Things happen in hat tricks for me! says Sudha Raghunathan. Three titles this year from three Madras sabha!
Even in college, she says, I got the best student three years in a row.
Talking to her on a typical weekday morning is disruptive. There are half a dozen phone calls and she hardly gets time to speak a few words in between them. "When can we have your Bombay concert?" "I just called to ask how you were." "It is a long time since I saw you, can I drop in?".
And finally she is left to take her phones off the hook to get on with the interview.
How has the year been? Did anything out of the way in the last few months?
I travelled a lot. The highpoint was a major tour in June-July to Europe. A concert at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris earlier in January on the 19th was a grand success. Two out of the away events I participated in were the International festival at Helsinki on 'Influence of Indian food and music on the Finns'. There was more music than food that caught the attention though!
In Germany at Rudolstadt was a first time festival called Magic Voices 2000. Then there was the Global Vocal Meeting on July 6 at Lorrach, Germany.
The organisers, Burghof of Lorrach had got together singers from Madagascar, Lorrach, Hungary, Switzerland, Mali and the US, and of course myself from India. This was part of Stimn 2000 which has a wider canvas of theatre, dance etc.
I did not imagine this would be such a big hit! It was like a musical dialogue and a bit of fusion also. There was a fusion workshop that preceded the performance too. And an album is planned. Other singers did not have accompanists, but this was part of a larger tour of mine and Dorai Swaminathan and Palladam Ravi were with me and they also played at the show.
This was so successful that we are going to have a major tour next year and the show is going to be taken to Spain, Hungary and the US too. It is also going to be a regular annual show on July 6.
I also had kutcheris at the UNESCO Hall in Paris for fund-gathering for the Orissa flood victims.
What new albums did you release during the year?
A very new concept was a Saraswathi Andhadhi by Kambar. I recorded a Virutham for Navarathri for Amudham cassettes - this is a US based label which has only CDs in Carnatic music and my husband and I have taken up the licence for developing a repertoire for cassettes under this label and also marketing them.
I also recorded an album called Dhyanalingam for Isha Foundation of Coimbatore - that was for Vani.
What special plans do you have for the season? How do you prepare for the season?
I am introducing a ragamalika in 27 ragas - my own composition. That will be a highlight. I have done pallavis with rare talas and dual talas earlier. I have done a 3 raga Pallavi for Mylapore Fine Arts sabha...
What is your favourite raga?
Oh, I can't specify one. But I think for my voice the pratimadhyama ragas are most suited. You can soar high and the width is larger.
Do you need to practise, do you keep learning?
About practise, yes I need to practise. But if you ask whether I do, there is no answer for that question! Yes, I do need to learn too. But at present I have no guru. I keep learning from MLV amma's tapes. I don't like saying that since it should not be a bad precedent. You cannot really learn from tapes unless you have already learnt to discriminate between the good and the bad.
How do you plan for a kutcheri?
Planning is not in our gharana. The idea is to sing spontaneously.
What about accompanists? Don't they need a bit of advance notice? Practice?
They do feel they are on tenterhooks. If they take the challenge it is good. But if not, it does become a mess! But I have a set of regular accompanists and they know what I will sing....
Who are your accompanists?
None of the big names!
Well, they refuse to play for a woman!
What? I thought that was something MS, DKP and MLV faced, and that it was over with them!
I am surprised you are surprised. Of course it continues. My Hindustani music counterparts are amazed - they don't even understand the concept. They say, how can this be!
What reasons do they give?
Oh, outwardly they say that tuning is a problem to suit female voices. Violinists say that their instrument is strained and screeches. Mridangists say that the tension at which they have to set the instrument causes callouses on their fingers....
They also say that women artistes do not pay well. But I can prove that we do pay better.
It is actually a matter of ego. There have been accompanists who grew with me and suddenly said "I don't play for women anymore". I understand that they are being dissuaded from doing so, and they also say that male main artistes don't engage them if they play for women and they don't want to jeopardise their careers...
What about those who are playing for you now?
Well, I am comfortable with them, and they are very competent. But the concert would be much better if it was a maestro. I would feel challenged and my perfomance would be much better. If my output is 75 % now it would be close to 100 %. I would be able to pick up ideas from them.
How do you feel about this whole scene?
I used to feel sad about it. But now I am reconciled. They are entitled to their opinions and I respect them for it. So I accept it and am not bothered anymore.
What is your fondest memory of M L Vasanthakumari, your guru?
My fondest personal memory was the concern she showed when I told her I am getting married. It was the humaneness. She was shaken. And she also frankly told me her concern was that marriage could turn out to be what stops an artiste's growth.
This was in 1982. She asked me to bring my fiance to meet her. This was a difficult situation. My husband is a very macho kind of person and telling him that my Guru asked him to come and see her - and for approving him - was tough! It must have been tough for him.
I was a quiet, non-submissive person too!! And he's mellowed now! She asked him if he was clear about what he was going to do - marry a person who would be a performing artiste. The long hours, the travelling...... I do think he underestimated the stress, but we did cross every hurdle though.
The second time when she showed such concern was when I told her I was going to have a second baby. That was the time when she was very sick and this upset her as she had plans for me to make my presence felt during that season. She told me not to miss any bit of that season for any reason. And I did my best too. I sang till the last concert I had on January 3 and my daughter was born on January 20! That was the 1989 season and she was really sick. She did sing in January 1990 and passed away in that year.
Why is it that the rare ragas are being allowed to become rarer. They are disappearing. What are you doing to keep them alive?
Well, as a singer you have to popularise the rare ragas, I agree. But the conservative heads also have to nod during a kutcheri. They feel you are going out of focus if you sing other ragas. In fact there is a mental fatigue that sets in if you sing the same set of ragas repeatedly.....
I will be singing Gamanasmarana this season.
What are you doing under Samudaaya - your Trust? And why a Trust for the society - why not for music...
I thought that society is what makes us what we are and we must do something for society. That is why Samudaaya was set up. The major activity we had under it last year was the fund raiser for Orissa flood victims. I am still building the corpus up - it is not big now. Then I will launch programmes carefully. They will be handpicked and will be something deserving.
What are your hobbies?
I love life. I do everything. I love reading, I read anything under the sun. Fiction, inspirational books.
- By K. Nitya Kalyani