November 26, 2004
AS A seven-year-old child in Quebec, Canada, he would observe the nuances of the resonance with every strum on the guitar.
At 15, he was consumed by a passion to study the melodic reverberations. At 16 he was travelling to several countries by himself on a melodic quest, with a desire to analyse life and find better interpretations.
His sojourn in India was ``perhaps destined,'' as the compulsive experimenter was drawn towards the Eastern philosophies and ``got curious about its esoteric viewpoints.''
As he soaked up and delved into the values in the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and studied the evolution of sound, rhythm and melody, it was the all-pervading spirituality that overpowered his senses.
Nadaka, a French-Canadian, with his guitar modified into a geet-taar (string of songs), has settled down at Auroville in Pondicherry for the last three decades!
A quintessential Indian in thought, he has several stage shows and albums in melodic fusion to his credit.
At his house, which nestles in the abundance of Nature's beauty, Nadaka's fingers criss-cross on his modified-guitar as he plays the soft strains of raga Abheri providing for a perfect take-off.
``My approach to Indian music has been with a lot of detours and the guitar was the one I started with,'' Nadaka professes.
After his gradual acclimatisation with Sanskrit, Tamil, culture and grammar of music, followed by serious lessons in Hindustani music and the veena, Nadaka says he used to wonder if the innate oscillation rooted in classical music could ever be reproduced on his guitar.
So strong was his involvement that he soon re-modelled his Californian 1950's guitar to a geet-taar (only one of its kind) with a scalloped neck to play the gamakas easily.
The adjustable frets can also be locked at right positions to so as to arrive on the accurate notes. ``This helps me in handling pieces like `Telisi Rama' in Poornachandrika better.'' He demonstrates as he sings along, leaving one dumbstruck!
What is unique about his style? Nadaka conceptualises every number after visualising a thematic progression of thought, for both his stage shows and albums.
He fashions Carnatic, Hindustani music and jazz in a stimulating blend with an underlying Indian raga to sail through with soulful beats, researched and assimilated from different parts of the globe. The Tibetan Gongs that he gravitated towards is an example.
The potent combination has no structured rules — it could start with a brief exhibition of the raga, touch on the jazz interpretations of the scale, be spiced with swaras, with laya elements brought in at a subdued pace, or have generous spaces of tranquillity woven into the raga contour.
Not to forget the fast-paced individual phrases strung together at appropriate intervals, ``to understand the soul of each instrument.''
``I want my music to convey Indian ragas in a modern way... soothing on the senses, and meditative in quality,'' is Nadaka's premise. And that explains his stand on comparing his music with modern fusions.
The changed name suggests his obsession for sound, which took him to several well-known personalities in music and philosophy who helped him experiment on the thud and echo of several kinds of melodic vibrations.
Says Nadaka, his three-part meditative series "The Lotus Trilogy" (which took two-and-a-half-years of research) ``explores the nada-potential embedded in the deeper layers of the word `Aum' which has to be related to be in complete peace with oneself.
``Nadaka, the geet-taarist, is full of sound instincts for raga and laya,'' says Vikku Vinayakram and Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna at the release of his album "Living Colours" in Chennai.
The Indianised, pony-tailed musician has shared many a stage with well-known names as Ganesh & Kumaresh, Sivamani, Selvaganesh, Basavaraj Brothers and flautist Balasai.
He also played the guitar and lent vocals to A.R. Rahman's song "Khamosh Raat" for Govind Nihalani's "Thakshak."
Ask him for his favourites and Nadaka carefully analyses his wide-ranged choice: Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna, Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar; the traditional would include Bala Saraswathi and Veena Dhanammal,; and amongst the younger lot, Aruna Sairam, Hariharan and Sowmya.
But will he stick to his cross-cultural variations in micro-tonal effect? ``Yes, the hybridisation I bring in reflects my personality.
"Although I have deeply appreciated the spirituality in Indian music, I would find it difficult to relate to say, `Vathapi Ganapathim' culturally, if I take it as a kriti elaboration. Instead, I would bring it in short phrases during my elaborative fusions in Hamsadhwani,'' says Nadaka.
From a Canadian who, in the early 1970s, found the strains of Ravi Shankar's sitar in the Beatles irresistible, to a musician finding solace in Aurobindo's words in Auroville, it hasn't just been an ordeal to chase a passion, but a devotion to fulfil a dream.
October 26, 2004
Strumming Classical Swaras
Nadaka is the name of this musician, originally from Canada, but now a resident of Pondicherry for a quarter of a century. He has almost forgotten his original name, even his passport says Nadaka. He got the name through his association with Auroville and his new-found Indian Personality.
It was reading of Aurobindo and the Mother that brought him to Auroville in 1974; since then he has become dedicated to the project of this international centre. His earlier interest in India was rather romantic, an idea of spiritually related life. When he first arrived in Chennai, he stayed with Rukmini Devi of Kalakshetra for some days and remembers her as a very kind person.
He has learnt to play on the veena and sarod a little. He also learnt a little from classical musicians, but most of his knowledge of Carnatic music has been gained from his association with artistes of Chennai violinists like Ganesh and Kumaresh, ghatam maestro T.H. Vinayakaram and ace drummer Sivamani. He interacts with the artistes in creating his own music compositions. It has been a great experience and inspiration for him. Most musicians have been very open, welcoming and very encouraging declares Nadaka. But he does not claim to be a classical musician.
In his new lotus trilogy he uses Indian ragas in his compositions, based on ideas from the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and the writings of Sri Aurobindo. He feels that one's compositions should reflect one¹s personality. He makes no compromise where his music is concerned, which goes through to reflect the inner aspiration and the uplifting attitude. It has no commercial goal, though his recordings are being offered for sale. All recordings are done in his Rain Tree Studio at Auroville, though he does make frequent visits to Chennai to discuss, coordinate and rehearse with other musicians of the city.
Constantly strumming a few swaras on his guitar; Nadaka claims that if one keeps playing a few notes repeatedly, it becomes like meditation; if one goes on with it for a few hours, at some point one goes beyond the mere music of it to something farther and deeper than the ordinary And that is the greatness of Indian music. For him, chanting 'Om' is a great experience, because he feels this sound alone contains all the notes.
A trilogy 'Lotus of the Quiet Mind', 'Lotus of the Silent Deep' and 'Lotus of the Open Heart' is to be released soon, all composed by Nadaka. In these he has not only played the acoustic guitar, but has also sung he is quite at ease in Tamil, played on the anantar harp, bamboo anklung, chimes, percussion, gongs, Tibetan singing bowls and steel drums;
Ganesh and Kumaresh have played on the violin and Vinayakaram the ghatam; two children, Vidya and Krishna, have sung the verses and there are other artistes also participating besides a Tibetan Shartse Monastery choir. In the first of the trilogy, natural sounds, recorded in the open fields, have also been incorporated. The second one has a lot of Tibetan music in it.
Nadaka has come across some people who have been a great influence, such as veena-maker Ramjee of Trichy. With him he could discuss music for hours. So many Indian and international artistes visit Ramjee and it is a privilege to be associated with him, feels Nadaka. Along with Ramjee he has designed a new type of tampura.
Another great influence has been Hasrat Inayat Khan (died in 1930) from Calcutta, who reflected the Sufi spirit; he used to play on the veena very well. Nadaka has travelled all over India, but he makes frequent trips to various parts of South India and often spends time in remote temples. Earlier, he has given stage performances along with his group, but for sometime now he has been more of a studio artiste; but he plans once again to come on the stage. The instrumental music of his works have a soothing effect and is particularly appealing during the quiet of the night.