A musician par excellence, Balamuralikrishna’s passing leaves a void that cannot be filled.Our columnist ponders on that, his ghambeeramaana kural, and the impact of his music and personality
CHENNAI: We had a ‘radio room’ in Mylapore, which housed a gramophone, and my favourite pastime then was to listen to LP records of film and non-film albums, because one of my periyappas (dad’s elder brother) had helped set-up Saraswathy Stores (the present AVM Audio) — and we kids were privy to the ‘un-mastered jamming sessions’ between musicians. One such record had the song, Palukke Bangaaramaayena. My baby ears heard the lilting tune, the clear diction and by the next day, I had learnt the song by-heart! That was my first memory of Balamuralikrishna’s voice, which continues to ring in my ear even today.
Strong, manly and magnetic, yet kind enough to let a child enter the complex world of Carnatic music, the name Balamuralikrishna (BMK) became more familiar with his Bhadrachala Ramadas, Annamaachaarya and Thygaraja Krithis. His genius lay in his ‘macho’ rendering of swaras and jathis, and his ease of singing opened up the classical music world for me.
If MS Subbalakshmi harked in the divine, BMK was the first singer in my mind who made Carnatic music ‘mass’! The number of albums and jugalbandhis he has performed with Hindustani singers has pushed the boundaries of an otherwise puritan art-form. He sang not just in sabha-halls but also on All India Radio, chamber concerts and wedding receptions, which I found quite radical. It is his version of Nagumomuganaleni which is my bow-ideal!
My aunt told me recently how he was not just a vocalist but a complete musician, and she said it with some sort of bhayabhakthi, which to me felt like a compliment to his multi-talents. Prince Ravi Varma made him ‘go solo’ with singing and playing the violin, viola, ganjira, veena and mridangam all in one concert!
Obviously the ‘lighter’ hello from his musical repertoire came to me through his film songs. I heard Thangaratham Vandhadhu Veedhiyile first and I thought about how his deep voice matched the mild-mannered Muthuraman in Kalaikovil (1964). My dad made me watch Thiruvilaiyaadal (1965) and the song Oru Naal Podhuma (Is one day enough for me to sing?) worked like magic! Did Kannadasan meet BMK before to give him lyrics like Kuzhalendrum yaazhendrum silar kooruvaar yenn kural kaetta pinnaaley avar maaruvaar (My voice is better than any divine musical instrument)? Selecting him to sing playback for the intimidating singer’s character in the film was a stroke of pure brilliance from music-director K V Mahadevan.
Ilayaraja, however, gave him a beautiful romantic, brigha-less song, Chinnakannan Azhaikiraan (Kavikuyil, 1977) and what an appealing rendition it came to be! Forever fresh where the singing compliments the flute, the song set in Rithigowla had BMK render the lines Aval manamkonda ragasiya ragathai paadi with an emotional ease of a lover who understood his girlfriend’s longing for him.
Despite his reputation for arrogance, his kutcheris were always a huge draw because he was a ‘people’s performer’ and didn’t have a ‘holier-than-thou’ approach to his art. He was one of the earliest talents from South India who found patronage abroad and boldly tore away the ‘impeccable god-like’ image of classical singers when he admitted to his holiday indulgences and his penchant for cars.
His personal life was not dictated by society and he commanded much respect for himself and his art. The many honours, awards and titles speak of a celebrated life and the Facebook/Twitter updates speak of the love he enjoyed among the current generation!
The Sunday show on Doordarshan, Swara Raga Sudha, had him ‘talk’ music in a manner which could be understood by a non-classical music aficionado and Mile Sur Mera Tumhara firmly etched his imprint on younger minds. I have never met the man, but my impressions were formed because he was expanding his musical universe in multifarious ways and it all reached my little bubble. He was the first superstar I followed in the classical musical galaxy, and thanks to technology BMK’s ghambeeramaana kural will always be preserved for posterity.
He was one of those singers people loved to ‘watch’ when he sang. To him belonged the varied-styled Swara-Raga-Sudha, an album which became instantly famous! To him also belonged lullabys (Maanasasanchararey) and the many krithis, which sound ‘freshly brewed’ as he sang each syllable in a pronounced manner with clarity in his commanding voice.
Stellar in his interactions, revered by peers and respected by music-lovers, BMK’s contribution to the world of classical music rightfully makes him a superstar in the music galaxy whose songs and compositions will continue to make him shine on.