The auspicious Tamil month of Marghazhi, that time of milder suns, gentle breezes, warm food and glorious music, is still a while away. However, music knows neither boundaries nor months — or at least that is what some musicians have set out to prove.
Under the banner of Green Room, an artiste management company based out of Bengaluru, several well-known artistes have come together to give traditional Carnatic ragas a deliciously modern twist. Branded ‘Marghazhi Reloaded’, the title is clearly a pun on the famous music festival held in Chennai every December.
Several prominent artistes including singer-musician Mahesh Raghvan, violinist Shravan Shridhar, Carnatic singer Sharanya Srinivas, veena player Rajhesh Vaidhya and others are part of the endeavour. A series of YouTube videos have been released to much appreciation and excitement, each featuring a different artiste tweaking, romancing and expertly playing with a much-loved and well-known raga. For instance, the first video features Raga Pantuvarali.
For those who know this raga, the composition is a revelation — it manages to strike the perfect balance between the raga’s intrinsic pathos and a post-modern sense of impending adventure. Listen to it and you will wonder if you should lean back and absorb its poignancy or strap your boots to conquer the world.
The second episode is a stirring Thillana in Raga Dwijavanthi sung by Sharanya Srinivas and features Mahesh himself along with Shravan Shridhar on the violin and Akshay Anantapadmanabhan on the mridangam.
Explaining the concept behind the series, Mahesh Raghavan says the idea was to produce original fusion that can help spread Carnatic music’s wings everywhere. “We were pleasantly surprised by the reception it got. In fact, our first episode was shared by Dream Theatre’s keyboardist Jordan Rudess and subsequently a lot of Progressive Metal fans ended up liking and sharing the composition,” he narrates. When asked how the artistes deal with traditionalists who might well protest at their ostensibly brazen attempt to tweak ragas, Mahesh says he is confident their work will speak for itself. “Carnatic music is extremely versatile and can fit anywhere."
Violinist Shravan Shridhar, who is also part of the artistes’ ensemble, says as creative personalities, all those who came together on this platform were looking for just two things — versatile musicianship and the willingness to experiment. Regarding criticism by purists, he says anything new and explorative is bound to have its share of naysayers. “It is understandable; most ‘Carnatic music’ ears are attuned to conventional sounds and rhythms and any deviance in form will cause a flutter. That said, it is all music and that is all that matters.” Shridhar believes in today’s musical world, genre crossovers have become commonplace as everyone derives inspiration from different styles. Some stand out like Sid Sriram with his Carnatic-infused RnB or Agam with their progressive Carnatic Rock.
The idea for the series was originally suggested by Lakshmi Balasubramanian, founder of Green Room, but as Shridhar says, the creative brain behind the form and structure of the pieces selected is often Mahesh’s. “The experimentation is very organic — while Mahesh does come up with the basic structure and melody of the selected raga, sometimes we hear a synth here, a sound there and we just throw that in and see how it sounds,” he says, explaining the creative process behind the videos.
The finale is an enriching listen with its touch of Thavil and Nadaswaram in the raga of spring – Vasantha. A fitting raga to end a series that celebrates (with a twist, of course) a music festival famously held in winter.