It was early in September that I was planning a heritage tour on the 8th and 9th of December. I was immediately confronted with a barrage of protests from several regulars and that included my wife – Sanjay Subrahmanyan’s Tamizhum Naanum concerts are happening then and so how can you…etc, etc. That naturally meant I had to change the dates. Yes, Tamizhum Naanum is back with a second edition this year. In 2018 it featured Sanjay with S Varadarajan, Neyveli Venkatesh and Thirupunithura Radhakrishnan. This year there will be two concerts, on the 7th and 8th of December, with the teams being S Varadarajan/Neyveli Venkatesh and KV Gopalakrishnan on day one and N Guruprasad (ghatam) playing in place of KVG on day two.
It is 80 years since the Tamil Song Movement (it may not be correct to call it Tamil Isai – the concept of Tamil music, as a systematized art is wholly different and has existed across centuries though its form has become hazy with time) began, though most histories usually start with the famed Devakottai Music Conference of 1941. Yes, the first writings and the speeches on the necessity for singing more songs in Tamil in Carnatic concerts began in 1938/1939 and the momentum thus generated culminated in the music conference referred to above and the formation of the Tamil Isai Sangam in 1943. What happened subsequently is well known and suffice it to say that by the 1950s even those totally opposed to Tamil as a musical language had seen the light to an extent. Thanks to the series of publications brought out by the Tamil Isai Sangam, a larger corpus of songs in Tamil emerged and it became possible to sing entire concerts in Tamil. Several stalwart performers have demonstrated this in the past.
And yet after so many years we still see bias against the language, largely among the Tamil-speaking people, who anyway form the bulk of Carnatic audiences. It is not unusual to hear comments that a concert was entirely in Tamil. In fact, an all-Tamil concert is still considered something unsual and needs to be qualified as such. An all-Telugu performance rarely attracts such remarks. And so perhaps there is much to soldier on for in the cause of Tamil.
In recent years, Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subrahmanyan has been one of the top-ranking musicians who has ensured that Tamil songs are given considerable importance and space in performances. To him it is not something out of the ordinary. Tamil is his mother tongue and so according to him, he finds greater scope for self-expression in songs in that language. For many years Sanjay showcased at the annual Margazhi Maha Utsavam several composers of Tamil songs. These include the Alwars, MM Dandapani Desigar, Samuel Vedanayagam Pillai, Doraiswami Kavi, Mazhavai Chidambara Bharathi, Kavi Kunjara Bharathi, Shuddhananda Bharathi, Subramania Bharathi, Mayuram Viswanatha Sastry, the Sirkazhi Moovar, Ramaswami Sivan, and several others. These have helped make Carnatic audiences aware of how much variety there is among Tamil songs. His presenting the Vedanayagam Pillai creation Paname (which he set in Mand) in 2016 inadvertently coincided with the demonetization exercise and the piece came to be demanded by the audience in almost every concert of his that season. No matter that the composition was written almost 150 years before. The lyrics resonated with the audience here and now.
Besides his MMU concerts, his annual performances at the Tamil Isai Sangam have according to him shown that there is a genuine love for Tamil songs which strike a ready chord with audiences. “Over the years, my performances at the Tamil Isai Sangam have only seen increasing crowds,” says Sanjay who was awarded the Isai Perarignar by that organization in 2016. “I therefore decided to take the concept forward and present it as a standalone concert. To me this is merely an extension of what I naturally do in my music.”
What makes an all-Tamil concert by Sanjay so special? “I can understand every nuance from start to finish,” says Vidya Nagarajan who is a die-hard Sanjay fan. “It is the music that speaks to me when songs are in other languages. Here the music and lyrics establish a greater connect.” And is there enough in the concept for two performances back-to-back? “Why not? Even if he were to present the same set of pieces on both days, which he will not, he will ensure there is sufficient variety in the performance.”
In a time when posturing for Tamil is all the rage, a serious effort at presenting the language in all its glory comes as a refreshing change. Tamizhum Naanum will be on at the Music Academy, Madras on December 7th and 8th.
Tickets can be purchased from www.whistlepodu.com
This article appeared in The Hindu in its special music supplement dated December 1, 2019.