Kanjirais a little South Indian frame drum but it can pack a punch of complex rhythmic patterns with lightning speed when the dexterous fingers of Bangalore Amrit N. touch its surface. In a heart to heart chat, Kanjira maestro, Bangalore Amrit, talks to Shamali Gupta about the rhythm that governs every aspect of his life and philosophy.
Rhythmic patterns and Amrit - how did it all start off? A peep into the past...
My father Vidwan Shri Basavanagudi G. Nataraj was a very accomplished and popular Violin artist. As my mother Smt. N.Lakshmi was working in a bank, I used to spend a lot of time with my father right from my toddler years. So, I was always in the midst of music and musicians. In those days (35 to 40 years back) when there was very little television and just All India Radio, concerts and classes were my favorite pass time and passion. I naturally picked up interest in Mridangam and started observing the percussion artistes keenly. I got hold of a big cylindrical box and started playing Mridangam on the box when my father used to conduct classes. My father quickly realised my inclination to rhythm. So he put me under the tutelage of my first guru Vidwan Sri M.Vasudeva Raoji when I was 5 years old. I later continued my Mridangam training from Vidwan Sri A.V.AnandJi. Later I had the fortune of learning Khanjira from “Khanjira Legend" Vidwan Sri G. HarishankarJi. I played my first concert when I was 7. So I have been on stage for almost over three decades now. This is how my journey of Rhythmic patterns started off.
Being the son of Violin Vidwan Shri Basavanagudi G. Nataraj must have been a huge responsibility and stress. How did you deal with it as a child?
Of course it was stressful initially. The expectations were high as I was the son of an accomplished artist. So I had to carry that on my shoulders. I could not understand this at first but very soon I figured that out. My father was a hard task master. He would not let me aimlessly wander around. I was made to practice for hours together from my early days. No exemption whatsoever. The practice hours would double up on holidays. After a certain point I was totally into music. My world revolved around melodic and rhythmic patterns. Then onwards, the pressure on me was only to perform better and out-do myself.
There is a NORTH -SOUTH divide there is also a saying that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. What is your take on this ?
Rhythm and music are universal. Around the world Rhythm and Music are alike. The seven notes & numbers do not change.The change is in the dialect, in the presentation and interpretation. For me.... it is similar to the path of all religions leading to one eternal goal. Rhythm and Music leads to Divinity. Every artiste is travelling towards that eternal goal in their own path and method.Comparison of genres is not acceptable. There are many similarities and there are many differences. That is what makes each of these genres unique. Just because some genre is more popular than the other does not signify that it is better. Art and tradition cannot be measured on the scale of only popularity and following.
Sadly there are divides created by a few people, artists and organizers, who may have done it with the intention of dominating and gaining some kind of supremacy (musically and even commercially) over other genres. Unfortunately some of them are even successful in creating this divide by brainwashing the audience who are ignorant about the other genres and the intentions of people creating this divide. People need to understand that all art forms are equal and divine. People need to understand that all music has the therapeutic power that can cast a hypnotic spell and bring about peace and harmony in the world. Ultimately, I am an Indian Classical Artiste who respects all artistes & genres of Rhythm around Music around the world and proud to call myself a musician.
Two personal experiences in the International music scene which are memorable and which you would like to share?
Two very memorable experiences are My Clinic on ‘MODERN KHANJIRA ART’ & ‘Khanjira Solo’ performance in the PERCUSSIVE ARTS SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION - PASIC 2007 in Columbus ,Ohio, USA. My performance as a ‘Solo Artist’ in a Special Percussion concert at the SACRED MUSIC FESTIVAL 2016 in JERUSALEM led by Maestro Zohar Fresco (Israel) featuring other Maestros like Andrea Picconi (Italy), AbbosKosimov (Uzbekisthan) &Aleix Tobias (Spain) gave me immense International exposure and a sense of satisfaction and self awareness.
Which is your favourite concert venue and why?
There are many venues I love performing at. One of my favourite would be Sadler's Wells in London, where I performed in a special percussion trio concert for the DARBAR Festival. The wonderful ambience, acoustics and reciprocative audience gave a really good feel and was very comfortable for me to perform without much strain.
How do you foresee the Classical music scenario 10 years from today?
Honestly speaking ... Classical Music has a bright future in sense of market growth. There are some very good artists coming to the limelight. but I think due to some other pressures... the growth of art will stop after a certain point. Only a few artistes will pursue the art for art sake. We can’t expect to see the growth of art in the way we had seen before or even what we are seeing even now.
The influence of television is so huge that we were forced to accept that as a part of our life long back. Added to this, now the invasion of Social media into our life is making things even worse. I am not against to modern technology or social media. There are benefits too. It gives us a platform to virtually connect with people around the world. It gives an opportunity to showcase our art forms on these platforms. But we should know how to and how much to use it. There should be a proportion. Otherwise it will take over our lives and& we will be enslaved by the digital platform.
'Saadhana' is a very important and integral part for any artiste's growth. It helps us to understand the art and self. Without Saadhana an artiste is not complete. There is no end to knowledge and refinement. We understand this time & again when we immerse ourselves in 'Saadhana'. Sometimes it is hours we put in, sometimes it is the qualitative content, its analysis and understanding in depth... makes us a better artiste. But with all these distractions and pressures of modern world... Saadhana may not be in the top of the list.
Those of you who have been around from the 1960's through the 1990's will remember the vibrant live music scene in almost every starred hotel in India. Those were the days when you walked into a nightclub like 'Rendezvous' at The Taj Mahal hotel and 'Supper Club' at the Oberoi Sheraton in Mumbai to see curtains going up on a band that was the prime focus of these outlets. Every seat in these restaurants allowed an unobstructed view of the band that performed every night on resident contracts. Today all this has disappeared thanks to some ridiculously high entertainment taxes on live music. Today, non off these hotels have complete bands playing save for a few that feature small duos or solo singers. The Lodhi in New Delhi, recently listed among the world's best hotels, decided to step in and rewind to the good old days. They got Goa's premier jazz quartet 'Jazz Junction' to move to Delhi on a resident contract and the decision has paid off in terms of footfalls generated by the band. Jazz Junction featuring singer Daniella Rodrigues, pianist Tony Dias,
bassist Colin D'Cruz and drummer Angelo Colasco began playing at The Lodhi in June 2018. Four months into the contract the band generated a sizeable following, with quite a few high profile guests choosing to celebrate their special occasion at the Elan bar where the band performs. Against all odds the rewind option proved to be a huge success and hopefully other properties around the country takes the cue to trigger a whole new revival of live music.