The beats of the ghatam

TH Vinayakram

Rhythm has always been a quintessential facet of Indian classical music, including the Carnatic tradition. In the contemporary generation of percussionists, perhaps no other individual has mastered the intricacies of the ghatam to the degree that Padma Shri TH Vinayakram, affectionately known as Vikku, has.

A Grammy award-winning artiste, Vinayakram gained worldwide recognition with his virtuoso work with the ghatam. I got an opportunity to meet Vinayakram and his son Selvaganesh, at the World Percussion Festival, where he performed with his group Sapthaakshara. Excerpts from a quick chat with Selva:  

"Our main criterion, whenever we perform, is to engage the audience through our music. We ask them to participate by making them give us a dhun or a beat, which we improvise on and present a jugalbandi," says V Selvaganesh. 

Selvaganesh earned worldwide recognition as a percussionist through tours with English guitarist John McLaughlin's group Shakti, of which his father was also a member. In his opinion, fusion music is an experiment, while percussion is an art. "Youngsters today are more focused on fusion music. Fusion is not bad, but the problem is that they get into fusion music before getting enough exposure or experience in that one form of music they want to experiment with," says Selvaganesh, who also performs as a part of Sapthaakshara. 

About the role of technology in music, Selvaganesh says, "Technology has played both a good and a bad part when it comes to classical music. The bad part is that anything and everything is now available online; people have stopped coming to concerts or purchasing CDs. The good part, however, is that it has helped widen the reach of our music. People are becoming aware and the concept of virtual classes is gaining popularity." However, he adds a note of caution, saying, "No matter how advanced we become, the internet or technology cannot replace the knowledge that a guru can give you. The presence and guidance of a guru is essential, especially in learning the ghatam."