Press Reviews

Saturday, Dec 31, 2005
Taking Ghatam and Kanjira to the West
Sudhish Kamath
The supporting artists are integral part of the ensemble in music

Sri Subash Chandran and Ganesh Kumar

CHENNAI: They are responsible for the accompaniments that pep up the kutcheri, though they remain largely unsung.


The supporting artistes, who are an integral part of the ensemble in classical and fusion music. This is about a unique Guru-Sishya duo who tour together, play together and work together to spread awareness of the lesser known Indian musical instruments.

`Ghatam’ veteran Subhash Chandran and Ganesh Kumar, a Kanjira artiste, are on a mission: to take the two native instruments around the world. They have been going places, largely in the United States, having set up six schools to spread the magic of South Indian percussion.

“The ghatam, kanjira and konnakkol (vocal percussion) have become an integral part of fusion music because they provide the right kind of bass sound that fuses well with Western instruments like the sax, bass guitar and banjo,” Subhash Chandran says. Thanks to such fusion concerts, the West has taken an interest in the lesser-known Indian classical instruments.

“We have over a hundred students at the satellite schools of Sankara Academy of Music and Arts in New Jersey, New York, Washington, Portland, San Francisco and Tampa,” says Ganesh. About 15 musicians from the Sankara Academy of Music and Arts had attained the `arangetram’ (debut concert) stage till date. “We travel throughout the US for eight to nine months during the year and come back in time for the music festival,” says the ghatam exponent. The master of vocal percussion began popularising `kunnakol’ thirty years ago, when Doordarshan started broadcasting fusion music concerts as a part of the JG Laya Group. “But it became popular only in the nineties, thanks to fusion music. In fusion music, you get a lot of freedom in expressing what comes to you naturally,” says Chandran.

His market-savvy disciple Ganesh lines up concerts with top class fusion musicians from the West to promote their brand of percussion. “We played for the Katrina Relief fundraisers at Seattle organised by the Mata Amritanandamayi Centre, and a jugalbandhi at Tampa, Florida, recently.”

Ganesh has also recently participated in the International Convention organised by the Percussive Arts Society at Columbus, Ohio, and launched a synthetic version of the kanjira under the Artists innovation series. He also released a two and a half hour instructional DVD on `The Art of Kanjira’ marketing it as the South Indian Tambourine.

Ganesh has also developed a website to promote his style of music:

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007

Harmony of sounds


Musicians from Indian classical and jazz traditions will come together for a concert on January 30, 2007

EAST MEETS WEST Some of the musicians

Take a ghatam player, a kanjira player, a bass guitarist, a flutist who plays both bansuris and Western flutes, a Carnatic keyboardist and a chitraveena master and put them all on the stage together, and you can be sure that the result will be a unique Indo-Jazz concert.

On January 30, the Adidam Spiritual Centre brings together accomplished musicians from Indian classical and jazz traditions for a free concert titled the “Festival of World Music” at Vani Mahal. At the core is ghatam master T.H. Subash Chandra’s rhythm-based group Sankara, featuring Ganesh Kumar on the kanjira and Florida-based John Wubbenhorst, a Western classical and jazz flutist who has also trained under Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia on the bansuri. Joining them for the evening will be chitraveena maestro Ravi Kiran, jazz bass guitarist Steve Zerlin from the U.S. and Subash’s son Hari Krishnan, who plays Carnatic music on the keyboard. Subash, Ganesh and John first met in 2000 and have performed all over Europe and Asia in the last seven years, playing as part of John’s group Facing East. “Our music not only combines the best of East and West, but also of North and South, with both Carnatic and Hindustani classical influences,” says John.

The trio plan to conduct another such world music concert in Chennai on February 13, featuring other accomplished musicians, and an all-India tour next year.

“This is all for Adi Da Samraj,” says Subash. “We want to spread the word about him and his philosophy.” Adi Da Samraj is a spiritual leader based mainly in Fiji and in the U.S., who hopes to open a full-fledged centre for his teachings, yoga and meditation in Chennai soon.

Wednesday, Dec 22, 2004

A new frame drum is here

By K. Ramachandran

CHENNAI, DEC. 21. Next week, during the music season in Chennai, Ganesh Kumar will introduce an innovation. The percussionist, who belongs to Chennai but is in the U.S. much of the time, will play a newly designed kanjiramade of Vermont hardwood and Mylar film. This seeks to replace the traditional kanjira, the South Indian frame drum, the frame of which is made of the wood of the jackfruit tree and which is covered by the skin of the monitor lizard. A drum company in the U.S. has made this product, as designed by Ganesh Kumar. He has the product registered with the U.S. Patents Office. One instrument will cost $120 (about Rs. 5,350).

