Tuesday, April 16, 2024

In a new percussion extravaganza, percussionists get more attention than just the drums!

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, who combines modern and classical sounds, gets candid with The Pioneer as he shares his musical journey, musical style, and more.

We’re still going strong with the Mahindra Percussion Festival’s second edition. And this time, it is with B.C. Manjunath, a musician, combines modern and classical sounds. The well-known ‘Mridangam’ player told The Pioneer in an exclusive interview— “festivals like these are indeed kind of pioneering. The reason I say this is that, while there have been many festivals where percussion has taken center stage, this is the first time that percussionists have taken center stage themselves, showcasing not only their own technical prowess but also the melodic side of percussion performed in unison. Really unique, if I may say so.”
Quite active in world music, jazz, and Indian classical music genres, Manjunath is also well-known for being a practitioner and supporter of ‘Konnakol’, having demonstrated this in webs that examine mathematical structures, like the Fibonacci Tala, through the practice. Pretty fascinating! “To be honest, I think the one thing that makes each person here special is that they don’t strive to stand out. I was aware of and witnessed a small number of actions, and they all had one thing in common: they were completely absorbed in giving their all, without trying to surpass anyone else. Among various acts, this is one of the rarest things you will ever witness,” he said.
Day two of the percussion festival began with B.C. Manjunath’s “Rhythms of India,” which was followed by a performance by Shivangini Yeashu, Krantinaari, Pratika, and others of “Ashtanayika-Kal Aur Aaj,” which fused poetry, rap, and dance to create a performance that intended to unite classical and modern arts. “Regarding my style, I don’t think I ever thought of myself as someone who likes to be by themselves and present something. I always thought of myself as a capable team player. I’m attempting to pick up tips from my fellow artists and will contribute my own thoughts later. I believe that my ability to listen is what makes me special. Making everyone feel that they are part of the project, equally responsible, and in the spotlight with everyone else on stage can be vital at times. Why not just have these incredible musicians perform for you and contribute their own songs? A competent artist would do it. Few performers—the majority of those at this festival—had the ability to compose, perform, and allow others to perform,” he highlighted.
The young performer continues, sharing additional details about the musical extravaganza: “Up until the day before the festival started, I was travelling throughout Europe. I became really anxious when I realised that friends of mine who were also giving presentations had started preparing their acts several weeks beforehand. Our online collaboration was limited to ideation. However, on the day prior to our rehearsal session, everything seemed to be coming together flawlessly. But even a minute before we took the stage, we were joking around with our singing and agreeing and disagreeing with one another in a nice way. However, I believe that mentality—of being slightly on the edge—made our performance really thrilling.”
He constantly strives to stay out of any band as a solo artist. All he wants is to be a valuable team player! He was a good listener previously, and this confirms it. And from where does he obtain it? He says, “Well, from the age of 12, my father, B. K. Chandramouli, who was a percussionist himself, purposefully forced me to listen to a lot of different genres of music. This served as a fantastic platform for me to explore other genres. Whether it was in jazz, modern classical, dance, contemporary dance, global music, or other genres, I could always find something that I couldn’t find in Carnatic. Musicians had a very distinct perspective on the world and considered it to be sacred in some sense. In South India, we were trained to view music in a way that was entirely different from how people in other nations saw it. It was so engaging that I never missed an opportunity to learn from others and felt completely included in every way.”
“Konnakol” is but one instrument in his toolbox for discussing and creating music. He simply uses it to put forward his odd and insane thoughts on social media! He hardly uses it when performing. “Overuse of ‘Konnakol’ diminishes it’s significance,” he believes. “Everyone finds it fascinating because it’s a spoken art form, and for musicians, it can be a fantastic tool for discussing and creating music. Even though there was a lot of tradition in my performances, I am really pleased that I was able to represent ‘Konnakol’ in a very modern, unconventional way. In my current perspective, I was attempting to introduce the old system or leave out experiments that were conducted 50–100 years ago. It is undoubtedly a significant aspect of who I am.”
Another aspect that came to light when we heard him express that he finds more logic in rhythms than in mathematics was revealed to us! Naturally, numbers are the foundation of every rhythm; but, once you have established certain numbers, the remaining elements are permutation, combination, and reasoning. All he’s trying to do is incorporate it into his Carnatic beats. Interestingly, “I had written a sad but intriguing story about my Fibonacci sequence that I wanted to show to my father when he was dying. I was meant to show it to him the next day, but he was in so much pain that he was unable to hear me. Regretfully, he departed the following day. Even after his cremation, this composition would not leave my mind; I was in excruciating sorrow at losing him. It’s power lay in that. After thinking about releasing it for three or four days, it went completely crazy. Who knows, maybe my father is in that composition.” Additionally, he has had the great fortune to perform in a variety of genres, including in the unusual setting of a silent film! He was forced to realise that less is more and that everything you play needs to have a purpose or a narrative. Instead of just hammering down a series of repetitive notes, he conveyed a story along with the feelings he wanted to express. “Playing in a modern dance production with the ‘marimba’ as the primary percussion instrument, performing in contemporary classical music where other composers wrote every note for me to play without the opportunity to improvise like a western classical percussionist would, performing with some incredible bands or performing with Flamenco, Kathak, or special Bharathanatyam productions, or presenting Carnatic music in my own unique way utilising all the influences I had would be memorable. I gained knowledge about reading staff notation, playing flamenco and kathak compositions on the ‘mridangam’, or creating original compositions for various bands and ensembles. I’m unable to stop. It is humbling to reflect back on all the things I am extremely delighted to talk about,” he says.
At the age of fifteen, his father pushed him into teaching, even though he had very little experience. But with time, he came to see that teaching is an excellent method of learning. He became quite daring in his teaching as a result!

Recently, 200 musicians performed a piece he co-wrote with French composer Sebastien Gaxie on stage at Radio France in Paris. The most thrilling part of that was when they were all singing Shiva Shiva Shiva Enarada, a traditional Carnatic song. Thinking about it still gives him shivers! Lastly, “Carnatic music is ingrained in my being. It shaped me; it is always the first thing that comes to mind when I think of music, and performing jugalbandis with North Indian musicians has undoubtedly opened my eyes to new aspects of Indian music.”
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