HYDERABAD: Making a living as a Carnatic musician can be challenging, as you don’t earn much until you become a top-ranking musician,” says Vishnudev Namboothiri, a rising Carnatic musician who quit his IT job to follow his musical dreams. A decision he calls ‘liberating’. Born in Kerala, the disciple of several highly regarded gurus received the honourable ‘All India Radio A grade’ in 2011, after which he won the Jaya TV Carnatic Music Idol contest the very next year. “That was probably the first reality show for Carnatic music. I got a lot of exposure from the show,” he says. This prompted him to quit his IT career two years later to become a fulltime Carnatic musician. “I find that being full-time musician gives me more opportunities. I can do week kutcheris as well,” he laughs.
Vishnudev’s music is steeped in tradition, but there is enough room for creativity and innovation. Born and raised in Angamaly, Kerala, the engineer-turned-Carnatic vocalist says his family was always keen on Carnatic music, though there weren’t many venues in his hometown for the art. “I remember my father would take me to kutcheris when I was very small. We would travel to main cities like Ernakulam and Thrissur just for it,” he recalls, talking about how he was influenced by music. “I would also listen to a lot of recordings by famous artists. It’s called kelvi nyanam, the skill of learning from listening.”
He started learning music at the age of nine from his aunt Kavitha Shiboo, and Alli Harivishnu. He later trained under Chandramana Narayanan Namboothiri. It is with the latter that he focused on learning mano dharmam, or creativity-focused learning. “I learned spontaneous and dynamic improvisational singing from him. I trained with him when I was 12 and it instilled a lot of values in me,” he reminisces fondly.
fter settling down in Chennai in 2007, he has since been under the tutelage of Neyveli Santhanagopalan and then S Narayanaswamy, the latter for the past eight years. “Narayanaswamy and never emphasises on following his style — he gives the freedom to each singer to explore their own style,” he shares.
“Narayanaswamy also attends concerts of all his disciples. There is nothing more encouraging than that!” He has toured several venues in the US, the UK, Ireland and in India across major metros.
He also believes it is important to create a brand of oneself. “There’s a lot of competition in the field, unlike old times. There are many talented young singers today,” he admits, saying it’s important to use social media to reach more people. “A chamber concert will be a more intimate setting, where serious Carnatic music patrons will participate. There are fewer restrictions and it’s a great opportunity to explore intense music,” he explains.