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Monday, January 10, 2000

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Symphony of success


A. V. Ramanan has held sway for over 25 years in the field of popular music. KAUSALYA SANTHANAM talks to the singer who has blazed a musical trail.

LASTING APPEAL and staying power. A. V. Ramanan's troupe "Musiano" has been at the forefront of the popular music sphere for the last quarter century. Along with his wife Uma, his son Vignesh and supported by a talented orchestra. Ramanan has been able to hold his own in a fast changing scenario. Remarkable considering the typhoonic technical changes that have swept over the entertainment scene. And the satellite invasion that has brought music with glitzy visuals into our homes.

Rendering film, folk and devotional numbers with authenticity and involvement, the troupe sweeps the audience along on a joyous tide of melody and rhythm. Wherever Musiano performs, whether at charity shows, social gatherings or official functions, for a brief while the listeners forget the cares of their humdrum lives as Ramanan's deep voice and Uma's mellifluous tones soar and mingle. The pronunciation is perfect whatever the language. The familiarity of the numbers takes the audience on a rush of nostalgia to a time when theatres were the mainstay of entertainment and film songs - lilting, plaintive or romantic - the chief source of relaxation. But Musiano is firmly keyed in to the present as well and it is a carefully selected mix of songs that one is treated to. The repertoire includes the songs of 40 composers and 30 singers in half a dozen Indian languages as well as in English and even Mexican and Spanish.

The troupe has given over 4,000 performances, half of them for charity; the recent show in aid of service projects for the Rotary club, T. Nagar was one such.

Ramanan is the perfect showman. Relaxed and chatty, he builds up an instant rapport with the audience. The highly popular anchor of "Saptha Swarangal" recently received the Best Presenter award for promoting young talent in an interesting way in TV programmes for 1998. The award was presented by the Mylapore Academy.

Uma and he are the recipients of the Kalaimamani award of the Tamil Nadu Government and also of the Rotary "For the Sake of Honour" award for promoting national integration through Hindi songs.

Ramanan has proved his histrionic ability too in serials such as "Thamizh Thatha". In an interview, Ramanan talks about his passion for his chosen musical genre, the prospects for popular music and the road he has traversed.

What prompted you to take to popular music?

I've been interested in music from childhood. I was a member of the Madras Youth choir founded by M.B. Srinivasan and also formed part of Kamesh and Rajamani's light music troupe from 1969 to 1972. Light music was not an acceptable form at that time for it was not considered respectable. I started Musiano in 1973 so that educated youngsters could take to music full time. I was looking for a female singer to accompany me. A common friend recommended Uma and this led to the founding of Musiano and our life together.

Did you both have a grounding in classical music?

Uma was a student of Palani Vijayalakshmi whereas I had been trained by Balamuralikrishna and P. S. Narayanaswamy.

Has popular music brought you the expected rewards?

Though I had an inbuilt knowledge of Carnatic music, I wanted to branch off into some other form and make my mark in it. But it has not given the deserved results. Popular music - it is a misnomer to call it light music as it gives the misleading impression that it is not substantial - has not taken off as I expected.

What are the reasons for this?

Tastes have changed. Also, the genre has been commercialised and become cacophonic. More than voice culture, musicians depend on lights and gimmicks, fantasy and illusion to bring in the crowds. Musiano believes in capturing the soul and the spirit of the song.

How good are the prospects for the genre? How difficult is it to keep the troupe going?

The prospects are bleak. Sabhas depend on sponsors for staging the shows. It is very tough to head a popular music troupe. There are numerous organisational hurdles and auditoriums are not easily lent for such programmes. Though some of the members of my orchestra have been with me for many years, more of them now want to freelance and one can't blame them.

Did you get the expected breaks in films as singer?

I expected the directors with whom I worked in 1969 and who made it big then, to take me along. It didn't happen. But my wife became a successful singer. She has sung nearly 200 songs for well known music directors. You seldom find a couple that sings together in India. Unfortunately, the film industry has not made use of our talent. Its surprising that singers from the North are flown in to Chennai for recording Tamil songs while so many native singers are available here.

What has made "Saptha Swarangal" so popular?

We thought it would perhaps make it to 15 weeks. But we have recorded 150 shows to date. According to ratings, it's one of the best in-house programmes of Sun TV. The judges are eminent persons who are towering figures in their own field. We have special programmes for children and senior citizens which are much appreciated. More than 20 lakh viewers see the programme live in many countries. Vignesh and the other members of the Musiano orchestra have given a fillip to the show. Producer Subhashree Thanikachalam is very talented.

How has the programme propagated the cause of music?

The programme has generated interest in music among the youngsters and there are more takers for music lessons. We provide interesting information about ragas. The participants need to possess knowledge of music. They just can't mug up a song and reproduce it. They are asked to sing it in different beats and ragas.

What programmes are in the offing?

I no longer make ambitious plans. Whatever each day brings, I take it in my stride. I'm thankful that I have an identity of my own and I'm still holding the fort.

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