CHENNAI : It’s been almost six decades since Aruna Sairam started her journey in the world of music. Her eclectic repertoire of music, ability to evoke a sense of divinity through her song renditions, selective collaborations, and openness to continuous learning have made the maestro rightfully a megastar in every sense. Aruna has reached unparalleled success in her journey, and now is in the spotlight again. The Padma Shri recipient has been selected for the Sangeetha Kalanidhi award, the highest recognition in Carnatic music, this year. In a freewheeling chat, the ‘music scientist’ talks about receiving the award, mental health and her dream of taking the art to the internet.
Excerpts from the conversation
What does winning the Sangeetha Kalanidhi award mean?
As musicians/artistes, we grow up looking at certain stars in the constellation. For me, they were MS Subbulakshmi ‘amma’, Gudalur Narayanaswamy Balasubramaniam and Madurai Mani Iyer. Every year, when I saw them receive awards, especially the Sangeetha Kalanidhi, I would think to myself, “someday.” Now, when I am receiving the award, it becomes a validation of dreams, aspiration, and effort. When I heard the news, though it sounds like a cliché, I thought of my parents and gurus, and how they would have enjoyed this moment if they were around. They held my hand and made me grow from stage-to-stage (smiles).
Several women who have taken up music as a full-time career have found it difficult to strike a balance, jeopardising their mental health. How important is it to have conversations on mental health?
We women are constantly raised to fit into something, not just in India, but across the globe. The moment a woman learns to love herself, with all her faults, weaknesses, imperfections, and says, “This is me”, it becomes an important point in her life. To me, self-love didn’t come easily.
For about 20 years, I went through a phase without self-belief, self-awareness, and dreams. It took a near-death experience and ill health to snap out of it. To all those women out there, talk about your mental health and learn to put yourself first.
This year has proved to be a period of some wonderful collaborations and music trips for you. If you were to make a list of your top moments this year, what would it be?
I choose my recent trip to Jerusalem for the Oud festival because it’s fresh and extremely special. The land is a volcano of spiritual energy. I had an unbelievable reception from the audience, considering they don’t listen to Carnatic music often. For many, it was their first time. Before the performance, I was a tad anxious, but as I began rendering, it was a beautiful experience. Every time the ragam, thanam, and pallavi reached a crescendo, they broke into applause. There was also a standing ovation at the end of the concert . I also sang a Hebrew song written by Rabbi Nachman.
Having focused on live performances for all these years, have you thought about, ‘what next?’
Yes, that’s how we were raised...back then, there were no other mediums to take art to the audience. Now, I want to bring out snippets of my programmes, thematic presentations, all of my previous works, and present it in platforms like Amazon Prime. I dream of taking the art to young audiences, who are constantly engaged with their gadgets. I want to break the glass ceilings associated with this art, and take the art far and wide.
What can rasikas expect from you this Margazhi utsavam?
Every year, I focus on different themes. This year I am planning an interesting theme, exploring the connection between deities and colours. I will also preside over the Music Academy’s 92nd Annual Conference. I will delve into the connection between the Bajana sampradhayam and Kutcheri music’.
At the beginning of the year, in your role as vice chairman of Sangeeta Nataka Akademi, you had proposed a few plans. How are the initiatives shaping up?
We are pushing the process to implement indigenous music into the curriculum of students in classes one to five across the country. We are also reaching out to farmers, so they can perform music alongside their profession in specific congregations.
Aruna Sairam’s next concert is on December 9 at Sivagami Pethatchi Auditorium. She will be conferred with the title of Sangeetha Kalanidhi at Music Academy on January 1, 2019.