It is not an exaggeration to say that the world waits for Indian percussionist B C Manjunath to put up a new video every day, with every conceivable complex beauty of rhythm and precision. Not unlike players of the new word game Wordle, rhythmists like a challenge.
Bangalore based mridangam player B C Manjunath is a well known name in Europe and the United States, known for his maneuverings and felicity with numeric based rhythmic patterns, weaving a tapestry of music, both pleasing and intellectually fulfilling.
Very recently, along with his gifted son Master Skanda Manjunath, he took centerstage in France where he wrote a whole piece and created rhythms for the song ‘Cosmic Dance’ along with co-composer Sébastien Gaxie. The piece was performed by two hundred musicians of RADIO FRANCE, part of Choeur de RADIO FRANCE, Matrise the RADIO FRANCE. The piece was taken to greater heights by conductor Alexander Bloch.
The piece was of 14 minutes duration and was performed as part of Festival Presenses 2022, at the prestigious Maison de la Musique de RADIO FRANCE. Says Manunath, “We performed the piece mainly based on the Raga Panthuvarali krithi Shiva Shiva Shiva Enarada. It was thrilling to hear French and other nationals singing a Karnatik song and also recite Konnakol.”
The excitement and feelings of hope that Manjunath expresses is encouraging for the arts in a world devastated by the pandemic. Has the interest in Indian music increased across the globe during this period?
Manjunath says that the Fine Arts have given comfort since time immemorial. “The arts have sustained forever. If food is for the body, the arts are nourishment for the soul. Being a musician I can speak for myself, where I have had people come up to me and say that they get a lot of happiness when they listen to what I do on social media. It doesn’t really matter if they understand what I do, but clearly they like seeing a video of me doing what I like doing with extreme happiness. By enjoying my own music, I am able to convey the emotion physically through the senses.”
The appeal of Indian music is its complexity and adaptability. Says Manjunath, “I think Indian rhythm is one of the most sophisticated rhythmic systems in the world. It has almost all kinds of ingredients that are required to relate to and understand most forms of music. Especially Konnakol has been proven to be one of the most important tools for a lot of musicians to converse in music. I think the big changes are happening due to the social media influence where you are your own organiser, publisher, content maker etc. It has certainly been a big part of my growth in the last few years.”
He adds that interest in Indian music is “growing exponentially every year. Thanks to some great Indian musicians like Pt. Ravishankar, Vidwan Palghat Mani Iyer, Dr. Balamuralikrishna, Vidushi M S Subbalakshmi, Ustad Zakir Hussain, and many many more. We are just part of the process which truly began many decades ago. We have to make sure we keep the momentum with all the opportunities that we get.”
Manjunath has kept his audiences on their toes. “Numbers fascinate me. The numbers have always been my starting point and somehow that transcends to rhythms and hopefully to melody with my Gurus’ Blessings. I have been able to discover a lot of things over many many years. If we talk about recent times, it has been Fibonacci Tala, or Triangle numbers or some quaint patterns following rhythms of a water hose or a broken AC machine or trying some amazing patterns like Flamenco rhythms or Kathak rhythms.”
Manjunath has also played for a silent movie and been part of contemporary classical music ensembles with Western classical musicians and also for contemporary dance. On March 5, he was part of the Pandit Ravishankar Centenary concert held at Royal Festival Hall, London, led by the maestro’s daughter sitar player Anoushka Shankar where he played with a galaxy of Indian classical musicians.
Manjunath says the universal emotions of music bind the fraternity together. "It need not be restricted to a certain genre of music. We will always find our way inside a music system if our intentions are to make sure that we ask the right questions about music at the right times. Then we will find answers sooner or later, and shall arrive at a common point jointly as a performer and listener.”
Over the next one month, Manjunath will be performing with French percussionist Florent Jodelet at the Festival Detours des Babel in Grenoble, France. “It is an exciting venture where we have to try to hold the audience's attention with our percussive playing for more than an hour. I have not done this kind of playing before. Maybe it is a new beginning.”
He will also be touring Germany giving a few concerts and holding workshops. In the Netherlands, he will be part of the Gaudeamus festival and will be planning for the project with New European Music Ensemble where he will play compositions of new young composers including his friend Ned McGowan.
Everyday people expect Manjunath to do something more, something new. A challenge he is happy to take up. “I will try to create more and more new music as long as my creative mind works. One thing is for sure, people who had not seen the Mridangam before, and when they listen to it for the first time, they are curious and want to investigate more about its origins, what is its potential and so on. I am so happy that my instrument mridangam has chosen me for these amazing opportunities to travel around the globe and spread India’s rich Indian traditional classical music culture.”