the festival for the first time. Every year, an audition is conducted in August and a judge from India flies to Singapore to select the students for the Margazhi music festival. This year, it was musician K N Renganatha Sharma. The students have been undergoing three months of rigorous practice sessions.

“The beauty about Carnatic music is that it adheres to a certain set of rules but still provides a lot of space for different interpretations and multiple permutations. This poses a special challenge for the musician because doing a short section of improvisation is almost akin to playing a game. One needs to fulfill a total number of 32 beats based on rules and still construct a phrase or structure that makes musical sense. To be able to achieve this, one needs to first understand, then process the information followed by a great deal of practice. It has also allowed me to approach music in a different way,” said Cheryl Ong, a Singaporean who plays Chinese drums.

“We’ve got a dedicated cohort of students. This year, there will be more budding artistes performing vocal kutcheris and dance in different slots. There will be jugalbandi, hindustani music and kathak dance performance. Expect a mix of instruments like sitar, tabla, chinese drums, saxophone and malay gamelan and percussion similar to mridangam trying to reproduce Carnatic music. The aim is to present rhythm and music in a different light. The Chennai music festival environment is encouraging. We have an opportunity to produce new content for a new audience,” said Vidhya.

The students, too, are enthusiastic to have a musical exposure. “In my life as a composer, orchestral conductor and jazz musician, I am often struck by how much beauty lies in the purity of Carnatic music. It has certainly influenced and helped me in my composing and improvisational practices; and even in my study of musical scores.

I first heard about the music festival in Chennai years ago, and I am fortunate to have been able to visit in December on several occasions. All the major artistes (and legends) return to make an appearance and I have managed to meet my hero, Prof Trichy Sankaran, several times. If one professes to love Carnatic music, then the music festival is a must-see,” said Tony Makarome, a Singaporean Chinese who plays mridangam and electric bass.(The concert will held from December 7 to December 9 at Kasturi Srinivasan Hall, The Music Academy)

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