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Taking ghatam and kanjira to the West

Sudhish Kamath

The supporting artists are integral part of the ensemble in music The supporting artists are integral part of the ensemble in music

ganesh and subash
Kanjira artist Ganesh and Ghatam exponent Subash Chandran. — Photo:R. Shivaji Rao

CHENNAI: They are responsible for the accompaniments that pep up the kutcheri, though they remain largely unsung.

The supporting artistes, who are an integral part of the ensemble in classical and fusion music. This is about a unique Guru-Sishya duo who tour together, play together and work together to spread awareness of the lesser known Indian musical instruments.

`Ghatam' veteran Subhash Chandran and Ganesh Kumar, a Kanjira artiste, are on a mission: to take the two native instruments around the world. They have been going places, largely in the United States, having set up six schools to spread the magic of South Indian percussion.

"The ghatam, kanjira and konnakkol (vocal percussion) have become an integral part of fusion music because they provide the right kind of bass sound that fuses well with Western instruments like the sax, bass guitar and banjo," Subhash Chandran says. Thanks to such fusion concerts, the West has taken an interest in the lesser-known Indian classical instruments.

"We have over a hundred students at the satellite schools of Sankara Academy of Music and Arts in New Jersey, New York, Washington, Portland, San Francisco and Tampa," says Ganesh. About 15 musicians from the Sankara Academy of Music and Arts had attained the `arangetram' (debut concert) stage till date. "We travel throughout the US for eight to nine months during the year and come back in time for the music festival," says the ghatam exponent. The master of vocal percussion began popularising `kunnakol' thirty years ago, when Doordarshan started broadcasting fusion music concerts as a part of the JG Laya Group. "But it became popular only in the nineties, thanks to fusion music. In fusion music, you get a lot of freedom in expressing what comes to you naturally," says Chandran.

His market-savvy disciple Ganesh lines up concerts with top class fusion musicians from the West to promote their brand of percussion. "We played for the Katrina Relief fundraisers at Seattle organised by the Mata Amritanandamayi Centre, and a jugalbandhi at Tampa, Florida, recently."

Ganesh has also recently participated in the International Convention organised by the Percussive Arts Society at Columbus, Ohio, and launched a synthetic version of the kanjira under the Artists innovation series. He also released a two and a half hour instructional DVD on `The Art of Kanjira' marketing it as the South Indian Tambourine.

Ganesh has also developed a website to promote his style of music:



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