Kuldeep Pai, the Carnatic musician who found an audience on YouTube, talks spirituality, struggles and students

Kuldeep Pai is not your regular music teacher. “Students happen to me,” he says. In 2014, after a particularly elevating spiritual journey to Thiruvannamalai, Pai came back a different man and made his debut song for a spiritual music series. That was when his first student Soorya Gayathri ‘happened’. “She was the daughter of my friend and colleague Ganesh. We were mridangam players,” says Pai.

Soon Gayathri and Pai made a music video and uploaded it on YouTube. The song now has surpassed a million views.

“I don’t run a regular music class, though many people think so. I meet my students only during recording and pre-recording sessions and fine tune their singing," he explains. "The children come on their own. They hear about me from friends and reach out to me.” If Pai sees potential in someone, and if they ‘carry divinity’, they are asked to sing.

Pai is a popular YouTube Carnatic singer and has uploaded over fifty songs as of now. His channel has nearly six lakh subscribers.

Kuldeep Pai. All photos courtesy the writer

Kuldeep Pai. All photos courtesy the writer

“YouTube provides me the freedom to make music of my choice. There are no parameters. The music we do is not for personal credit or profit. The goal is to keep up with the traditional values taught by our gurus — to be selfless and to keep up with love for all beings. So our songs aren’t Hindu songs, they are rather spiritual songs that convey our motive across borders and cultures,” he reasons.

Born in Kochi, Kerala but a Konkani by ethnicity, Pai has produced some of the finest spiritual albums, acclaimed by audiences across-the-board. He started his popular series, Vande Guru Paramparam, to produce devotional music for a global audience, and is happy that it is achieving its target. The series has gained a million likes and views in no time. He opens up about his journey towards an enlightened way of life and work. “I was only 20 when I came to Chennai from Cochin to join the film industry in 2002. Initially, I survived by playing in Carnatic orchestras and events. I was desperate to realise my dream but life had different, yet beautiful plans,” says Pai.

Apart from Carnatic vocals, he played the mridangam and violin rendering music for Bharatanatyam dance shows. Pai is also a self-taught harmonium player, which he has played for singers like Vani Jayaram, S Janaki, and OS Arun.

Kuldeep with his awards

Kuldeep with his awards

“It was both joyous and frustrating – joyous because I could perform with legends and frustrating because my true expertise went unnoticed. I was known only as a mridangam player for a few years. No one knew I could sing. I was recognised for something I wasn’t the best at. But over the years, it turned into an advantage. I am now multi-faceted as a singer, composer, musician etc,” he says.

At some point, Pai thought that the effort to constantly prove himself in a commercial world was both tiring and futile. “I felt I lacked something. I realised I was part of a rat race. It took about 12 years to realise my true purpose as an artist. As the spiritual inclination grew deeper every day, I began making music to spread the vibrations of positivity and strength through spiritual compositions,” he explains.

During his stay in Thiruvannamalai after a personal tragedy, he met some rishis. It was a turning point in his career as well as his personal life. "It all happened in 2014, when I was caught up in a whirlpool of miseries in life and I somehow landed up in Thiruvannamalai. My time with the yogis was splendid. I also met rishis from the Ramanar Ashram, their preaching — Advaita Vedanta — is what I believe in and it is my guiding force today. My guru tattwa is following our divine ancestors to keep the roots of our culture intact. My spiritual guru is Shri Nochur Venkataraman. The experience helped me to gain my spirit back. So, just as I thought I would proceed into the spiritual life, some intuition pushed me to return to Chennai and make music. This time with a lot of difference! I thought children would be the right carriers of soulful music to deliver my spiritual intentions, as they are pure and uncorrupted minds unlike us, adults," Pai says.

The certificate Kuldeep received from YouTube

The certificate Kuldeep received from YouTube

A small team works behind the scenes for Kuldeep; Ganesh helps with the orchestration and Sharanya from Dublin is providing creative support for the videos. Within a span of three years, the crew has managed to sing 35-40 songs with seven children singing the lead and a choir of nine. “We are able to generate enough income through YouTube. The excess is shared with the children and it is more than satisfying for us to work ahead,” said Pai.

“Kuldeep uncle encourages me to sing perfectly. During recordings in the studio, he is particular about the nuances in the song. He is friendly even outside the studio, he even calls me on my birthday without fail. I feel so happy about singing in this series,” said Rahul Vellal, a Class VI student from Bangalore. He wants to become a music therapist and cure people’s ailments through it. “Every raga has a healing power. I want to implement this healing in people to make everything better,” says the young, yet poised Vellal.

Pai is particularly happy about the impact his music has. Recently, a listener from Ireland who had listened to the album throughout her pregnancy, requested hospital authorities to play the songs while she was in labour for ‘positive energy around the newborn’. “With so many mails from people of different races and cultures appreciating our music and the children’s performances, I feel I’ve accomplished what I needed to for this life,” says Pai who has currently been roped into a Hollywood movie about Indian culture.


Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 09:36 AM

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