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Sangeetha Samvaadham: Episode 6 -- A Carnatic Conversation with Praveen Sparsh

Welcome to Sangeetha Samvaadham, a series of compact written interviews with Carnatic musicians by Ramaa Ramesh. Samvaadham is the Sanskrit word for a conversation, and each of these conversations is an attempt to understand a little more about each artiste, their journey and how they perceive themselves and their art form. To this end, the set of questions remains largely consistent while the answers vary significantly by artist - some deeply introspective, some refreshingly practical - each a reflection of how that artiste perceives themselves and the world around them.

Photo supplied by artiste, credit: Amar Ramesh


Praveen Sparsh is a multi-percussionist and music producer. He is a student of mridangam maestro Guruvayur Sri Dorai, as well as being the grandson of mridangam exponent Thanjavur Sri Upendran and great-grandson of thavil exponent Valangaiman Sri Shanmugasundaram Pillai.



Q. Which freely-available piece or concert would you recommend as a 'Praveen 101' introduction to a new listener?


Praveen: Savari from Unreserved.


Q.What do you think makes you a successful musician?


Praveen: To be able to practice and create music everyday without any social/societal pressure or expectation, and to stay independent and pay bills by doing this is an absolutely liberating feeling. I feel fiercely successful being this way.



Q. You are heir to an incredible musical legacy spanning generations. How does this musical heritage influence your own art?



Q. Have you had a concert moment - either as a performer or a listener - that opened up a new window of possibility for you, or led to a fundamental shift in the way you sing?


Praveen: This one is not from a concert but rather from a class with my guru, mridangam maestro Guruvayur Sri. Dorai sir; the first time he guided me into the art of collaborating with a vocalist. I was 11 years old and he sang ‘Sogasuga Mrudanga thalamu’ in Sriranjani Ragam, Rupaka thaalam. The moment I saw that it was Rupaka thaalam, I zoomed into his hands and started playing for his thaalam and didn’t concentrate much on his singing. He promptly stopped after the pallavi and asked me ‘Are you able to hear me well?’ And that question made me feel so out of place and changed the way I collaborated with other artistes.



Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your guru?



Q. Imagine you could be born in any period of history and grow up as a peer alongside any musician of your choice, with unfettered access to them. Which musician would you choose and why?


Praveen: Richard Bona, I’ve always been spellbound by his sense of rhythm, harmony, melody and words. I’m also deeply fascinated by the African culture and their music. I would love to hear their stories and music living in their own land.



Q. From your body of work and the collaborations you have been part of, it is clear that you don't restrict yourself to the Carnatic circuit. Did this experimenting happen quite naturally or do you consciously seek out artistes from other genres to work with?


Praveen: It was not a conscious choice. In fact, I was reluctant. In school, when my friends were listening to film songs, I was only interested in Carnatic music. Circumstances and people around me were kind enough to present me with opportunities and it was actually my guru who approved and opened those gates for me. Now, when I look back I can only be grateful.

Q. What are some of your favourite collaborations you've been part of?

Praveen: Too many! I’ve had the honour of collaborating with some of the finest minds but there is one particular collaboration with a Parai team lead by Deepan Anna. We played a 45 min set at the Urur Kuppam Festival and that will always remain special. Collaborations like this reinforce that music goes way beyond notes or numbers.


Photo supplied by artist, credit: Vidhya Vijay


Q. Do you have a moment when you've felt proud or, perhaps, moved during the course of your musical journey so far?


Praveen: After I graduated from college, I worked in Flextronics for about 8 months, while balancing music alongside. It was at that point that I decided to quit work and take the leap to do music full-time and I’m proud of that decision.


I’m moved by what music has given me all these years. Never expected I would end up where I am right now.



Q. What's something that you consider an unexplored frontier for you musically, or something on your to-do / to-achieve list as a musician?


Praveen: To live with musicians from a completely different genre/ social setting at least for a year and create art.



Q. Who are the artiste(s) that you consider to be role models for you?


Praveen: The list will be too long if I go cross-disciplinary. To name a few musicians… Guruvayur Dorai, TM Krishna, Pazhani Subramaniam Pillai, Zakir Hussain, Bob Dylan, Richard Bona, Paco de Lucía, and Pat Metheny.



Q. What would you add to, or change about, the Carnatic music scene?


Praveen: What I would change: The frame of mind to intentionally welcome people from different walks of life to learn/listen and participate in this art form. What I would add: A transparent, zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse and discrimination based on sex and caste.



Q. Finally, can you play a minute's worth of music for us?



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Ramaa Ramesh is a music teacher, storyteller and lifelong fan of Carnatic music. More from her here.


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