“Carnatic Fest and Feast..."

The Mega Margazhi Season is back with a bang; yes. After two years of hiatus, entertaining the music aficionados with virtual concerts, the Season has now returned to the live concerts with ah, yes the culinary specialties also in the venues by popular chefs and their exclusive mouthwatering menus.

I have been watching this almost for nearly two decades and more and just wondering objectively anything has changed. Yes. Certain changes have happened and certain other things remain the same. Those who were very popular, popular and up and coming have moved on to different levels. Some senior musicians have either disappeared or come to receive titles or awards.

According to an article there are nearly one hundred organizations conducting about three thousand and odd concerts and roughly 2000 artistes perform at different levels in different locations. Though Mylapore and Thyagaya Nagar are the major hubs, there are other locations too which manage to conduct not less than one week or ten days of Carnatic music concerts, Bharatnatyam and also some lec-dems and panel discussions.

The major attraction apart from music are the canteens at the venues. Popular to very popular catering personalities entertain the rasikas with their time tested to exotic varieties of dishes. Though expensive, the rasikas whether they enjoy the concert or not are bound to relish the special menus of the caterers.

Once upon a time, when I was young and to the best of my knowledge at that time there were only three organizations conducting the music concerts and dance programs in December every year. They were The Music Academy, The Indian Fine Arts Society and Tamil Isai Sangam. But, in twenty years, there appeared many sabhas and outfits which conduct music programs for a week to a month long affairs.

Well, how and where from, all of a sudden so many patrons have emerged?

The major contributors are the NRIs in different countries mainly from the USA. Those who have settled there permanently suddenly felt their connectivity to their motherland and the arts and culture of this country especially South India that too Chennai. Naturally, the concert attendance bug has bitten the south Indians who live in other states also in addition to those who take this opportunity to visit Chennai, enjoy its cool climate, concerts and exotic culinary skills of the famous marriage caterers.

From my personal experience, I see the venues are not meant for the Chennai audience; the halls are mostly filled by the NRIs and NRC (Non Residents of Chennai) during the December Music Mela.

What about the artists? Oh, today we have several very popular, popular, emerging and promising youngsters in plenty. Are they really talented and competent enough to give a traditional and memorable concert for two to two and half hours. Well, the answer is yes and no. But, the aspirants and performers are plenty. Therefore, almost all the organizers have many slots starting from morning to night providing a stage for performers depending on their popularity or talent.

Margazhi Season and the musicians have become so popular that even newspapers and magazines which never bothered to give coverage for these concerts earlier have now included four to six pages to review or carry interviews of the musicians and dancers. It is, indeed, a big metamorphosis in a state which depends on movies and filmstars alone as their selling propositions.

There are certain bitter truths also to be accepted. All the organizers have to mobilize funds for conducting this mega fest and there are philanthropists also to promote the classical arts of the south. There are tickets for main programs in many sabhas for popular and acclaimed performers though the other slots are just free for all.

The crowd coming for the concerts at many venues are mostly mixed. Youngsters are not the majority; only middle and old age people are the loyal patrons. At times I have wondered about seeing even disabled or too old men and women also attend these concerts with an escort. So was the love for classical music.

Tamil songs are now included in their repertoire of all singers after one popular performer started promoting Tamil songs and picking from the ancient literature. So in addition to Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, we not only have Papanasam Sivan, Gopalakrishana Bharati, Suddhanantha Bharati, Azhwars, Nayanmars, Arunagirinathar who were already well known but also from Sanga Thamizh and Tamil literature.

What about reviews for these concerts?
I find most of them are patronizing only. Gone are the times of Subbudu or SVK who used to be very caustic about even popular performers. Most of the reviews I read today are only patronizing and promoting. None is obviously pulled down. It is also true that there are not many patrons for the morning or siesta time performers unless they are very good. Nevertheless, the aspirants and performers keep growing. While some show promise and many require either more effort or promotion. While someone who became popular overnight because of film songs, the same cannot be extended to all.

I noticed in recent times that it is ‘loudness’; it is undoubtedly favored by the majority. I am not sure whether they boost their energy or give them a sort of thrill. Sobriety is not much favored. Instrumentalists most of the time go for such exotic or acrobatic trips with the ear blasting percussion backing. In such instances, one cannot but wonder what prompts them to go for such extravaganza. They forget the fact that the music they perform is given by those who were driven mainly by extraordinary piety to sing those verses and the ragas.

Well, when something becomes a show, the rules of a show to attract more audience automatically have to be followed.

Once I happened to listen to a young performer who was singing almost to the empty hall. He wasn’t bad. But, there were no takers. I crossed him when he was leaving the auditorium and asked him ‘You sang well. But, there were no rasikas. Are you not discouraged?’ Indeed, a blunt question.

That youngster smiled and replied.

‘No. I am not. I will continue to sing. Because music is my passion.’

Exquisite Dots and Lines...