In the early 1980’s the great ghatam and mridangam player Sri K N Krishnamurthy, who had just finished his concert, was surprised to see a 5 year old kid touching his feet and asking him to take him under his tutelage. That kid was his friend, renowned percussionist Dr B K Chandramouli’s son Manjunath BC.
Manjunath was taken to the concert by his mother as per his father’s instructions. That, Manjunath be taught and guided by Guru Krishnamurthy was his father’s thought. Being busy with his concerts he did not have the time to teach him and he also felt that Manjunath would be complacent under his tutelage. But he made sure that Manjunath attended all his concerts.
“Guruji was a bit confused to see a little boy asking such a big favour. My mother had run towards us and introduced me to him. After learning that I was one of his best friend’s son he asked me to come to his house next morning itself to start. This is how I began learning mridangam from one of the greatest Gurus,” recounts Manjunath.
Born into a music family, the mridangam player naturally opted to learn music. His father is his first source of inspiration and continues to inspire him. His mother was his partner in his earlier music journey which is most important for a growing artist. She would take Manjunath to classes, competitions, small concerts etc.
“Yes, my parents were a huge influence on me for my growth and I consider myself to be fortunate. I wish every youngster gets my kind of opportunity for their art to grow and prosper,” said Manjunath.
As a young boy, Manjunath showcased his inherent musical talent. He learnt the best in Carnatic percussion from his parents. He later studied mridangam under Karnataka Kalashree K N Krishna Murthy and Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri T.K.Murthy.
The mridangam player now has a repertoire which encompasses Indian classical and fusion. He is equally fluent in solo and ensembles. His preference is towards an ensemble performance. Manjunath is that rare artist who does not like to soak in the limelight. He rather prefers to be the team man.
“It is more joyful if I can make people happy with a bunch of my friends with me on stage. I would like to stand out just not by myself but with a group. It is like many bodies but breathing as one soul,” quipped Manjunath.
Manjunath and Konnakol
Konnakol is the other art form that has caught Manjunath’s fancy. It is a vocal percussion art to which melody, percussions, dynamics can be added to make it rhythmic. Manjunath was attracted towards Konnakkol done by the Padmashri Dr T K Murthy. He learnt the nuances of Konnakkol along with the mridangam under him. The thing about Konnakol is that it gels with any musical instrument provided both artists play in coherence.
“I have seen artists playing mridangam, khanjira, ghatam, drums, guitar, violin and what not with my videos. All of them have been an absolute pleasure to listen to. I think it is about the artist’s mind-set not the instrument, that is important,” said the master mridangam player.
Konnakal is an individual art. The artist’s search for newer sounds, dynamics and melodies and variations is endless. As the knowledge of Konnakol is not a prerequisite for the listener, it is the performer’s job to keep the listeners interested.
“I try to enjoy myself with what I am doing. Then I try to connect with my co artists on stage. Automatically audience become curious and observe closely to see what we are doing. Our job is to just make listeners curious and the rest will be taken care of by itself,” asserted Manjunath.
Gaining global acceptence
Konnakol’s popularity can be asserted to the fact that people connect easily with rhythm that has vocals. It is easier for people to understand and note it down. This can be of immense help to musicians who are not well versed with Indian classical music, not only in India but even musicians in foreign lands.
“I think konnakol already has become a global sound. Musicians and many other art forms are using it basically as a tool to communicate and understand the parts. It is mesmerising to listen to konnakol when a good artist performs,” asserted Manjunath.
The ‘non-traditional’ musician
The mridangam player has performed alongside some of the biggest names in music. He has had the pleasure to accompany greats like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Dr TK Murthy, The Mysore Brothers as well as international acts like Turkish Sufi singer Kani Karaka, Italian pop star Lucio Dalla among others. It has been over 22 years for Manjunath on the tour but he still considers himself as a student of the art. He has imbibed the styles of many musicians, he has come across, in his music. The mridangam player has incorporated jazz, contemporary music, kathak, flamenco, Hindustani and more genres into his music.
“I have come under the severe radar of being ‘non-traditional’ or ‘jazz mridangamist’ or unconventional musician and what not. But I have just kept my focus. Slowly some are opening up to this and have accepted it,” said Manjunath.
“One should never stop being a beginner and always try to be a student. When you step into a new thing please do not throw around your weight but try to be humble and learn from others. Give your knowledge only if asked for. To have knowledge, first of all practice a lot and never ever separate yourself from your art form.”