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“It’s about enjoyment. Karnatik music takes you to a totally different place,” says Geetha Chandrasekaran of the South India Fine Arts association. Since 1979, the non-profit South India Fine Arts (SIFA) has brought world-class South Indian performers to the San Fransico Bay Area to fulfill their mission to promote, preserve, and present the various fine arts of Southern India. Carefully attuned to the December season in Chennai, South India Fine Arts chooses the most popular artists to bring each year.

SIFA emphasizes the classical vocal, instrumental, percussive, and dance traditions of South India, but the organization also regularly holds lectures and collaborative performances that meld Hindustani and Karnatik classical traditions.  In 2012, they are holding three special performances demonstrating the breadth of their support for the fine arts tradition.

First is a bharathanatyam performance by Priyadarsini Govind. Renowned for her strong, precise movements and skill in dramatic expression, Govind fell in love with bharathanatyam at the age of six. She undertook her advanced training under Swamimalai K. Rajaratnam, and has been performing since the age of 16. In describing her dance, she says, “Dance is such a complete line with visuals, poetry, drama, music… you use your whole body to communicate all of this.”  Her performance is entitled “Pranaamyam: A Salutation to Poetry and Dance” and will bring to life a one of the four classical dance forms of India, the form that is the jewel of Tamil Nadu, bharathanatyam. Through dance Govind will bring together nritta, (rhythmic dance movements), nrithya, (dance with dramatic aspect), and abhinaya, (the art of expression to embody music in visual form).

Next is a vocal duet between the father-daughter duo Neyveli Santhanagopalan and Sriranjani Santhanagopalan.“This is very special, because this is the first time the daughter will be performing with him here,” explains Chandrasekaran.  Neyveli Santhanagopalan is a well-known Karnatik vocalist who rocketed to fame as the anchor of Jaya TV’s “SaRiGaMaPa.”  But before his television popularity Santhanagopalan was well known for his traditional and purist style of rendering ragas, swaras, and musical compositions. Described as a restrained and cerebral artist, he’s also known for his melodic voice as well as his skill in teaching. His daughter, Sriranjani, started to perform during the past year, and this concert will be the first time she has appeared with SIFA.

The concert series is rounded out by a final performance by the vocalist P. Unnikrishnan. A popular and prolific Karnatik vocalist, Unnikrishnan has recorded over 600 songs for the Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam film industries and released 25 albums. Although he desperately wanted to become a cricket player, Unnikrishnan found fame with “Ennavalae” and “Uyirum Neeye,” which won him a national award for Best Male Playback Singer in 1994. Unnikrishnan is known for bridging the divide between classical and film music, but his training in classical Karnatik music remains his musical foundation. The facility and flexibility of his voice is a direct result of his training with P.S. Narayanaswami and S.R. Janakiraman. “I got a lot of encouragement from the local organizations in [Chennai] and that took me to a certain state, but then it was a lot of hard work and my guru’s blessings.” His performance will focus on his Karnatik repertoire. “We generally don’t deviate from the tradition, but we have our own inputs… you get inspired by so many great masters, and you develop your own style, which is very important.”

Even long-time supporters of South Indian arts will find something new at the concerts this April, “Every artist tries to sing new ragas, [and performance reveals] the creativity of every artist,” Chandrasekaran comments. “Students of Karnatik music can watch performers render songs in a particular way,” and even the untutored fine arts can walk away with an increased appreciation for the depth and breadth of tradition of the classical fine arts in South India.

Bharathanatyam: Pranaamyam “A Salutation to Poetry and Dance,” Priyadarsini Govind.
Sunday, April 8, 3:30 p.m.
Neyveli Santhanagopalan and Sriranjani Santhanagopalan, vocal duet
Sunday April 15, 3:30 p.m.
Charulatha Ramanujam – violin
B. Ganapathiraman – mridangam

Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. $20, free for sponsors

P. Unnikrishnan, vocal
Sunday, April 22, 3:30 p.m.
Embar Kannan – violin
Anantha R. Krishnan – mridangam
Santa Clara Convention Center
5001 Great America Pkwy., Santa Clara
$20, free for sponsors