Even if more musicians boycott us, we will not change our decision: Madras Music Academy

TM Krishna
TM Krishna

Bengaluru | A storm is brewing in the Carnatic music circle over the Music Academy Madras’s decision to give its prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi Award to Carnatic vocalist T M Krishna this year.

The award was announced on March 17.

A handful of musicians have decided to boycott the concerts organised by the Academy for this year’s 'Margazhi' festival --Chennai’s renowned music and dance event held in December and January every year.

However, the Academy president N Murali told PTI that even if more musicians join in, the institution will stand by its decision.

So far, six musicians – vocalists Ranjani and Gayatri, Srikrishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan (aka Trichur Brothers), Harikatha exponents Dushyanth Sridhar and Vishakha Hari – have registered their protest by refusing to be part of the Academy’s ‘Margazhi’ festival line-up.

Chitraveena exponent Ravikiran, who had received the Sangita Kalanidhi Award in 2017, but who has not been performing at the Academy since 2018, has stated that he would be returning his award in protest.

Krishna, who had often lashed out against Brahmanical orthodoxy, gender and caste bias, is considered a rebel in the Carnatic music circle. He had refused to perform during the 'Marghazi' festival and instead started an annual festival of his own in 2016, ‘Kuppam Marghazi Festival’ at the Urur-Olcott Kuppam (a fishing hamlet) to take Carnatic music to the laymen.

However, Murali said the Academy, which was established in 1928, has seen many such storms over the years and has proven its resilience.

"Even if more musicians join in the protest, the Academy will stand firm in its decision. This year will be our 98th annual convention and concerts. The institution is bigger than individuals," Murali told PTI over the phone.

Murali said he had received the letter by Ranjani and Gayatri on March 20 and before he could send them a reply, they had posted the content of the letter on their social media pages.

"They were not talking about music but other issues. Now, the others are jumping into it without any locus standi," added Murali.

When contacted, Ranjani told PTI that they had stated all that needed to be said about the issue in the letter, which is now in the public domain.

The post published on X (formerly Twitter) Wednesday night, at around 7 pm, stated that the sisters will not be singing on December 25, as scheduled by the Music Academy, because the concerts this year will be presided over by Krishna.

According to them, Krishna has caused immense damage to the Carnatic music world.

The sisters went on to state that they object to Krishna’s glorification of a figure like EVR (Periyar E V Ramasamy), a controversial leader who questioned Brahmanical traditions.

In 2023, Krishna had composed a song on Periyar, ‘Sindikka Chonnavar Periyar’, which roughly translates to ‘Periyar taught us to think’.

In his reply to the sisters, Murali had said he was shocked by the vituperative content and the vicious tone against a respected senior fellow musician. He also called out the sisters for posting the content of the letter on social media without waiting for a response.

"According to me, they are disappointed that they have not been awarded. That is at the root of all this," said Murali to PTI.

On Wednesday night, Trichur Brothers too had taken to X to convey – without going into many details – that they will be pulling out of the annual conference and concerts of the Academy this year.

When contacted, Ramkumar Mohan reiterated his stand and said if they participate when Krishna is presiding over, they will be “outright hypocrites”.

Harikatha exponent Sridhar too confirmed to PTI that he will not be performing on January 1 as scheduled.

"Of the 3,000-odd concerts that will happen in December and January, about 10 per cent will be musical discourses like Harikatha. Not only me but also another Harikatha performer, Vishaka Hari, has also decided to boycott Music Academy this year,” Sridhar said.

Meanwhile, Murali said Krishna, even though unorthodox in his approach, is certainly one of the foremost Carnatic musicians today and is a right candidate for the Sangita Kalanidhi award.

"Our foremost criterion is 'excellence in music over a sustained period' and Krishna fulfils it, end of the story,” added Murali.

Despite various attempts, PTI could not reach Krishna for his reaction.

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