In perfect harmony

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By Carnatic violinists and brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh are wooing the world with their music, says Sushmita Biswas
  • Published 8.04.12

When Carnatic violinist brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh get together for a concert, they set the house on fire with their rhythm and melody. They adhere strictly to the classicism and yet they are unafraid to experiment and take their music to new levels. The brothers say their music is, “an aural experience which is not bound by any boundaries”.

Music apart, the USP of their performance is their crackling chemistry which is apparent even off-stage. The two are bubbling with enthusiasm and completely unaffected by the media attention. Says Ganesh: “We share, argue, fight and eventually come to a consensus.”

The brothers love doing energy-infused live shows (they do up to 10 a month). And they’ve just launched a new album Ragapravaham based on their live concerts. But currently they are involved in several music projects.

For a start there’s their next music concert series called Fiddling Monks from next year. They’re also teaming up with a Scottish jazz trio AAB to do a special project that will involve a mix of Carnatic music and contemporary jazz.

So what is it about Ganesh-Kumaresh that has listeners craving for more? Tabla exponent Zakir Hussain says: “Though they are deeply rooted in Carnatic music they are always trying to inject creativity into their style.”

Adds sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee: “Kumaresh is a great team player with remarkable stage presence and that’s perfect for an exciting jugalbandi.” Chatterjee will be collaborating with Kumaresh for an upcoming album.

Pure Carnatic music apart, the brothers’ have also collaborated with artistes like Trilok Gurtu and Zakir Hussain. And they aren’t afraid to experiment — though they are careful to stick firmly to key Carnatic music rules. They’ve also done what they call ‘contemporary Carnatic’ music. Says Kumaresh: “All the experiments happen at home and not on the stage: that’s a concert dharma.”

Some of their thematic contemporary albums include Colours of India (where violin, mridangam and drums are used), Carnatic Chills (where they used violin with bass guitar, flute and keyboards) and Aksharam.

The brothers’ share a close understanding on stage but follow certain rules in their partnership. Says Kumaresh: “Certain roles have to be defined and disciplined in a team. So when I compose something I pass it on to him and he also passes his ideas to me,” laughs Kumaresh.

Their first concert together took place back in 1972 in Chennai where both played the raga Bahudari. So what’s their key to the perfect jugalbandi? Says Ganesh: “The adventurous streak Kumaresh brings in to his performance lightens up the entire mood.” Kumaresh too admires his elder brother and says: “For me he is always there.”

Even as kids growing up in Chennai, the brothers’ were seen as child prodigies. “Before I turned 10, we completed our hundredth stage show in Chennai,” says Kumaresh. And getting recognised at such a young age was a high for the brothers. He Kumaresh: “In Mylapore, where we stayed, when ever we used to visit the temple, people would whisper, ‘Look Ganesh and Kumaresh are going!’”

While live concerts are their forte, they have also composed music for films and dance ballets.

Recently, they finished composing music for an indie-film Lessons In Forgetting (releasing by the year end) based on Anita Nair’s novel directed by Unni Vijayan. Says Vijayan: “The brothers have experimented with various types of Indian folk and classical music in the film.”

They have also worked with other southern stars like composers Illayaraja and A. R. Rahman. They played the violin in films like Bombay and Rangeela for Rahman. Recently, they again teamed up with Rahman for a Tamil song Aromalae from the film Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, which was remade into the Prateik Babbar-starrer Hindi film, Ekk Deewana Tha. They have also played the violin in Rahman’s musical projects like Jana Gana Mana and Jai Hind.

The brothers, who are in their 40s, have been performing for four decades and started their musical training under their father T. S. Raja-gopalan. “If we did a good practice session of seven to eight hours, our father would give us a treat by taking us out for a movie,” says Ganesh.

Their biggest break came in 1983 when the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu M. G. Ramachandran made them the state artistes.

Today, the duo acknowledges that their respective families have played an important role in their lives. Ganesh stays with his wife Sheila in Chennai. And Kumaresh’s wife Jayanthi is a renowned Carnatic veena player. Both Kumaresh and Jayanthi also set up a music label called Home Records in Bangalore six years ago as a platform for young Carnatic artistes. On the other hand, Ganesh is a trained Carnatic vocalist and has performed in several Carnatic sabhas.

So what does the future hold for these musicians? They are planning to play on for the next 20 years or so. “Our dream is to set up a music ashram where we can teach the Carnatic violin. But that will only happen once we decide to hang our boots,” says Kumaresh. But what is certain is that whenever they play together the sound will be rich and innovative.