The Malladi magic

The Malladi magic

They are brothers, not by accident of birth alone. They are brothers in music too. Perfectly synchronised in thought and expression, these disciples of Sripada Pinakapani and Nedunuri Krishnamurthy occupy a unique space in the field of Carnatic music.

Their rich voices blend seamlessly in concerts that are totally devoid of gimmickry and artifice. If you did not see the two musicians seated on the dias, you would have heard only one voice exploring a music that was divine.

That is because of their single minded conviction that the music they sing originated in the Vedas — Veda parampara, as they describe it. It is a music of the gods, for the gods and by the gods. They are mere interpreters of that divinity. Their art is totally devoid of stagecraft and sensationalism.

They sing, not to impress, but to express the joy and ecstasy felt by the great saint composers like Thyagaraja, Bhadrachala Ramadasa or Annammacharya who knew the joys and pains of music creation. Intha Soukyamani ne jappa jala…? could be the best description of Malladi Sreeramkumar and Malladi Ravikumar’s art.

Music in their genes

Tutored by their father, Suri Babu, and grandfather, Sreeramamurthy, the Malladi brothers are the inheritors of a musical tradition to whom music came “naturally” with no compulsion or pressure.

“Do they ever feel threatened by each other? Is there a competition to excel?” The answer is an emphatic NO.

“We complement each other’s music rather than compete.” As for that perfect co-ordination for which their kutcheris are well known, that also comes spontaneously since they sang with their parents from childhood.

After their debut at age 17 in Kakinada, they descended on the Madras music season in 1993 to give a different kind of musical experience for erudite audiences. These audiences were used until then to the splash and glamour of great vidwans who brought the house down with their glittering performances.

Vidwans who had entrenched themselves securely in the music world with no one to question or challenge their art. For the first time, here were two young and unaffected singers who stole their listeners’ hearts with a presentation that was stately, straightforward and very, very traditional. It was music that was undemanding.

It touched the hearts of laymen and connoisseurs by reviving the agony and ecstasy felt by the savants who composed them. It was a music where it did not matter if you did not know the subtleties of grammar and rules. As long as it moved you by its fervour, intensity and bhakti.

Respecting traditions

Maybe, that is why the Malladi brothers like to sing for audiences who come with no preconceived notions of the hows and whys of a performance. Their experience in Europe said it all when a member of the audience, who did not understand even the language of the music, was moved to tears.

I could well believe that when the brothers obliged by singing the same piece in Raga Yadhukulakaamboji during this interview. We were seated in a quiet office room of the Ajanta Hotel, surrounded by papers, books and files.

They had no accompaniments. Not a thampura. Not even a sruthi app. Yet, they sang — softly and slowly, with unmatched melody, a music that dispersed the files and books and papers and left us savouring the happiness of an aging monarch in his palace in far off Ayodhya as he beckons his young son to come to him.

“……Dasharathadu Shri Rama ra ra ani piluvamunu
Tapam emi jesino, teliya……..”

Listening to that beautiful rendering of Thyagaraja’s krithi, I understood the secret of the Malladis’ art. It is a spiritual journey. Unpretentious and unabashed in its devotion and passion. Which is another reason why they do not believe in “innovation” or “experimentation”.

The sacred krithis of the great masters are not to be tampered with. They hold the copyright for those timeless creations. “Who are we to improvise or improve them?” They also feel that the contribution from ancient Vedic texts need no new direction, no new format.

“Do not tamper or change the format of set music,” is their advice to fellow artistes. Sriramprasad adds: “If you wish, create your own music and leave it to the public to judge!”

At the same time, they are not rigid in their attitude to fusing different schools of music. As long as it is Indian music, like bringing together Hindustani and Carnatic genres in a jugalbandhi, such fusion is rewarding. No wonder, the Malladi brothers win hearts wherever they go.

Their music may have travelled across the world, but their inspiration is firmly rooted in their own land, in their own culture, in their own language. They are the true ambassadors of Carnatic music and its legendary history.

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