MANI MEETS MANI IN AN INTERESTING MUSICAL JOURNEY
`Musicians must enrich audience taste'
That calls for some sacrifices no cell phones or concerts for at least 15 days Kaaraikkudi Mani
They are the `manis' (pearls) of the percussion world Guru Karaikkudi R. Mani and Sivamani. One is a classically trained legend; the other is a self-taught wizard. The former is the maestro of mridangam, the latter an electrifying drummer, who can make even random beats on a vessel sound tuneful. The senior swears by time-tested laya patterns, the deferential junior is driven by intuitive rhythmic calculations. While the veteran's characteristic long beard suits his traditional image to a T, the modern instrumentalist's permanently tonsured look is trendy. Contrasts apart, the Take Two sounds like a perfect fusion piece as the percussionists have something in common too. Both are globetrotters, involved in musical exchanges with renowned Western composers. With a style of their own, the duo believe in 24x7 creativity. And more than all these, they strongly relate to the beats of bhakti. So much so, Sivamani enters Kaaraikkudi Mani's modest house with a loud `Guruve Namaha' and refuses to sit on a chair next to him. But when the artistes begin playing the mridangam and the unique navaakshara (gifted to Sivamani by a well-wisher in Switzerland), they are on the same plane. Music is a great leveller indeed! Chitra Swaminathan records.
Karaikkudi Mani: I have known you for 20 years now. You have come a long way from your film orchestra days.
Sivamani: I don't know how the odds turned even. Some Supreme power has been at work. Otherwise mere passion cannot put you on the world stage. I had no training in either academics or art. Circumstances at home didn't help either. Quite early in life, I had started contributing to the family kitty. Later when I could afford it, I was wary of going to a guru because I thought it was too late to learn mathematics and musical calculations. I still remember when I first visited the Berkeley College, I became so emotional that I bowed at the entrance.
KM: So your inborn gyanam and spiritual dhyanam guided you through your musical journey.
Siva: Absolutely. Even today, when I go up on the stage, I just play what comes to mind. There is no pattern or technique in my performance. (His eyes and action reflect the intensity)
KM: But why did you switch base to Mumbai, when music-lovers generally prefer being in Chennai?
Sivamani: The kind of shows and bands where I could fit in was happening only in Bombay and Delhi then. Besides, it was also easier travelling overseas from Bombay instead of carrying my dozen-odd instruments all the way from Madras. In fact, I was planning to settle down in New York, but returned to my musical roots. Thank God, the going has been good so far, but one of my most cherished dreams of working with you on an album still remains unfulfilled.
KM: I know your phone calls to greet me on festive occasions are more a reminder about it. (Sivamani smiles mischievously) But for that album to happen you have to make some sacrifices - no cell phones and concerts for at least 15 days. You shall be in my gurukulam to understand the intricacies of Carnatic music. Just another album is not my aim; we should come up with something that will be one of its kind for posterity.
Sivamani: I don't mind making those sacrifices.
KM: I have watched you perform and heard Indian and Western musicians talk highly about your inventiveness. Now you need to delve deeper into the ocean of music. I don't want Sivamani to be content with a cache of fish, but go for pearls. Knowing you, when I say swim, the next moment you will dive.
Sivamani: Having made it against several odds, I know the mantra of achieving musical moksha - practice, practice and more practice. Finally, I hope to own a percussion theatre. Tracing your achievement, how did you manage to carve a niche for yourself with so many legends around?
Spiritual bend of mind
KM: It was tough to stand out in a crowd of tall men (not because I am short, he smiles). Thanks to my spiritual bent of mind, I never craved for too much. After courting success as an accompanying artiste and keeping the rasikas glued to their seats during Tani avartanams, I gradually started withdrawing from the concert circuit. Vidwan Palghat Mani Iyer once remarked, "How can you shun popularity at the age of 30?" A genius mridangist, he managed to play not one but three short and sweet tani avartanams in a cutcheri. You could never see anyone leaving the hall for a snack break at that time. As accompanying artistes you can create your own place.
Sivamani: I think you were one of the first to come up with a music ensemble.
KM: In 1986, I started Sruthi Laya with like-minded percussionists. I think all ensembles should have a mridangam for that complete tonal effect. I wanted to divert my energy and skill to accord to mridangam its due `mariyadai' across the globe.
Sivamani: We also have a mridangist in our band `Silk'.
KM: Musicians need not compromise on the pretext of catering to popular demand. Instead, they should enrich audience taste.
Sivamani: Even when I play with jazz musicians, I begin by playing our folk and classical beats. I still draw inspiration from the compositions of M. S. Viswanathan, K.V. Mahadevan and Illaiyaraja sir. What, according to you, is fusion?
KM: It's not merely playing a few instruments at the same time. Such concerts should be planned diligently. Though fusion music gives you the freedom to explore artistically, one should concentrate on the total impact of the show, rather than displaying individual skills.
Sivamani: What excites me most is when kids walk up to me and say that they have taken to playing the drum. Actually one young girl from Chennai is trying to master the instrument. KM: Except a few, like tabla player Anuradha Pal, there are not many woman percussionists in Indian classical music. In the West too, there are not many professional percussionists, unlike in symphony orchestra.
Sivamani: It must be easy to spot you among jazz musicians as they are always clad in black.
KM: Besides blending musically, we present a perfect picture in black and white.
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