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They were born six minutes apart. But that doesn’t stop Sahana and Shruti from completing each other’s sentences. These musician-twins have just released a novel music project, titled The Celnatic Experience, which seeks to celebrate the 225-year legacy of Muthuswami Dikshitar and the East India company. The project, which includes a coffee table book, a children’s book and a CD that are available for purchase online, is an extension of their recent thesis in the Berklee College of Music.
“We started learning Carnatic music when we were just six and growing up in Muscat,” recalls Sahana. The thrust came from their father, Kumar, an ardent follower of Carnatic music. Soon, the family moved lock, stock and barrel to Chennai to strengthen their musical base under the tutelage of Bombay Jayashree. “It was initially very difficult to cope here because the scene was quite competitive,” says Shruti.
The two knew that music was their future. After a bachelor’s degree in Electronic Media from MOP Vaishnav College, they packed their bags to Valencia (Spain), to train in the prestigious Berklee College of Music. That sowed the seeds for their present endeavour. “Even before enrolling there, we were supposed to submit a topic that we’d take up for our final thesis, and we chose ‘Nottuswarams’, something close to our heart.”
Blast from the past
They’d learnt Nottuswarams during their initial training years. “That time, we’d learnt only two,” they recall, “But we later discovered that there were 36 of them. We were also fascinated by their origins – about how Muthuswami Dikshitar had composed them in the 17th century deriving influences from British bands playing Irish music.”
The connections between the Shankarabharanam ragam back home and compositions from across the world got them very interested. “Did you know that the Dikshitar composition — ‘Santatam Pahima’ — resembles the British National anthem,” asks an excited Shruti.
These interesting similarities – from musicians separated by thousands of kilometres, in an age when cellphones and Internet were unheard of sparked off the idea in them: to highlight cross genre influences between world music. “The effort was also to take Carnatic music beyond borders and expose children from across the globe to it, just like how children here learn Western music,” says Sahana.
Thus came ‘Celnatic,’ a word coined by them. They even performed the ‘Nottuswarams’ back in Spain, which met with resounding applause. “We gave a little introduction in Spanish, so that people could follow. But audiences loved the music. They wanted to buy it, though the CD wasn’t even ready then,” say the twins, who’re currently learning Carnatic music under AS Murali.
Meeting the Maestro
This Season, the twins have hit Chennai with a two-fold purpose: to frequent kutcheris and promote their latest work. The biggest achievement, according to them, was getting the blessing of music maestro Ilaiyaraaja for their latest work. “It was such a blessing. We presented the compositions to him and he, in turn, took us a tour to the studio. He even taught us a pallavi, set in Hindolam ragam. We were awestruck that he took time off to spend interacting with us.” The twins, who’re currently working on putting together a Hindi folk single that will promote a music festival scheduled for later this year, are interested in singing for films. “We would also like to compose and come up with some independent music,” says Sahana.
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