Tech-sonic blends

Groove to Carnatic songs by this young musician

Mahesh Raghvan

He looks like your next-door IT chap who gets out of his house at unearthly hours to escape the infamous Hosur Road traffic and returns home by midnight after having slogged the whole day.  But looks, as they say, are deceptive. Mahesh Raghvan does not lead a humdrum life. Anything but. A Carnatic fusion artiste, Mahesh has been gaining enormous popularity, especially among the millennials, for his hip, foot-tapping Carnatic versions of popular songs — some of which are arguably better than the original compositions.

Adele or Adeleshwari?

You may not have heard of his name but you would certainly have come across the popular sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S theme song’s Carnatic version created by him. Or the wonderfully addictive classical version of Adele’s ‘Hello’, which has already garnered over two million views on YouTube. His other creations such as the theme songs of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Sherlock as well as fusion versions of Cheap Thrills and Rembrandts’s ‘I’ll Be There For You’ are all bona fide hits on YouTube. The videos are fun, too — with Adele taking the form of ‘Adeleshwari’ and Harry Potter looking pretty comfortable in an angavastram!
Mahesh was in Bengaluru recently for a concert he performed along with violinist Shravan Sridhar as part of his ambitious Carnatic 2.0 project. In this project, Mahesh employs technology to present Carnatic compositions in a modern style incorporating a fusion of ragas with Western elements. The result is, say, a ‘MahaGanapathim’ that you feel like grooving to.

For Mahesh, it all started quite innocuously. Like many South Indians, the young lad too began learning Carnatic music informally under his aunt, who was a musician herself. “I did not belong to any musical family — my parents were supportive and encouraging,” he recalls.

What he remembers is being keenly interested in every aspect of music — probably why he learnt to play the guitar and the keyboard all by himself. Soon, his talent began to get noticed and he took up the Trinity College Music exams. He went on to complete his Masters in Digital Composition and Performance from the University of Edinburgh.

“For me, the thrill lies in exploring how music and technology can be effortlessly brought together,” he says. Mahesh uses iPad apps such as Geo Synth, Finger Fiddle and others to create genuine sounds of traditional Carnatic instruments such as the nadaswaram and the tanpura. 
His passion for sound design is palpable, as is his purpose. “My goal is to present Carnatic music in a form that youngsters can easily relate to. I have known several instances when young students quit learning because they feel the pure form is boring. Many do not attend classical concerts for the same reason. I want to change that,” he says.

Mahesh is the creative director at IndianRaga, a sort of ‘finishing school’ for performance artistes with similar goals of making Carnatic music 21st-century friendly. Through its RagaLabs, under the tutelage of Mahesh and others, IndianRaga gets performers to work with musicians of various genres and creates slick videos to be disseminated online.

Brickbats or bouquets?

With Carnatic music itself going through a churn and artistes like T M Krishna trying to revamp the traditional kutcheri mould, has Mahesh ever faced the wrath of purists? “Thankfully no. At least, not yet. I have been lucky enough to be appreciated by traditional artistes as well,” says Mahesh, who is also collaborating with Bindu and Ambi Subramaniam, children of celebrated violinist L Subramaniam, for a series of fusion concerts. 
Mahesh believes it is much easier for youngsters today to make a career out of music if they have the passion for it.

But he has a piece of advice for those who want to. “Their fundamentals in music as well as technology must be strong; they must have a good sense of not just the ragas but also sound design and structure,” he opines. It is this strong foundation, he feels, that has helped him seamlessly merge different genres from electronic dance music to jazz to modern pop with traditional ragas.

“We cannot escape technology in this age, more so in music. It is better to adapt and recreate than struggle in ignorance,” he says.

In fact, one of the young musician’s big dreams is to have an “orchestra kind of concert” where everyone is on, you guessed it, iPads! Not a preposterous dream in these times, is it?

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