Bonding with rasikas

Aruna sairam


Carnatic music artiste Aruna Sairam draws huge audience to her concerts today.

The Chennai-based vocalist has, over the last few years, built a fan club which seems to grow and grow..

With a rich repertoire of compositions and a strong base voice, her concerts set the mood among rasikas. She is also popular for rendering Abhangs as well as rare kritis at her concerts.

She has been touring the Europe more frequently nowadays, performing to a wider foreign audience and collaborating with continental artistes. In early August this year, she was decorated with the 'Sangitha Choodamani' award by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai.

In an interview to Revathi R of KutcheriBuzz, Aruna Sairam talks about her communication with the audience in her concerts and her recent experiences.

In your speech, while receiving the 'Sangita Choodamani' award, you mentioned that you interact with the audience, in your concerts. Why do you feel it is necessary to do so?

Aruna sairam

By interaction, I mean interaction through music. Not verbal communication. We all learn the art in the beginning and then come to perform. One should definitely follow the rules and grammar of music. But one must wear other hats also while performing on stage. Generally, while on stage, most of our thoughts are pre-occupied with questions like, whether I am doing it correctly, whether my music is in conformity with the standards. It is like a quality control check. It happens to everyone.

But at one point, I started thinking for myself. 'What did it do to me' and 'what did it do to all of us'. The performance used to be well within all the set grammar and quality, yet very often I was not satisfied with my performance.

I searched for the answer and found that it is the emotional and non-verbal communication with the audience that will give satisfaction to me as well as the audience in a concert. I wanted to find out from the rasikas, how would they like to be 'served' of whatever little I know. It is like food served to you with love and affection.

Do you then change the pattern of your concerts based on the feedback from the audience?

Yes, but not absolutely. Any artiste can feel what the audience thinks collectively and what impact the concert leaves on them after the concert is over. If I introspect, I can feel if they liked my Ragam Tanam Pallavi or the thukkadas or the last item that left an impression on them. Accordingly I can change my concerts.

When you change your concert pattern according to the feedback from rasikas, are you becoming a victim of repeating your popular pieces in all the concerts?

First of all, a concert is to be fulfilling to both the artiste as well as the audience. I cannot destroy myself to satisfy the people listening to me. And no artiste should do it. While I respect the feedback from the listeners, I do not go to satisfy everyone, every time by singing all the requests I receive on stage.

Even at the recent concert at Krishna Gana Sabha, I sang only two song requests, though I received as many as 15 requests. But I sang four completely new kritis on that day. Many rasikas said that they liked those new songs. I was also happy that the new songs got on to stage. I wish to say clearly that I sing not only for the audience, but also for me and for the new identity - 'us' .

I had to ask you the question because, people very often request you to sing the popular Oothukadu thillana in almost all your concerts!

I get that request at every concert! I do sing it in some concerts. But purely by intuition. In some of my concerts Ragam Tanam Pallavi would receive a grand welcome. In some others a heavy-duty kriti, like 'koniyadi', which I sang at Krishna Gana Sabha, which is a scholastic composition heard rarely these days on the concert platform. I would also say that rasikas come in large numbers with the expectation of something new as well as something from the old and popular pieces, because I am not a victim of repeating the kritis. If I become predictable, the concerts will be boring!

Have you been discovering yourself and have begun to reframe the concerts?

In the initial stages I was not (doing it). And I did not know that I was not doing it. But when people close to me in family and friends asked me honest questions, I learnt what I should be doing. I changed my attitude.

You tour the Europe and the U.S. very often. Tell us about the way you perform for that audience. Is there a change in the pattern?

I tour the U.S and the Europe equally. But I am always very happy to be back in Chennai, very honestly.

When it comes to performing in Europe, it is totally for a European audience. We find hardly any Indian in those concerts. But as any form of art is meant to communicate non-verbally, it is not as impossible to perform to a different audience, as one would imagine it to be. I am doing what I am trained to do in all my concerts. In fact the European audience likes Ragam Tanam Pallavi and the Todi Ragam. I do not do anything out of the way in the concerts there. I do regular Carnatic concerts also in Europe, with violin and mridangam ( as accompaniment).

While performing with Dominique Vellard, the medieval singer, it is not at all difficult as his music is medieval Gregorian chants, which is almost similar to Carnatic music. It is the Western classical music of the 12th to 17th century. It is not like the music of the Mozart, Beethoven era with huge orchestra etc., Vellard's is monody (one person sings). Monophonic, spiritual (church music) and based on the medieval ragas. Our music also comes from the same background. We too sing slokas before kritis!

The difference is, their music is of the early centuries and ours is current. There are eras and their art form changes with time.

You mean to say that Carnatic music has survived with change in time?

Not only survived, but it is still vibrant and energetic. You cannot say that our music is static, just because it has not changed with time. Its progress is in the unbroken chain. It is the greatness of our music. Really a phenomenon!

Europeans enjoy our music because of the similarity to their music. How do you communicate with the American audience?

Concerts in the United States are not the same as European concerts. First of all, my concerts in the U. S. have been for the Indian diaspora, so far. It is the same as singing in T. Nagar or in Mylapore in Chennai!

I will shortly be touring the U. S. between September and November this year, where the concerts will be for American audiences. I should consider their cultural and historic background before planning the concerts. It will be very different experience and I will definitely share it with you on my return!

You research and deliver new songs to the audience. Was there any instance that your new pattern or a new kriti went unnoticed by the rasikas?

Yes. Sometimes it happens. For example, a kriti on 63 nayanmars by Ootthukadu Venkatakavi, which went unnoticed when I sang it for the first time in a concert. I went back home, pondered on how to deliver it better and changed the way of the pause in the lyrics, the way of getting silence in at a particular place and the like. It is only after five or six concerts, the piece was noticed well. Now it is a much talked about one.

The mistake is ours - not giving it to the rasikas in the right way; it is not in the composition or raga. If we realise it, we will give a shape to the piece, which will be liked by all.

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