Hear the kutcheri buzz

The Margazhi season is in full swing and Uma Kannan gives us a glimpse into the music, the simmering controversies, the tech advances and, of course, the sabha food

It’s that time of the year when rasikas, or music aficionados, eagerly await their favourite singers or dancers’ performances. The December music season, also known as Margazhi, is quite popular not just in Chennai, but also across the globe, as people throng the city, just to attend kutcheris (concerts), enjoy their favourite singers’ kritis, and not to forget, gorge on the (mostly delicious) Sabha food.

Rasikas even hop from one sabha (music institution) to another if their favourite singers are performing on the same day in different venues. A breezy stroll anywhere in Chennai will lead the rasikas to sabhas, as also mini halls, parks and hotels, which host the music festival. While the morning and early evening slots are for the upcoming artistes, evening and late evening slots are reserved for acclaimed singers.

Sabhas such as the Narada Gana Sabha, The Music Academy and the Mylapore Fine Arts Club have already taken various initiatives to make the Margazhi music festival a memorable experience for the rasikas.

The academic sessions have started from December 16 and will go on till the new year at the Music Academy, a landmark institution that has been conducting annual conferences on music since 1929.

Concerts too began from last Sunday and will go on till the new year and the Dance Festival will be held from January 3-9, at the Music Academy. Top dancers such as Alarmel Valli, VP Dhananjayan and troupe, Malavika Sarukkai and Narthaki Nataraj will perform at the festival. Singers such as Ranjani and Gayatri, Sikkil C Gurucharan, Neyveli Santanagoplan, Bombay Jayashri and Sanjay Subrahmanyan will perform at the Academy.

Streaming on YouTube

N Murali, president of the Music Academy, told Sunday Herald that more youngsters are being promoted to the evening (senior) slots.  As it is difficult to stream concerts on YouTube, the Music Academy has plans to stream morning academic sessions at the end of the day. “We are making a start with the streaming of academic sessions. We will soon get the consent from the people concerned and stream the concerts on our YouTube channel,” Murali says, adding that there has been a major upgradation of the acoustics in the auditoriums.

While it is like a dream come true for amateur singers to perform in sabhas, senior singers have been stirring the hearts of rasikas for long. Concerts such as those of Ranjani and Gayatri, Sudha Ragunathan, Sanjay Subrahmanyan and others are always jam-packed.

Known for their scintillating performance, the sister duo Ranjani and Gayatri say the feeling the music season evokes in them is “inexplicable”. “It is a time of great anticipation and heightened awareness because we perform in front of the best of rasikas who are eager as well as knowledgeable.” They add they are glad to notice a blend of the old and new in the audience, off late. “There are a lot of people nowadays who come to just get a feel of Carnatic music. The challenge for us lies in pleasing everybody.” 

An inclusive experience

Their mission is to make Carnatic music an inclusive experience for one and all. “It’s not just about singing to informed rasikas, but to make everyone a part of the Carnatic experience and that’s been our mission for the past few years.”

Music enthusiasts from across the globe can be spotted in the concerts. December is also the season to spot the best of Kancheepuram saris and matching accessories. Also, sabha foods are quite popular among the regulars. Sabhas plan their daily menu diligently — everything from appams and puttu to kurma and vazhapoo vadai are on the menu.

For acclaimed singer Sudha Ragunathan, Margazhi means concentrating on music totally, reviving her own kritis that have not been sung in the past five years, learning newer kritis, and creating thematic concerts.

“Though Chennai audiences are open to fusion and collaboration with other genres and artistes, when it comes to Margazhi, they look for traditional Carnatic music. We do include concerts that are different from the conservative and traditional ones. But I think people still want the usual traditional ones,” says the Padma Bhushan recipient, who will be performing at the Music Academy today.

‘Me too’ allegations

Last year, the Music Academy dropped seven artistes including season regulars such as O S Thyagarjan, R Ramesh, Thiruvarur Vaidyanathan and N Ravikiran, among others, leading to much discussion and debate. This year too, their names do not feature in the Music Academy’s list of performers. When asked about it, N Murali said “there has not been any change this time and we are not featuring them. That controversy seems to have died down now, but we have to wait and watch.” 

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