CHENNAI: Who says that playing Carnatic music on a guitar is not cool?,” asks Gokul Shyamsundar, a 14-year-old Carnatic guitarist. Gokul wanted to play the flute when he was in class 2. There was no special reason other than the instrument being small and easy to carry around. At the age of seven he picked up the guitar and eventually fell in love with it. It’s difficult to find a Carnatic guitarist, he says, adding that he considers himself blessed to be trained by New York-based guitarist R Prasanna.
“My parents are fond of Carnatic music. I think it’s all in the genes. But finding a Guru was a struggle because Prasanna Sir was busy back then. My father tried reaching out to him several times but nothing worked out. One day I came across a video of him training another student. I immediately played the same and mailed it to him. To my surprise he immediately responded,” says Gokul, who was born and raised in Dubai, and has been living in Bengaluru for the past year.
The young guitarist has been training online from his guru for three years. Online classes have not affected the quality of learning. Once in six months Prasanna visits him for a one-on-one workshop. “After responding to my video, Prasanna Sir came for a five-day class when I was in Dubai. He considered me his disciple only after evaluating me. My Guru is truly one of the most encouraging and down-to-earth human beings I’ve known. He has prepped me up in all other aspects related to it — attitude, teamwork, and a sense of open-mindedness,” he shares.
Gokul has performed several solo concerts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Bengaluru. In 2015, he played his first concert in India with his Guru at Chennai’s prestigious Margazhi music season at the Kamaraj Arangam and at the Mylapore Fine Arts. “I don’t keep a count on the number of hours I practice. I’ve performed four concerts with my Guru and this is the first solo performance. People here have a good taste for music; they observe every move and point out constructive feedback to me.
Every concert only makes me a better performer,” he explains. Gokul’s 45-second video titled ‘Waterfall swaras’ in ragam kedaragowlai along with Prasanna went viral with more than 1.3 million views till date on social media. He also has a YouTube channel where his concert videos are available. The guitarist hopes to spend more time on social media to gain traction from the youth. He is motivated and determined to take Carnatic music to greater heights.
Gokul draws inspiration from his Guru Prasanna and late Mandolin U Srinivas. “Youngsters of my age have a short attention span and think Carnatic is not cool for the age. I would suggest that they follow their passion and not stick around to what people say. In fact, I really think that bringing the T20 format into Carnatic music is the way forward to attract the younger audience. The concert must have interesting picks of music and must be more engaging,” says Gokul who is gearing up for his concert in Chennai. He admits that he cannot contain his excitement to perform here. “After all, it’s the ground zero of Carnatic music,” he says.
Catch him live
Gokul will be performing a Carnatic guitar concert on June 16 at 6 pm at the TTK Auditorium, Music Academy.