TM Krishna on fighting communal forces in Carnatic music: 'If you buckle to goondaism, it's all over'

On Thursday, 9 August 2018, noted Carnatic singer and social commentator TM Krishna announced on Twitter that he would release, monthly, a Carnatic song on Allah and Jesus. "Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Karnatik compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one karnatik song every month on Jesus or Allah [sic]," Krishna tweeted.

As Firstpost previously reported, Krishna's announcement comes days after singer OS Arun was the target of social media backlash over his intended participation at an event titled 'Yesuvin Sangama Sangeetham', which was conceived of by T Samuel Joseph (Shyaam). Shyaam, a student of Lalgudi G Jayaraman, has long been an exponent of Christian Carnatic music and is well known in the film and music circles. Arun was criticised by many social media users — mainly Hindus — for collaborating with a "stooge of the Vatican". Consequently, Arun cancelled the event, citing personal reasons.

The incident is the latest in what many see as a vile online campaign subjecting non-Hindu Carnatic musicians to vicious attacks.

TM Krishna. Facebook/ First Edition Arts

TM Krishna. Facebook/ First Edition Arts

TMK (as Krishna is known) spoke with Firstpost about his announcement, and what prompted it:

Why and how did you come out with this announcement?

Musicians have been attacked for singing some Carnatic songs on Jesus; one concert was cancelled. So, I kept watching and just felt we need a response because if we buckle to this kind of 'goondaism', everything is over. The way (these) so-called 'patrons' of Carnatic music have gone after musicians for having sung Christian songs has been filled with a mafia kind of bullying.

Hence I plan to release a song every month. I've already released one recording. I haven't tweeted it, it's on my Facebook page already. This is a song I had sung at a concert at the Loyola Church in Chennai. The recording isn't great, which is why I haven't tweeted it. I've asked for a better recording and I'll put that on YouTube later. Till then, that's my song for the month.

Why do you think these people believe singing a legitimate Carnatic composition in a church is wrong? How is a place of worship related to a Carnatic composition's recital, or any place for that matter?

I think this whole mess comes from a BJP, RSS kind of mentality and hence it has spread like wildfire among the middle-class, upper-caste community. We have been quietly, even unknowingly, nurturing this kind of violence for years. I think this is actually a moment for the Carnatic community to seriously introspect on what our music is all about. We can't beat around the bush anymore.

Also, isn't Christian Carnatic music a legitimate genre of music in south India? Why is the anger or the 'need' to protect Sanatan Dharma getting prominence now?

That's the whole point. There have been Christian and Islamic songs in Carnatic ragas for at least 150 years. Why haven't they come on to the mainstream Carnatic stage so much? Let's forget the stray ones, for now. That itself is a story, isn't it? That tells you what the Carnatic community thinks of the Carnatic stage.

So we've almost never sung those songs in our main sabhas and concerts. But we have been recording Christian songs in Carnatic ragas for Christian organisations, right? Musicians have not sung those compositions on the Carnatic stage because they want to be seen as a 'Hindu', an upper-caste Hindu. Here is the problem!

I support unequivocally the fact that they rendered these songs. but if you play such a game in the imagery you want to create about yourself and Carnatic world vis-a-vis the world beyond, it's problematic. Where do you stand? Where does the music stand? These are all important questions. At least say I'm a professional, I'll sing anything. That's acceptable. We can't be wishy-washy about these serious ideas.

Unfortunately, Carnatic music is ideal for Hindu extremists to portray as the upper caste Hindu emblem, in contrast to everything else! It's sung and heard by upper-caste people, it's Brahminical, it's about Hindu gods so I mean what comes close to this? Bhajan..(check), kirtan (check), full stop. In my view, this has to fundamentally change.

If I am not wrong, in Hindustani classical music, Muslim vocalists and musicians (ustads) have been singing numerous compositions in praise of Lord Shiva, Krishna or Rama...

Yeah, but today they are also being attacked? We have Yesudas singing Carnatic music, we have Muslim nadaswaram artistes playing Carnatic music. The problem for these people is always when the person within the Hindu upper world goes beyond. If the Christian or the Muslim does the Hindu, then it's actually treated as good [sic]. They're getting purified, aren't they? You know what I mean? And here suddenly you say that if you sing Christian songs missionaries are going to convert people!

So AR Rahman composing (a song) on Krishna is seen as a victory of the Hindu/s and celebrated as the greatness of our land. Which is why Hindus love to talk about Sufi(sm) because in their mind Sufi is Islam that has become sophisticated, more Vedantic. That's how people see Sufi, (as) Vedantic Islam.

It's bizarre to think that once for Mughal-e-Azam, a Muslim music composer Naushad composed a naat in praise of Prophet Mohammed in the Raga Kedar (named after Lord Shiva) and Lata Mangeshkar, an upper-caste Hindu sang it...

Exactly! Actually, there's this song that I'm working on. It is dedicated to Krishna and has been composed by Hafeez Jalandhari, the man who also composed the Pakistani national anthem. So that's what I'm saying, we have so much we can learn and celebrate but we are becoming parochial and narrow-minded and of course, the political climate is aiding and abetting this nonsense.


Updated Date: Aug 12, 2018 06:51 AM

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