Ballads of fusion: Playback singer Maalavika Sundar speaks about need for carnatic fusion music

The 35-year-old, known for her melodic carnatic and fusion numbers, will be headlining the upcoming Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
Maalavika Sundar
Maalavika Sundar

BENGALURU:   After nearly four years, playback singer and classical musician Maalavika Sundar is returning to the city early next month. The 35-year-old, known for her melodic carnatic and fusion numbers, will be headlining the upcoming Bengaluru Poetry Festival, organised by Atta Galatta at Grand Mercure, Gopalan Signature Mall, on Old Madras Road.

“I’m really looking forward to performing in the city. I have a lot of people who admire my music there, and I’ve been getting a lot of requests to come there and perform,” says Sundar expressing her excitement about her much-awaited performance. 

Her first public performance in the city in at least four years promises to be a blend of musical styles, featuring a medley of original compositions, her signature classical fusion, and popular commercial numbers, spanning multiple languages, including Hindi, Punjabi, Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, and Malayalam. “It’s gonna be a mix of everything,” Sundar adds. 

Despite not being an avid reader of poetry, Sundar appreciates the simple beauty of the art form. “For me, poetry is all about stories. So when I hear a poem, I always reach out to my grandparents and ask them to explain the story behind it. Recently, I heard the Tamil poet Bharatiyar’s Kuyil Pattu and the story was just fascinating. Bharatiyar has inspired me to write,” she says. 

Having first come to the fore in the early 2010s with her performances on the reality singing show Super Singer, Sundar has gone on to establish herself as a sought-after playback singer in South Indian film industries. But despite mastering classical Carnatic style from a young age, Sundar wasn’t exposed to mainstream film music until after her debut on Super Singer.

“I hadn’t heard any film songs until then. D Imam sir called me after watching one of my performances on Super Singer, and he thought my voice would be perfect for a folk song he’d been working on. Dang Dang (from 2014’s Manam Kothi Paravai) actually helped me reach every nook and corner of Tamil Nadu,” she says, adding that people would refer to her as Dang Dang Maalavika for a long time after that. 

So how did her experimentation with fusion music come about? “When I used to go on tours earlier, I would see a lot of older people in the audience, and if there were a few younger ones, they’d usually be students of music. I think a lot of younger generations these days aren’t interested in Carnatic music. Even if I don’t know anything about the genres, I would still go to rock or jazz concerts.

I think the younger generation should experiment, even if they don’t necessarily know the language or the kind of music it is. So I thought maybe if I make my music sound different, in a way that would appeal to the younger generations, then I could get them to take an interest in Carnatic music. So I started doing Carnatic Fusion, incorporating classical songs with a hybrid set of percussion. And when we started to perform, there was a lot of appreciation for that,” Sundar explains. 

Currently, Sundar is working on a few original compositions, collaborating with artists like MS Krishna. Several other projects, including commercial tracks in Tamil and Malayalam, are also in the pipeline.

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