Music, by its very nature, is boundless. It flows effortlessly across eras, blurring geographical boundaries. In its journey across seas and continents, music embraces diverse cultures and traditions. Genres and styles come together, spurring inspiration and creativity, turning man into an artiste. For these reasons and more, music is a collaborative force that provides a fresh departure for an artiste every time their penchant for music takes them to unchartered territories.
Once an artiste has deep-dived into the ocean of music, their imagination keeps searching for something new. On a quest to engage with such musical stories, Soulveda met with Carnatic singer Chandana Bala Kalyan whose rendition of a jazz composition in the Carnatic style has inspired many a music aficionado. In conversation with Editor-in-Chief Shalini K Sharma, the soulful artiste talks about her musical journey that began at a very young age, her understanding of spirituality through her music, and her interaction with musical genres.
Where and how did your musical journey begin?
I belong to a musical family. My father is a violinist and my mother sings too. Music was part of my growing up years. I started learning music at a very young age of four. My father tells me I could sing compositions he taught to his older students. At the age of eight, he started teaching me, and I started performing when I was 11. There has been no looking back ever since. Carnatic music has been a part of my identity and life. I don’t see myself doing anything other than singing. It is my core strength.
Your father is a violinist and your mother sings in Telugu. How did they influence your journey in the world of music?
My father is a Karnataka violinist who also taught me how to use the violin. He inculcated the discipline in me to practise with the manual tanpura. When I was 10, he would wake me and my older sister up at 4 am to practice the basics of Carnatic music. My mother is not a professional singer, but she always sings while doing her chores. This discipline and influence encouraged me to learn music professionally.
You have remained loyal to Carnatic for long. How did other genres enter a rather strict musical realm?
When I was in school, I sang patriotic songs and light music, but never really took it up professionally. I also had offers to sing for Kannada movies, but I chose to take up Carnatic music because my father wanted me to have a strong foundation. For him, everything else was a distraction. I am grateful he made me learn Carnatic. Then there was the influence of ghazal singing when I used to listen to Hariharan especially his album Hazir. But I never really tried to learn ghazal professionally. When I moved to Bombay, I got the opportunity to work with a few bands who wanted me to sing in a different manner. I started singing Alaap in a different way and added folk elements to my singing. That’s how I started exploring other Indian genres of singing.
Your interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s Take five and Unsquare Dance is riveting. How did you think of marrying two completely diverse genres of music such as jazz and Carnatic?
I was fortunate to sing in Sanjay Divecha’s band. After working with him, I started listening to blues and jazz. Sanjay taught me the basics of jazz. That’s how my journey in jazz began. Then I met Sankarshan ‘Shanks’ Kini who was also learning from Sanjay. He was learning jazz through sargam and he taught me the technique of learning jazz compositions using sargam, modulations, and variations. Jazz requires an accurate pronunciation of lyrics, and since I have a South Indian accent in my English I never tried singing jazz professionally. But instrumental jazz inspired me, and I wanted to learn how to use its elements in my singing to blend the two.