CARNATIC CLASSICAL MUSIC

Musician T. H. Vinayakram

Rhythm has always been a quintessential facet of Carnatic music, and in the modern generation of percussionists, perhaps no other individual has mastered the intricacies and the laya endowments of the ghatam to such a great degree as Sri Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram. T.H. Vinayakram, affectionately known as Vikku, has transformed himself into an international celebrity with his imaginative and beautiful drumming on the ghatam.

The ghatam, a very ancient percussion instrument of South India, is a mud pot with a narrow mouth. From this narrow mouth, it shapes itself outwards to form a ridge. Primarily made of clay fired with brass or copper filings with some small amount of iron filings, the ghatam's size varies according to pitch. In addition the pitch can be altered to a small degree by the application of plasticine, clay or water. The ghatam is placed on the lap of the performer, with the instrument's mouth facing the belly. The artiste uses his fingers (including thumbs), his palms, and occasionally, even the fingernails to produce various sounds. Sometimes, the ghatam is turned around so that the mouth faces the audience, and the player is able to play more readily on the neck of the instrument.

Son of the noted and talented musician and percussionist, Kalaimamani T.R. Harihara Sharma, who among other things, played on the mridangam, morsingh, and the gettuvadhyam (the only stringed instrument used for percussion resembling the fretless veena, often employed by the famous Kanchipuram Naina Pillai (1889-1934) as an accompanying instrument), Vinayakram was a child prodigy. He started his concert career at the tender age of thirteen. A doyen of South Indian percussion, not only has he demonstrated his amazing dexterity in accompanying the great stalwarts of yesteryear and recent times - Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, G.N. Balasubramaniam, Madurai Mani Iyer, M.S. Subbulakshmi, and Maharajapuram Santhanam - but he has also displayed his creative and improvisatory genius in playing mind boggling rhythms for various fusion groups, such as Shakti and J.G. Laya. On the Carnatic music platform Vikku is renowned for his crisp play and deep knowledge of rhythm. He majestically finishes many a tani avartanam by throwing his ghatam in the air and catching it without missing a beat.

Vinayakram first became known in the West in the mid 1970s as a member of the group Shakti, which consisted of the jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, violinist L. Shankar, tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, and Vikku. The extraordinary speed and precision of his duets with Zakir Hussain captivated international audiences.

Vinayakram has a number of titles and awards to his name, including: "Astana Vidhwan" of Kanchi Kama Koti Peetam, "Ghatam Nagamani" given by Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, "Kalaimamini" given by the government of Tamil Nadu, India, and the First Sangeeth Natak Academy Award for ghatam in 1988.

In addition to these attainments, Vinayakram became the first South Indian artist to ever receive a Grammy Award in 1991 for Best World Music Album for his participation in Mickey Hart's "Planet Drum" in which he played ghatam and morsingh. In addition, Vinayakram was a nominee for the 38th Annual Grammy Awards for Best World Music Album for his participation in 'Raga Aberi' along with L. Shankar on the ten string double violin and Zakir Hussain on the tabla (the piece on this album is a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi in Raga Aberi set in a tala cycle of 4 3/4 beats). Vinayakram is also noted for his accompaniment in the first Carnatic concert given at the United Nations in New York by M. S. Subbulakshmi in 1966. Currently, T.H. Vinayakram is the principal of his Sri Jaya Ganesha Thala Vadya Vidyalaya Percussion School in Madras.

Vinaykram has also published two books: 'Art of Mridangam' in English and 'Mridanga Pada Bhodhini' in Tamil.


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