Pursuing 'padams'

Pursuing 'padams'

One of the foremost Carnatic singers in the country, Aruna Sairam is being featured in the Season 3 of Coke Studio. The veteran musician talks to Veejay Sai about contemporary music

Coke Studio has reached a stage where it needs no introduction. To scores of music lovers across the country, the MTV-created phenomenon has gathered more viewership than all of MTV’s programming could offer in the last couple of years. Some of the finest artistes have taken part in the most creative collaborations and given us some fine music in the last two seasons, spanning every possible genre of Indian music.

The current season has yet another wonderful episode featuring the current queen of Carnatic music, Aruna Sairam, in a fantastic collaboration with the Mumbai-based young couple Ram Sampath and Sona Mohapatra. Giving us a quick preview of what conspired backstage, Aruna says, “Ram is an old friend. One fine day he suddenly called me and asked me if I was interested to be a part of the next Coke Studio season.” Golden rule of friendships is you never refuse old friends and Aruna soon flew into her ex-city.

While everyone in the Carnatic circuit, the world around, knows Aruna and her music, very few are aware of her as a seasoned Mumbaikar. “It is always a pleasure to re-visit Mumbai and my old musician friends. I lived there for many years and have fond memories. So, unlike many others who seem to have a problem with the city, I find myself totally comfortable there,” says Aruna.

Mission collaboration

Ram Sampath has grown to be one of the most promising youngsters in the world of music. Popular for scoring tracks in various movies like Peepli Live, Delhi Belly and Fukrey, Ram has proved his worth as one of the most talented music directors to watch out for. His earthy sense of music seemed like the best combination for Aruna’s style of singing. “Ram briefed me about the recording that it had to be a women-centric one. He already worked with Bhanwari Devi, the famous folk singer from Rajasthan, Samantha, a rapper from Mumbai, and Hard Kaur, and now needed something completely new. It was obvious for me to look into my own roots, which is Carnatic music,” says Aruna, speaking about the beginnings of their exciting collaboration.

Aruna waded through her entire collection of songs dedicated to the Goddess. She didn’t take too long before choosing the celebrated Kshetrayya padam Pai yada set to Nadanamakriya Ragam. The 17th century composer narrates the poignant tale of a nayika pining for her lover after being forsaken. “I am aware that I am allowing over 500 years of a certain encapsulated pathos to translate itself in my voice,” says Aruna, about the padam.

Having been a student of the late Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda, who was a repository of padams and javalis, Aruna couldn’t have made a better choice. Over the last few decades, the genres of padam and javali have found fewer takers on the Carnatic concert stage. Once hailed popular among the sub-genres with both classical musician and dancer communities, the highly erotic and provocative content in the lyrics lost patronage from the influential conservative and purist lobby that runs most of the ‘Carnatic scene’, softly ‘sanitising’ it to suit their paranoia. Pretty much on a ventilator, dying a slow death, these genres certainly needed a boost to make their presence felt. Aruna’s choice to reinvent a padam was timely.

Transforming sounds

“Ram made me hear a recording he did of mine almost 15 years ago in his studio. I remember having it sung with no other accompaniment except the tanpura. He said he had treated the same track with elements of fusion and asked if I cared to listen to it. When I heard it, I was blown out of my mind with what he had done. He had completely transformed it into something I had never heard before. I had tears in my eyes! I was touched to know that he not only saved that casual track, but actually went through the whole process of culturing it and working with it. How many people do that? He is a genius,” she adds with much excitement in her voice.

“I’ve always dreamt that these kind of compositions must reach the larger audience. But for it to reach out, someone talented like Ram finds a fantastic way to deliver it across,” she adds. Ram Sampath and his efficient team of musicians took extra efforts to do justice to the recording as almost no one else in the team were much aware of the finer nuances that Carnatic music demanded.

While the very choice and selection for recording is undoubtedly a superb one, the involvement of other artistes gave it a wholesome feel. “I landed in Mumbai a week ahead of the recording and each of us gave one full week to work on it. When I landed up at Coke Studio, we all came from completely different genres of music, but when we recorded, it felt like we all knew exactly where each of us was coming from and what we could put together. The orchestra had already been working for over 10 days to get into the skin of the song. From our regular adjustment to understanding each other’s technical expertise, to giving each other that much-needed space, we all knew how to work it out perfect,” she adds. The final product stands a testimony to their hard work.

Aruna and Ram also reworked the famous Mahishasura Mardhini Stotram. The current season of Coke Studio will feature both these recordings. If not as an effort to bring back Kshetrayya into the popular performance space, it would certainly help non-Carnatic audiences to hear something undoubtedly blissful.

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