KOZHIKODE: Keyboard artists play a vital role in a band. But not everyone manages to move out of the shadows of the lead performers. Among those rare artists who have done just that is Prakash Ulliyeri (52).
The Kozhikode resident has carved a niche for himself through his exceptional talent in playing harmonium and keyboard. Popular among musicians as the 'man with flying fingers', Prakash also does his bit to serve people in distress.
Over the past two years, when the COVID outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns devastated lives, he stepped in to support the artist community. He played a key role in bringing artists together and ensuring financial support to around 300 struggling artists.
After the 2018 flood, Prakash had organised a music show, 'We Shall Overcome', with the support of MB Rajesh, the current Kerala assembly Speaker, and raised Rs 86 lakh. The amount was contributed to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief fund to support the flood victims. "My vision is to establish a fund to support and groom young and promising artists," says Prakash, who is celebrating the completion of 40 years as a musician.
During the pandemic days, he started a virtual course in harmonium, which has been a huge hit. Hundreds of enthusiasts have joined the programme globally. "My association with different streams of music... Carnatic, Hindustani, ghazal and jugalbandi... has helped develop a unique style. I have students in the USA, Australia and many western countries. I have also developed a syllabus of my own, stressing on practicals. The kind of support I have been receiving from aficionados is satisfying," he says.
Over the past 25 years, Prakash has risen as a professional instrumentalist to associate with acclaimed musicians, including Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Pankaj Udhas, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Kadri Gopalnath, Mandolin Sreenivas, Mattannur Sankarankutty, Purbayaan Chatterjee and Aarti Ankalikar.
His father, Gopala Paniker, was a nadaswaram artist and mother, Madhavi, a folk singer. Noticing Prakash’s interest in music, his father availed a bank loan to gift him a harmonium when he was eight. He grew up to complete the Ganabhooshanam diploma course in music from the Chembai Music College, Palakkad.
"I didn’t have a proper teacher but I consider my father as my guru. I started playing harmonium for bhajans at the Adakassery Shiva temple, and developed my skills by playing for drama troupes," he recalls.
After joining the Nadam orchestra in Palakkad, he played ghazals on harmonium and sent the tapes to Hariharan, leading to a lifelong association with the singer. "I have performed with him at more than 500 venues across the globe," Prakash says.
On Prakash completing 40 years in the field, Hariharan said: "It has always been a pleasure to have Prakash with me." Percussion maestro Mattanur Sankarankutty had this to say: "He breathes music and is an exceptional artist."