Carnatic singer O.S. Arun tells Subhadra Devan about the challenges in upcoming dance Sharanagati with its blend of two art forms
ONE stage. Two orchestras. Two Indian dance styles. In the midst of this fusion of firsts sits well-known singer O.S. Arun.
The music maestro from New Delhi is working with leading Orissa vocalist, Dheeraj Kumar Mohapatra, on the unique compositions for the dance Sharanagati (Absolute Surrender). The choreography is by P.T. Narendran and Leena Mohanty, also from India.
The eight dancers will be accompanied on stage by Guru Durga Charan Ranbir on nattuvagam, S. Venkatasubramaniam on violin, and Sukania Venugopal on narration, among others.
Sharanagati is presented by local dance school Kalpana Dance Theatre, under its director Shangita Namasivayam. It will offer both the bharathanatyam and odissi dance styles on stage, in a theme of overcoming ego, losing the connection to the corporeal, to reach an understanding of, and with, the divine.
"I thought about the concept when Shangita presented it to me. I took it as a challenge, and asked ‘why not?’ says Arun who is also in Kuala Lumpur to work on a children’s Carnatic choir for the Vijayaratnam Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the QI Group of Companies in Malaysia.
He has trained 20 children, chosen after auditions this past year, in this Vijayaratnam Foundation initiative to identify and enhance the talents of local children in Carnatic music.
"The children are from 10 to 17 years. This is one way of instilling passion for Carnatic music in the young, so that they will get more serious about the music and eventually pursue this art form.”
The children performed on June 9 at a 90-minute show called Carnatic Stars 2013, at the Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah Complex in Subang Jaya.
"Malaysians have a lot of faith in the Indian culture,” says Arun, who has been visiting Malaysia these past eight years for various shows.
The father of two young children adds that he wants to learn to sing Malay songs, "properly”.
"I’ve heard lots of Malay songs, and they are so melodic. It’s quite interesting that the melodies, ragas, in Malay songs are so similar to those of India.
"I want to sing Malay song and understand the song... the exact enunciation, the proper musical phrases. I don’t want people to say, oh he’s Indian, he’s trying something new.”
The 40-something performer, often called the Prince Charming of Carnatic music, is renowned in many musical styles, from bhajans and devotional music to jazz and fusion music. But he is always up for a challenge.
The youngest son from a respected musical family, Arun says he was told not to make music a career, but he insisted.
"I started in New Delhi, in 1982, and I was willing to sing for dancers. Then, very few singers were doing this. I started understanding the emotions of the dancer, the meaning of the dance, the mood of the piece. I don’t look into counting the beats of the dance, I look at the dancer, sing, and relate to them.
"Now, I’ve sung for dancers aged 6 to 70, who have performed many dance forms.
"I also sang in various different styles. All those challenges helped build my confidence, because I was very determined to make music my career,” recalls Arun, adding "my fellow students would study despite the weather, even with sweat dripping from our faces, no air-conditioning.”
He says he was looked down on by other singers when he started his career. "It took a long time for people to understand that music as an art form can relate to other art forms. Now, it’s prestigious to sing for a dancer. I don’t know if they can actually connect with the dance. To me, I think many are in for the glamour and not the art form.”
An award-winning artiste, including Bhava Sangita Vasikara by Swami Santhananda of the Temple of Fine Arts International, Arun is known for his constant search of something fresh and purposeful in his artistic idiom.
"You must first like music, if you are going to make it a career. You must try different music genres. I am very fond of the music of The Beatles. Norwegian Wood, Across The Universe with the phrase Jai Guru Deva (Heavenly Teacher)... the lyrics are so nice,” says Arun, who sings Yesterday in a Carnatic way, adding: "You minus the elongated notes I use, and it’s (the song) Yesterday.”
As for composing the music for the dance, Sharanagati, he says: "The best part of our music system is our way of musical notations. With the methodology, we manage to grasp the different music systems in India.
"The music will be a cultural exchange between Orissa and south India. It will be a blend of the two art forms, east Indian and south Indian music, on stage at the same time. "
He feels it’s not a difficult task "as we will fuse the two forms, without losing the grammar of the two music systems.
"I am excited about the colour of the show, it is so vibrant,” he explains, adding that he will sing a piece composed by the renowned Carnatic artiste, Dr M. Balamurali Krishna.
Arun goes on to sing the short melody, which he says has only four notes. "It’s hard to do because the starting note is of a lower octave, and immediately goes to a higher octave. It flows because of the structure,” he explains, adding that he was asked by Balamurali Krishna to sing the song for his 82nd birthday last year. "I was very moved to be asked to sing for him, his own song.”
Sharanagati is a different show from the norm. "It will be interesting for artistes, students and connoisseurs of the performing arts. The best part is that it’ll be live!” says Arun, who jokes that Sharanagati will be his debut at the Temple of Fine Arts auditorium in Brickfields.