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Music Maestro, Unnikrishnan Mesmerizes Atlanta

June 2007
Music Maestro, Unnikrishnan Mesmerizes Atlanta

In an age where music has exploded, thanks to the wonders of technology, singers are finding themselves in a competitive marketplace. Music directors are looking for not only a unique voice to popularize their songs, but with the mainstream media promoting singing contests such as Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa, Indian Idol and Saptha Swarangal, it has become pivotal that new artists have something different to offer—a classical background, the ability to sing in multiple languages and even stage presence.

At a recent carnatic concert in Atlanta on May 12th at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta auditorium, P. Unnikrishnan took the audience through the various levels and styles in classical music from a simple varnam to the more complicated kritis. Organized by the Carnatic Music Association of Georgia (CAMAGA), the concert also featured two instrumentalists: Vittal Ramamurthy and Arun Prakash who accompanied Unnikrishnan on the violin and mrudangam, respectively.

Carnatic vocalist and Kollywood playback singer, Unnikrishnan, offered his insights into the new music trend emerging today by saying, "Singers have to realize that only practice is the key to success. The changes in technology are bad because people often take singing for granted. Many of the playback singers including Chitra and S. P. Balasubramaniam have recorded entire songs in one take but today songs are all recorded bit by bit."

Unnikrishnan articulates, "Classical training definitely helps," even though he originally started his musical debut through a light music group. Inspired by Jesudas and Hariharan, Unnikrishnan has made a prominent mark in the playback singing industry as well through his various hits in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. He feels that it definitely is difficult to express the emotion when singing in another language because it is not only the diction but the correct feeling that needs to be stressed. Tamilians have grown to love this singing sensation through his mellifluous renditions of classically based songs such as A. R. Rahman's Uyirum Neeye (Pavitra) and also Ennavale (Kaadhalan); he won the "Best Playback Male Singer" for both songs in the mid-nineties.

In his recital in Atlanta, he sang many Thyagaraja kritis as well as Bharathiyar pieces. He rendered "Sohasu Jooda Tharama" in Kannada Gowlai which received a standing ovation from the audience. He did the more elaborate RTP (raagam/thaanam/pallavi) variations and verbal incantations on Ragam Thodi, one of his favorite ragams. The raga choices were exemplary as he transitioned from one ragam to the next in a smooth fashion - Begada, Kannada Gowlai, Thodi, Bilahari, Ranjani, Kunthuravarali and Hamsanandi to name a few. Unnikrishnan wrapped up with Theeradha Villaiyatu Pillai and Brahmam okkate – two popular songs.

Dr. Ram Sriram, the president of CAMAGA, stated that the primary objectives of the association is promoting classical music among the younger individuals living in the U.S. Unnikrishnan talked to the Atlanta enthusiasts and also autographed their CDs. One girl's jubilance put a smile to his face when she said, "your song Brahmam okatte is my favorite and I am so glad you sang it." His word of advice for aspiring singers, "practice, observe other talented singers and strengthen your voice". A piano aficionado, he would also love to eventually learn other classical forms including Hindustani and Western classical but is currently engrossed with Carnatic.

~ Archith Seshadri

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