Discernment. Online
Try this new site search
New stuff every 2 days!
News updates News
Reviews of tapes, CDs Reviews
Tributes, profiles Features
1-minute reviews Punch in
Artiste and business classifieds Yellow pages
Expert recommendations Guru's choice
Editor's note and people behind The Music Magazine Editorial
Readers' mail Letters
Back issues Archives
The Music Magazine Home

In Association with Amazon.com

Fly easy, fly cheap!
Need a veena teacher?
Music books?


C Ashwath: he gave voice to Sharif's wonderful poetry


'He gives you incredible metaphors'

C Ashwath, the man who gave voice to Shishunala Sharif's mysticism and made the music for some internationally acclaimed films, sings at the world Kannada conference in Houston (Sept 1 to 3). He describes how he discovered Karnataka's Kabir

C Ashwath, the most famous name in Kannada sugama sangeeta today, is now touring the US. He has already taught Kannada songs at Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, and will teach at Houston between August 22 and September 5 (for details contact kumar@kannadaonline.com). He returns to India after singing at the world Kannada conference (September 1 to 3).

Teaching is something Ashwath has been doing with great enthusiasm these days. The evening before the millennium dawned, he sang with a chorus of 1,000 voices in Bangalore. For this project, he had visited several districts to train people to sing the poems of Kannada literary giants like Kuvempu.

I met the singer-composer at his N R Colony (Bangalore) house just before he left for the US. Over a two-hour chat, he recalled how he had discovered the mystic poet Shishunala Sharif, and his experience composing for films. HMV has just recompiled and issued Sharif songs on a CD.

It is 20 years since you made the music for the first Shishunala Sharif album. Sharif was a household name in the Dharwad region, but wasn't known all that much in southern Karnataka. The credit for making him so popular goes to you. Where did you first hear of this great poet?

Bangalore University had published a book called Kallusakkare Kolliro. It was a compilation of songs from Purandaradasa, Kanakadasa, and other religious poets. It was Dr Lakshminarayana Bhatta who introduced Sharif to us. He had included some Sharif songs in that book. In 1979, Mysore Sales International Limited launched a radio programme called MSIL Geethegalu. We had to choose some songs for it. I chose two -- Taravalla tagi and Alabeda tangi and set them to music.

How long did it take you to record the cassette after the radio programme?

We got a few more songs ready, went to Madras in the December of 1980, and recorded the first Sharif cassette. Mahesh of Sangeetha recording.

You evolved a new style for Sharif songs. Your style had very little to do with the traditional style of singing dasara padas. Were you influenced by the folk music of Bengal and its boatman songs? Even your singing shows influences of S D Burman.

Folk music has influenced me very deeply. I must also say that I have not been a very serious listener of Karnataka's folk music. Salil Choudhury and S D Burman have drawn from folk music. I was in Chitrapur for two years, where I used to watch Bengali films. I used to feel their folk music was very close to our language. I love the music of Naushad and Burman. I love Burman for the folk beauty he brings in. He takes up folk music and makes it folksy. Naushad shows how to make tunes that closely reflect the words.

How did all this come into your Sharif tunes?

You can see three elements in Sharif. One is his mysticism. He does not name gods like Rama and Krishna, but still talks about a higher power. The second is its literary strength. You find incredible metaphors in him. And then there's the element of bhakti. I make tunes that reflect all these elements. Everyone has recognised my folk inspiration. That is my plus point. I can take ragas like Chandrakauns and Revati and make them sound folksy.

How many Sharif songs did you make tunes for?

We made eight cassettes, that is 72 songs.

Did the team you started with continue till the end? Did the assistants who composed the interludes in your first album continue till the eighth?

I composed the interludes for the first four cassettes. To this day everyone -- from tiny tots to grown-ups -- remembers the instrumental bits. Like in Taravalla tagi ninna tamboori I don't play any instrument, and so it came about that way. What I sang they've played on the instruments. And then I went looking for other styles. After the fourth cassette, I got people like Prasad to make the interludes.

Why is it that you don't sing some of your best songs in your live concerts? I have in mind Nishchintanaagabekanthi in raga Chandrakouns and Manase manasina manasa nillisuvudu in Puriya Dhanasri.

We don't have enough time. People want to listen to songs from my first cassette. That has sold the most. Once I get back from America, I plan to give full-fledged concerts of Sharif songs. I'll have a harmonium and a tabla to accompany me, and sing for two or two and a half hours. I like the songs you mentioned. In north Karnataka people are crazy about Sharif, and they would like to hear him in my voice.

You were drawn to cinema for a while. You made the music for off-beat films like Kakanakote, and also for commercial films like Narada Vijaya and Bhoolokadalli Yamaraja. For some of them you collaborated with L Vaidyanathan and took joint credit as Ashwath-Vaidi. Why did you lose interest in films later?

I began making music for films with Kakanakote in '75-76, and continued till '82. During that period I worked on 12 films. With Vaidi I worked on several films. Some were terrible. After a gap, I got back in '87, and made the music for six films -- Aasphota, Kotreshi Kanasu, Santha Shishunala Sharifa, Mysore Mallige, Chinnari Mutta, Nagamandala Music must be an intrinsic part of the film, it shouldn't stand apart. I've worked not just on the music, but also on the script for these films. I've done about 20 films till now.

Many people say sugama sangeeta doesn't sell these days.

Sugama sangeeta is a composer's medium. We had Mysore Ananthaswamy till the '80s. New composers haven't emerged. My cassette has been in the Kannada Prabha Top 10 list for 13 weeks. If people compose to that level, it sells.

S R Ramakrishna

The Music Magazine recommendation:

Kodagana Koli Nungitta
(Sharif Songs Vol I)
CDNF 169029
HMV, Rs 275 (CD)

Write to the author

Send your review

send us your comments

Press Ctrl D to bookmark The Music Magazine

Media praise for your favourite e-zine from India:

*Fantastic site -- Hitbox
*Web's best -- Britannica
*Superb coverage... worth tuning in to -- Rediff
*Classy -- Deccan Herald

News | Reviews | Features | Punch in
Books | Yellow pages | Archives | Guru's choice | Editorial | Home

Copyright and disclaimer © 2000-2001, www.themusicmagazine.com