Carnatic keys

Carnatic contemporary: Five genre-bending tracks that are rooted in classical music

Mixing and matching flavours with Carnatic music.

This week I am at the Esplanade concert halls in Singapore for the annual music festival, where several world artistes are presenting their interpretations of Indian music. Many of these acts take Carnatic music as their base, but then mix and match flavours, creating new sounds. Not all of them are easy on the ear, yet each represents a journey using traditional music.

A fair number of these ideas have, at some point or another, made an appearance on Chennai’s concert calendar. Some of those acts faded with time, while others became more polished, turning into a contemporary sound all their own.

Here are five acts or artistes who took the Carnatic idiom and then shaped it using vocabularies from other genres.

Agam – The Dhanashri Thillana


A thillana is a traditional rhythm-intensive composition, widely used in dance. It combines sahitya (or lyric) with percussive syllables and phrases, and is a highly dynamic form.

The Dhanashri thillana, with words by the late Maharajah of Travancore, Swathi Thirunal, and set to tune by Lalgudi Shri Jayaraman, uses lyrics in Hindi, which was a speciality of its highly erudite and aesthetic composer.

The Bangalore-based contemporary Carnatic progressive rock band Agam add a flavour to this, with a moving bass line, highly impressive vocals by lead man Harish Sivaramakrishnan, and a sound that comfortably manages to transcend either genre of presentation and create a third space altogether.

Poorva ‘Santhatham’ – Arunagiri Perumale


The Thiruppugazh is perhaps one of the most seminal sacred texts in all of Tamil history and practice. Composed by Arunagirinathar, a Saivite saint-composer of the 15th century, these hymns in praise of Muruga (or Kartikeya) are familiar to most Tamil speakers. It was the performance of these hymns in concerts and temple festivals that made them immensely popular.

Poorva vivified these verses in a way that was as unique as it was delectable: it used crowdfunding to create a work of art with a symphony orchestra in the US. Poorva normally brings together diverse musicians, most of whom are trained in the Carnatic idiom. These are some of the brightest minds in the Carnatic and South Indian music firmament today.

Brooklyn Raga Massive – Nagumomu Ocean 


Founded by a few young Indian classical music fans in New York, the Brooklyn Raga Massive has risen from strength to strength to become one of the Big Apple’s most popular community movements. It regularly features established musicians and acts, but its great achievement has been to drawn a diverse young audience into listening to Indian classical sound.

In this track, Brooklyn Raga Massive do a contemporary take on the traditional Nagumomu, a composition of saint composer Thyagaraja, with eclectic influences that borrow liberally from other genres, as leadman Arun Ramamurthy plays the composition on the violin.

Jyotsna Srikanth – Sama


Over the past few years, Jyotsna Srikanth, a Carnatic-trained violinist, has been creating a loyal following for her tradition-inspired compositions in the United Kingdom. She has been prolific in her output, and as the key organiser of the London International Arts Festival, has helped find a voice for Carnatic sound in Western Europe.

Here she presents her take on the traditional “Manasa Sancharare”, a deeply reflective composition of the saint-composer Sadashiva Brahmendra set in the lilting Rag Sama.

Bombay Jayashri and Ustad Rashid Khan – Katyayani


The only reason I have included this as the last entry in this list is that it is a one-off collaboration and not an “act” in the strict sense. Both artistes are well-established in their respective genres, and this Coke Studio offering was a refreshing experiment.

The coming together of so many diverse sounds, including the incredible Veena playing of Punya Srinivas marks this out as one of the most interesting ideas based on the Raga Mohanam.

Anil Srinivasan is a well-known pianist and music educators based in Chennai.

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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

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Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

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It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.