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A chat with Emani Kalyani Lakshminarayana, known as the torchbearer of the ‘Emani baani’ style of playing

Emani Kalyani Lakshminarayana

At 15, she was the youngest artiste to perform for the inaugural Yuvavani programme hosted by All India Radio (AIR). From then on, veena player Emani Kalyani Lakshminarayana has been performing on stage in India and abroad, and for radio and television. 

Kalyani, who plays the Saraswati veena, has been appreciated by critics for the tonal quality of her veena-playing, perfect grammar, creativity in her manodharma, and her flawless techniques. She now has the distinction of being an A top-grade artiste of AIR.

Many roles

As a teacher, she has taught students in hundreds. “I also regularly guide students pursuing post-graduation in music and those who have a fellowship in music based on my father’s works,” she reveals.

Kalyani was trained by her guru-father, the legendary classical musician Emani Sankara Sastry. She was, for many years, his accompanying artiste on stage.

Sastry was a great composer, administrator and film-music director. He played alongside musicians like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan and Pandit Gopal Krishan. As ‘music director’ of Gemini Studios in Chennai, Sastry directed music for Telugu and Tamil films besides Hindi hit movies.

But, it was not her father who encouraged her to take up music, Kalyani says. “It was my mother who encouraged me. My father’s students would tell him that I have potential and that he should teach me. But my father was so impartial that it took him a long time to become my teacher. Only after the first few performances, for which I received praise from his contemporaries, my father began training me.” 

Emani Sankara Sastry was uncompromising as a teacher. “I found my father’s rigorous training tough to keep up with, but as I grew older, I appreciated this approach. Today, I am grateful for those lessons that have honed my skills.”

Kalyani’s first few stage appearances were as her father’s accompanying artiste. Their performances were pegged as ‘veena duets’ due to her proficiency that matched her father’s. Her solo concerts continued after her father passed away in 1987. Kalyani is now known as the torchbearer of the ‘Emani baani’ style of playing, based on her father’s distinct style.

Today, she goes after her art with the same passion and rigour. She often performs with her daughter Padmini Pasumarthy. Both of them remain faithful to the Emani legacy.

Kalyani has also played the veena as part of ensembles. “It’s the same seven notes that form the basis of music. The language of music is universal and understood the world over,” she says.

Plucking memories

When asked about her most memorable performances, she says, “I have enjoyed every concert. But I cherish the mike-less one in Russia when I played to an audience of world-class musicians that included my father in the front row. I also cherish the opportunities to perform at places considered holy, like Thiruvaiyaru and Tirumala. After all, Carnatic music has a strong bhakti orientation,” she adds.

Along the way, she has been honoured with titles and awards, including the Ugadi Puraskaram for ‘lifetime contributions’ in the field of Carnatic music by the government of Andhra Pradesh.

Does she have any advice for young musicians? “It is good to have another profession besides music. You can be a stage performer, music administrator in TV and radio, and teacher. But, I want to dispel the notion that becoming a musician does not offer a decent living.” Kalyani also feels that music should be introduced in schools as a subject.

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