The kanjira, Ganesh Kumar notes, is unique in one respect. It may look similar to hand drums such as the Riq found in West Asia, or the Hadjira, the Ghaval, or the Brazilian Pandeiro, but it has a deeper bass sound.

Ganesh Kumar has had compelling reasons to come out with it.

“The animal (monitor lizard) skin is not easy to get anymore. What is more, unlike the fixed tone traditional instrument, the new kanjira can be tuned according to the pitch of the concert and it is lighter… Of course, it is slightly different to the ear. That can be made out by a really discerning ear.” And, of course, the synthetic Mylar is unaffected by the weather. Normal-skin instruments lose their tone in cold weather. Not this, he says.

Ganesh Kumar introduced the instrument in the U.S. at the Global Harmony concert at Austin Texas last month. “We had frame drums from Africa, Mexico, Brazil and the U.S.,” he explains.

One can hardly miss the passion for rhythm and music as he narrates the story of the new kanjira. “Here in Carnatic music it is only an accompanying instrument. But when I play in fusion concerts, it gets unique importance.”

The kanjira is mostly used in South Indian classical concerts as a supporting instrument for the mridangam. It is a relatively recent innovation (less than 100 years). It was added to the classical concerts during 1930s. This is the only frame drum that really uses the `split finger technique’ that is associated with a fast-paced but complex repetitive rhythmic style of Carnatic music.

Beyond the traditional


Ganesh Kumar has achieved an ability to adapt and modify techniques and rhythmic patterns beyond the traditional style. And this helps him to adapt fusion music. On the one side he performs with musicians such as M. Balamurlikrishna and `Mandolin’ Srinivas; on the other with frame-drummers such as Glen Velez.

He also works with students at the Julliar School of Music and the Wagner College in the U.S.

“I remember how the deep sound has an effect. When people in the U.S. hear the fast rhythm of the kanjira… they simply go nuts. It has a tremendous impact,” he says.

Encouraged by the response and the eagerness with which people want to know more about Indian percussion instruments, he has come out with an instructional DVD that explains how to hold the 8 inches by 2 inches instrument in the left hand and in playing position using the split hand technique, the fingering and the different beats.


Thursday, March 08, 2001

It’s jazz to the beat of the ganjira

GOING BY his mail ID, ( ganjira is his second name. But that’s going by his ID. Going by his passion for the percussion instrument, you could say that it’s his first name. For in the U.S., it has been his claim to fame in the last few months.

Ganesh Kumar, is just back from the U.S., as a Fulbright scholar, as one of the first musicians to have been selected for the scholarship from India. He left Chennai in August 2000 when he started his research on “Application of Indian Carnatic drumming in jazz music” at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queen’s College, City University, New York.

And in seven months, Ganesh believes, he has found his experience touring and performing with musicians there “tremendous.”

Apart from performing with his guru Subash Chandran, Ganesh performed at the Sacred Drums of India Concert at Berkeley, played with Grammy-winning percussionist Glen Velez, noted Italian woman-percussionist, Alessandra Belloni, and also managed to do justice to his band `Facing East’ led by John Wubbenhorst doing shows, in about 10 places all across the U.S.

All this interspersed with lecture demonstrations and workshops at different music schools in and around New York, including the Manhattan and Juilliard School of Music. “I found the response to our instrument phenomenal there. Probably, because it is so compact and portable,” he reasons. And now, it is his ambition to “popularise the Ganjira in the whole of the U.S. and to prove that the instrument is not confined to classical music alone.”

Ganesh was lucky enough to have his employer, Tata Finance, backing him, on his pursuit for application of Tambourine or the Indian Frame Drum as it is called.

“For now, it is only used as a sub-accompaniment, but the fact is that it has amazing bass sound that can match any other instrument in the world,” he says. Ganesh had also worked with percussionist Max Roach on his album, when he got a 30-minute ganjira recording done for it, during his trip there. Now, the ganjira lover intends going back again and with “blessings from his guru Subash Chandran and `deivam’ Kanchi Maha Periyavar,” Ganesh Kumar hopes to win a Grammy for ganjira, someday.

By Sudhish Kamath