GUEST BLOG: VILLUPATTU, CARNATIC MUSIC AND MYSELF
Updated: Jul 3
Author: T Kalaimagan
Kalaimagan is the grandson of the world renowned Villupattu artist, Kalaimamani Kavignar Subbu Arumugam. He started learning Carnatic music at the age of 4, and since then he has been honing the art of performing Villupattu from his grandfather, Carnatic Music & Musical Discourse from his mother ‘Kalaimamani’ Bharathi Thirumagan and various other Gurus. He is a Gold Medalist in M.A. Music and has completed M.Phil in Music. He is currently pursuing a PhD in music and is also a guest faculty at the Kalakshetra Foundation.
These three art forms (Carnatic music, Villupattu and Musical Discourse) have taught me a lot in life. I used to sit with my grandfather at all his concerts and learnt the art of performing and the importance of having command over the performance and concert. When I started performing with him I knew two songs, and my job was to sing it in front of large audiences. During these performances I mainly learnt from watching him, and with each show I learnt to tackle stage fright. I think for any artiste to grow, the first step is to get over stage fright, and performing in front of such large audiences helped me develop not just my art but my self-confidence as well.
Villupattu focuses mainly on story-telling with music as a medium, a lot different than Carnatic music which is Bhava & Sahityam oriented. To be truthful, I did not have a problem managing both. There would be a different kind of concert every day, one day we would perform Villupattu, next day it would be a Carnatic concert followed by my Band’s Contemporary Music.
This variety of performances keeps me engaged as a performer and this balance is what makes me versatile. The credit for this entirely goes to my family. My mother - ‘Kalaimamani’ Bharathi Thirumagan & my father Dr. S. Thirumagan. It was their commitment to the arts that had rubbed off on me. Villupattu and Carnatic music have taught me a very important lesson, to respect all art forms and not differentiate between classical, folk, semi-classical etc. This is the most important lesson I have imbibed as a professional Villupattu artiste and a professional Carnatic music artiste.
My grandfather always taught me that I should respect a stage no matter how large the crowd or how short or long the show duration is. At the same time I cannot assume that Villupattu is harder to perform and semi-classical is easier. I learnt that if I start neglecting my performances, it will definitely show at some point. It also because of the respect I have for each of these forms, that I have learnt to never take a job, whatever it might be, lightly.
Vision and Inspiration:
Being a part of the Carnatic Music field has given me the opportunity to connect with some of the biggest icons of the industry. Being able to showcase Villupattu and have it be recognised by them as an art form is, needless to say, a very exhilarating experience.
A Great artiste who helped Villupattu gain recognition was Sir T. M. Krishna. Being a Carnatic artiste he saw the importance of Villupattu and asked my grandfather to perform at Svanubhava, one of the biggest festivals that Sir T. M. Krishna was involved in. This helped Villupattu be recognised by youngsters.
In the year 2015, december music season, Sanjay Subramanyan was the Sangitha Kalanithi designate. The one hour lec-dem on Villupattu received a standing ovation at the Academy. Sanjay Subrahmanyan sir was kind enough to talk about my grandfather on stage and what was even more astonishing was that he sang the first song of Villupattu on stage. I find the fact that Sanjay Subrahmanyan sir, regardless of being one of the global icons of carnatic music today, gave Villupattu respect as a form of art in academy very honourable.
Meeting these artists helped me see and learn how to respect other artists in the field and in turn that helped me grow as an artist too.
When I set my mind on this field my parents paved the way for me, which is the reason I can call myself an artiste today. The stage has taught me dedication and the presence of mind required to be able to flesh out the performance and maintain the flow of Villupattu.
I’m really blessed to be learning, performing, and teaching music. And I am grateful to have had the support to pursue every opportunity that came my way. Over the years through my experience and my mentors I have been taught to respect every art form I perform and continue to learn. In 2017, we launched Subbu Arumugam Fine Arts Centre with the intention to teach Carnatic music. I have been asked to teach Villupattu, and while we do have a formal syllabus, this art form can only be really learnt through inspiration or by practice.
My aim as a performer and as an educator is to make Villupattu as a course in an established University. Seeing as to how there are takers for carnatic music we want to propagate Villupattu amongst them and bring it into the mainstream curriculum. I want to establish myself as a disciplined artiste.