‘Fusion music needs cultural sensitivity’

US- based Vinod Krishnan shot to fame with his carnatic rendition of Ed Sheeran’s 2017 hit ‘Shape of You’.

Vinod Krishnan is part of educational startup Indian Raga.

You might have seen him in the wildly popular carnatic version of ‘Shape of you’ that went viral in 2017. US-based Vinod Krishnan is multi-faceted: a trained singer specializing in Carnatic music, Trinity College-certified pianist, stage performer since the age of 11, senior fellow at educational startup IndianRaga — the list of achievements is long and impressive.

Gearing up to perform for Indian Raga’s first-ever concert in London, Vinod spoke to Rajitha Menon about his unique brand of music and more.

The idea behind the conceptualisation of Indian Raga?

IndianRaga was founded by Sriram Emani, an IIT and MIT graduate who envisioned it to be a platform for artistes across the globe to collaborate to showcase their talent. The emphasis is on innovative content focused on Indian classical music and dance, that appeals to a larger audience with varying tastes. 

How did you get into music yourself?

My mother’s side has a lot of musical genes, and my parents and my maternal grandmother have been the driving force behind my musical journey. I was enrolled into classes at a very young age but began enjoying them as time went by.

My school Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan (in Laxmipura Village, off Bannerghatta Main Road) was also focused on grooming extra-curricular talent. So this combination of home and school environments made it conducive for me to learn and practice Carnatic and western classical piano.

How do you ensure that the authenticity of Carnatic music is not lost when you fuse it with other genres? 

When you fuse two entities, their individuality is no more, but their flavours still remain. In the strictest definition, only a classical concert arrangement would be authentic then. The point of fusing is to explore new tastes.

I ensure the essence of Carnatic music is there throughout the song, as the driving force.

What is the process you follow for creating music?

In any composition, there’s a melody and the supporting music or arrangement. This is where we begin to experiment with different genres. There’s no formula; it’s a vague, flexible and sometimes chaotic process. Sometimes, musicians are consciously or unconsciously conditioned to compose in a certain way, and they pick genres accordingly. The genres have to match; the lyrics, emotion, modulation and the overall sound have to make sense and still sound interesting to listeners.

Your inspiration?

A lot of ideas come by listening to different types of music. Someday, an idea or a literary work may spark a certain emotion you want to explore deeper.

What are the main challenges of different genres of music?

With the classical genres, the biggest challenge is in keeping it respectful. You can’t mash up a classical composition with, say, a film song with discordant lyrics, just because they are of the same raga — there has to be cultural sensitivity.

With folk music or film music, it’s about pronunciation and the singing style or voice modulation. With pop, you have to take note of the attitude in your voice while in western classical, you have to be careful about the coordination and pitch. In fact, all these challenges exist for all genres but to varying degrees.

A strict no-no when it comes to fusion music?

Playing drums and guitar for any Carnatic song, or singing just the note/swara equivalent to an English song. I have seen many attempts where they tend to overdo these aspects and spoil good compositions. 

Some Carnatic songs that have been mishandled in the past are Vatapi Ganapathim, Maha Ganapathim, Nagumomu. I’ve felt a lot of disharmony listening to some fusion renditions of these songs. People should learn from good, successful experiments. Carnatic rock band Agam is a very good reference. You’ll see they are very intentional about every note, every sound they make.

For Hindustani and North Indian folk, there’s Maati Bani and Ram Sampth and Sona Mohapatra. Then there are individual gems - ‘Seetha Kalyana Vaibogame’ by Saindhavi, ‘Maathey’ by Niranjana Ramanan and ‘Boondan Boondan’ by Nirali Karthik and Ankita Joshi. 

Future projects?

Quite a few. Some important ones are a contemporary take on one of Subramania Bharathi’s poem and an independent single that I composed and sang. 

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‘Fusion music needs cultural sensitivity’

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