Strings attached

Carnatic guitarist

Strings attached

A storm of notes rain a blanket of melodies as he picks up the guitar to play a song in ‘Shan Mukha Priya’. Hailing from a musically inclined family, Carnatic guitarist Shrinidhi Hemmige was no stranger to notes like ‘Sa’ and ‘Pa’ and sharps and flats. As a child, he was given notes to play with and his earliest inclination in music started as a boy, when he learnt to play the veena.

Now, he is strumming to a different chord by attempting to reproduce Carnatic songs on the guitar and help the genre attain a different cult status. With cut-apart virtuosos like U Srinivas on the mandolin and Kadri on the saxophone, Shrinidhi’s poetic play and flamboyant craftsmanship on a Western instrument are like a breath of fresh air to an age-oldtradition.

Like most children, he too was inclined to the guitar in college and wanted to learn the instrument after listening to ‘Eagles’’ ‘Hotel California’. He learnt the structure of Western music and a few basic chords and began strumming away to songs by popular bands like
‘Metallica’. 

However, with roots entrenched in Carnatic  music, he always had an ear for the mandolin and heart for Carnatic ‘varnams’ and ‘krithis’. It was after playing the song ‘Raghupathi Raghava’ for tournament that he tuned his guitar to the Carnatic style and realised that it sounded close to the mandolin in terms of slides.

He later moved to the United States of America and continued to practise music and attend concerts. It was a concert by experts Mysore Nagaraj and Manjunath in USA that inspired him to pick up the guitar, play Carnatic music and persevere further.

He says, “It wasn’t difficult in the beginning as the veena is also tuned to the Carnatic style and I was familiar with both instruments. There are a few Carnatic guitarists in the scene currently and I hope the quality and number only grow further. The guitar is a very versatile instrument and one can play it in a number of ways. It has an extra octave and the style is always new and modern, despite keeping the essence of the ‘raga’ intact. One can also play a song at fast speed on the guitar.”

Though the Indian format emphasises more on rhythms and melody unlike the Western system which includes harmonies; having dabbled with both systems of music, he says that the duo have more common grounds than one can imagine; such as the basic seven notes.

He has many memorable concerts in America, such as playing with the Grammy award winner, Poovalur Sriji and enthralling the audience at an auditorium in Ohio.

“The audience show tremendous respect for Carnatic music there. They look at it as a form of soul-stirring, exotic melodies and it doesn’t fail to move them. Since every ‘raga’ capitalises on emotion and devotion; the general reactions after a concert is how each song softened and healed them, which is what music is supposed to do. They respect this form of music a lot.”

He stresses on the importance of a teacher to help channelise the creative improvisations that lie within a student and is currently learning from his mother Sukanya Narayan, a Carnatic vocalist and teacher.

Though the style is new here, Shrinidhi says that it is heart-warming to see how the change is being accepted.    “An age-old tradition has always been evolving as it is based on improvisation. It was a big breakthrough when Srinivas picked up the mandolin and played Carnatic ‘ragas’. Though violin is primarily a Western instrument, it has now entered the mainstream circles in the Indian classical circuit. It was also a change when Kadri picked up the saxophone and there are many more following that tradition now. Veena, an acoustic instrument, is now also an electric instrument and the sound is much more enhanced.”

Apart from a different sense of aesthetic appeal such flavours in music bring about, they also emphasise on the message that music is universal and help shrink the world, taking the audience through an emotionally-ridden journey and adding to the largesse of sound.







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