Although classical music is considered for the purists, Shankar Mahadevan blends the classical technique into his compositions so skilfully that even a common man rejoices over his songs. Even without knowing where it is coming from, the listeners are perpetually mesmerised. He manages to break the stigmas between the two worlds of classical music and Bollywood rather seamlessly!

The man who took the advertising industry by storm with the Cadbury jingle ‘Kuch khaas hai zindagi main’…one of the greatest musicians in this era, singer-composer, Shankar Mahadevan talks on the art of composing music, audience perceptions and clearing myths about classical music, at the MTV India Music Summit- One true Note, that was held in Jaipur.

MTV India Music summit was indeed a rare sight to witness when one maestro exemplifies the other. Prasoon Joshi introduced Shankar by saying, “having jammed with global musicians cross genres like jazz, blues, western classical, Shankar has been intermingling his very own style. When he performs his music is there at that moment and is there to stay…as he effortlessly creates an aura that enthralls his listeners to experience an absolute bliss…his every rendition exemplifying the very ‘Shankarness’ in it !”

Despite the fact, that he is an engineer by qualification and is thoroughly trained in both the Carnatic and Hindustan classical music styles, Shankar has no airs about him. He is simply sincere to every note he sings, is a true ‘Sadhak’, who worships his art and believes in the accuracy to render ‘Ek sacha sur’, and that truly resonated with the mission statement of the summit. Here are some excerpts from his talk with Prasson Joshi.

Tell us about your journey in music, and how did you become a musician in spite of being a qualified engineer?

 “I belong to a middle class south Indian family and as part of the south Indian culture, music prevails in every home and every child is put to learn either Carnatic music or Bharatnatyam or any form of art. So, it was obvious for me to get trained in Carnatic music. Once, I got hold of a harmonium at a relatives place and started playing the song ‘chal chal chal mere hathi’ so my parents heard it and found my inclination towards music. I was too small when we came to Mumbai, and learnt playing veena. Although, by the time it came to doing my graduation and choosing my vocation, I was asked to do engineering and I did it. Till then I did not have in mind that I wanted to be a musician, since life was moving at a great pace. Although somewhere I was fascinated with people, who used to record in the studios. When I was in colleague or school we did not have reality show platforms and for us it was very smoky kind of a career opportunity for music. I was a dedicated musician but did not have a focal point then,” said Shankar.

What kind of music and songs inspired you at that point of time in your early days that you loved to sing?

“Since my early age, I was inspired by classical musicians like Shrinivas Iyer, M.S.Subhalaxmi, Mehndi Hassan Saheb, Pt.Jasraj, Lataji, Mohammed Rafi Saheb, Kishore Da.Songs like,  ‘Abi na jao chor kar’, kept me wondering how they make such compositions and how to write music like this, and always inspired me as a musician.”

Enthralling the audience with his melodious voice, Shankar sang the melody.

So how important is the training in classical music for becoming a singer?

“For all those children who have come here, I would like to say that India is the only country which has two kinds of traditional music Hindustani and Carnatic classical, and we must be proud of it. As parents we must teach our children music. We cannot divide notes, as there are only 12 notes, whichever style- be it Hindustani or Carnatic classical, western or jazz- we have to take care of the notes, the style of singing, and the culture of the form that needs to be followed. For example ‘Kalyani’ in carnatic music is called raga ‘Yaman’ in Hindustani music, there are certain aspects like the syllables, voice modulation and style of producing the sound, that differ in both the styles, but what matters is how soulfully the notes are rendered!”

Is carnatic music more mathematical and has less feel while the Khyal in Hindustani music is more aesthetic and has more emotional appeal? Is it true or it’s a misconception?

“It is a misconception, because I feel that any artform that has no feeling cannot survive and thus carnatic music certainly has a lot of depth and feel in it and would have died by now without it. Although carnatic music is highly theoretical and has a very elaborate form in terms of tala and ragas, but in some extent I feel carnatic musicians just need to put more soul to it. I have come across a few performers who give more emphasis to the technicality of the form but do not focus on the aspects of presentation such as, maintaining a ‘sur’ with a tanpura. Hindustani classical musicians are very particular about maintaining the tonal atmosphere of the concert with a harmonium or a tanpura, and that adds to the feel or ‘bhava’ of the rendition.” Shanker demonstrated the difference  of both the styles by singing raga ‘kalyan’ known as ‘kalyani’ in carnatic music which have their distinctive tonal qualities and stylilisation.

You tend to blend classical music in your renditions, is it delebrate or it is instinctive?

“Primarily I am a classical musician, but when I do music for hard core commercial cinema, I also feel that its our duty to educate people with our music, so I try to incorporate it in my music in a subtle way. Most people do not know that songs like ‘Mitwa’ is based on raga ‘Khamaj’ that also has a Sargama ‘ga ma pa ni ni sa’ that most youngsters sing with ease. Similarly the song ‘O Rangrez’ is based on Raga ‘Kedar’ where we have a beautiful guitar piece, to begin with and then the melody starts. So, the point is to present classical nuances in the right way, so that it doesn’t sound heavy to them, and yes they love it. A right palette and  the right medium is important, so that it does not become an overdose for the listeners. The masses are not fools. They have great sensibilities for melody and good music.”

The conversation brought interesting insights as Shankar Mahadevan broke down the myths about audiences, that they don’t like classical music, as he stressed on to present our traditional music in an interesting way, so that the audiences relish it. The talk carried a great message indeed for all the Indian music composers and music makers of the Indian music industry to keep the traditional music alive!

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