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Carnatic musicians perform in the Bay Area

Three top-performing classical musicians – singer Ananya Ashok, Mridangam player Vignesh Venkataraman and Violinist Shiva Ramamurthi entranced festival goers at the Bay Area Kala Utsavam 2023 in Fremont in early May.

As is customary for the start of any concert, Ananya Ashok sang a Varnam (“Ninnikori yunna”) set to Ragam Vasantha. The fine start was followed by Giriraaja Suthaa, a composition of saint Thyagaraja set to the ragam Bangala. Mridangist Vignesh and Violinist Shiva Ramamurthi played in unison which was delightful to the audience’s ears. The song highlighted Ananya’s fine exploration of its notes. 

The picture shows a woman singing a Carnatic classical song
Ananya Ashok performing (image courtesy: Subha Srirami)

The next song was the deeply soulful “Innu daya baarade” by the legendary composer Purandara dasa. Starting with a soulful alapana, the song was one of the highlights of the recital. The lines “Neene gathi yendu nambida daasana mele” and “Enu madidarenu prana ninnadu swami” amplified the saint’s central message of surrender. The singer’s beautiful rendition transported the audience to a sublime state of devotion.

Concert highlight

The highlight of the concert, “Muruganai Kaanbeno,” set to ragam Hamsanaadam, was dedicated to its composer Smt. Rajam Swaminathan, in whose memory the event was conducted. Ananya started the song with a detailed alapana, while Shiva Ramamurthi was excellent in capturing the soul of the ragam. The repeated rendition of the line “Aadi paadiye maamayil yeriye” in praise of the peacock-riding deity was particularly haunting.

The beautiful Karnaranjani ragam found its moment in the concert through “Vaanchathonu”, a song composed by the great Muthiah Bhagavathar. 

The next song was set to the delightful Todi, a ragam that always deserves an alapana. The performers did full justice to it through a beautiful exploration that brought out the emotion of the song “Srikrishnan bhajaman” composed by the legendary Muthuswami Diskhithar. Ananya’s elaboration of the lines “Shanka chakra gada” in the song’s Neraval and the Kalpana swara were memorable. The song led the audience into a memorable Adi talam ‘tani avartanam’ (percussion solo segment) by Vignesh.

A lovely thillana

The concert concluded with a lovely thillana, “Dhim tadhim tadhim” composed by veteran violinist and composer late Lalgudi Jayaraman.

The performance by the three Bay Area musicians was a fitting finale to the festival that celebrated the contributions of Smt. Rajam Swaminathan, and served as an inspiration for the young and aspiring artists in the valley.

Anu Suresh and Manasa Suresh, the organizers of the two-day festival on April 23 said, “For those of us born and raised in the Bay Area, pursuing Carnatic music has provided a unique perspective into what it means to be bicultural, and how an amalgamation of both those cultures helps us create and shape the most authentic version of ourselves.

It’s all about local artists

This festival is all about Bay Area musicians, as the competitors, judges, and concert performers are all local artists. It is designed to be a platform for showcasing the creativity and talent of this next generation of artists. By focusing on young local talent, the festival promotes a sense of community and support for the arts. It creates a space for young artists to connect, collaborate, and build a vibrant and supportive artistic community for years to come.”

After the concert, singer Ananya Ashok was awarded the “Rajam Swaminathan Memorial Award” for her contribution to Carnatic music.

Anuj Chakrapani loves music and cinema among all art forms. He believes their beauty lies in their interpretation, and that the parts is more than the sum. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a...