Ghatam (earthen pot with narrow mouth) forms one of the ancient percussion instruments of South India. Using the fingers, thumbs, palms, and heels of the hands by striking its outer surface and the different parts of the pot the artiste sets the different sounds and tones.
Suresh Vaidyanathan also known as Ghatam Suresh Vaidyanathan is a highly reputed and internationally acclaimed percussion artiste on Ghatam.Besides carnatic music he is equally adept in jazz and world music having composed for world music, cut albums and worked along with renowned drummers and musicians across the world.
Dynamic, mellifluous and aesthetically aggressive is how Suresh identifies his style.
Suresh has accompanied top Indian musicians like Dr Balamurali Krishna, Alla Rakah, Zakir Hussain, T V Gopalakrishnan, Guru Karaikkudi Mani, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Ronu Muzumdar, A Sivamani, Taufiq Quresh, Bickram Ghosh and has worked with great masters of jazz and world music genres as well.
“The jazz in all its varied dimensions has improvisation as its soul which is also the forte ofIndian music. I have worked with jazz musicians like Sir Paul Grabowsky, Pete Lockett, Paulo Alvares, Alessandro Tomassetti, Adrian Sherriff, Sandy Evens, Scott Tinkler, Venessa Tomlinson,Greg Ellis, Rainer Glas,George Brookes,Taffa Cissé to name a few. There has always been an inclination in them to learn the rhythmic intricacies of Indian music and I have benefited in the original jazz forms by working with them.I have performed in jazz and percussion festivals in the world like The Berlin Drum Festival, The Adelaide festival, The Melbourne festival, Pori Jazz Festival, The South End Jazz festival, Copenhagen Jazz festival etc. In January 2010, along with Guru Karaikkudi Mani, I played with 104 musicians of the Helsinki Philharmonic society in Helsinki, a composition by Finnish composer Eero Hameenniemi.” (Suresh in his interview in ‘Samudhra’ magazine)
He is also proficient in a variety of other percussion instruments like, mridangam, kanjira, tavil, konakkol and morsing and a few Latin percussions.
Suresh was initiated into music by his maternal grandfather Sri Angarai Nataraja Iyerat the age of 5,who recognised his taste in rhythmic beats on anything around, and placed him under the tutelage of Sri T R Harihara Sharma, percussionist and a great guru. From age 6 to 9 years he learnt to play the fundamentals and improvisations on a variety of instruments like, mridangam, ghatam, kanjira, morsing , dolki and konnakkol.
Sri Vikku Vinayakaram, the ghatam virtuoso, son of Sri T R Harihara Sharma, noticed his passion for ghatam, and wanting to have an able torch bearer for Ghatam, which he had made internationally acknowledged by then, formally adopted him as his prime disciple. Later he went to study under Sri TV Gopalakrishnan mridangam Maestro having received a government scholarship.
Suresh in his collaboration with other Indian percussionists to create fusion musichas a troupe called Rhythmscape headed by the Tabla exponent Vikram Ghosh of Kolkata. Suresh also has composed and performed music for ballets and regularly works with reputed dancers of many genres giving new rhythmic dimension to their works. He has performed in the trendy album ‘So beautiful or so what’of Sir Paul Simon.
He is a top graded artiste of the Radio and Doordarshan and also holds Masters in Commerce and Rhythmology.He is also frequently invited by Universities worldwide to give workshops and clinics.
Suresh at LASALLE
At LASALLE, Singapore, Suresh is the resident artiste teaching the Indian rhythmic system. And has been their resident artiste for the last four years. He comes every semester and stays for a week or ten days.
And how did this connection at LASALLE start?
“Darren Moore, who is a lecturer in popular music and drumming at LASALLE was doing his doctoral studies at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia where I do residencies regularly. I and Darren met in 2007 during one such residency and as much as we wanted to perform together, he was keen to show a glimpse of Indian rhythmic system to his students in LASALLE through me.”
More on his role as resident artiste at LASALLE
“I teach Indian rhythmic system, particularly the solkattu system, composing skills based on Indian maths- influenced rhythmic ideas. The students vary from Novice to those enthusiastic of composing music. I tailor make the subject to suit the receptiveness of the students. I find even a little glimpse into the galaxy of Indian rhythmic system is enough to kindle their interest to explore it later!”
Suresh with Darren Moore of LASALLEon their Music productions
“We have released our first album ‘TERRITORIUM’ presenting the unlimited exploration of freestyle improvisations on a common rhythmic platform. We are in the process of our next album called ‘East-West Taniavartanam’.”
And chatting on with Suresh revealed …….
Do you get your Ghatam specially made for you? From where? What is the speciality?
Every ghatam I play on is specially made in Manamadurai, a potters’ town in South India. There is a unique family which is making the ghatams for more than 150 years. They select the best clay from the banks of river Vaigai, do a mix of clays of optimum density, add a small amount of iron, zinc and red lead filings, make a pot partly using the wheel and completing with wooden hammer beats. The pots are allowed to dry for a few days and then put in the kiln. Ghatams are arranged at varying distances from the hot fire to get variety of keys and tones. After a week a few hundred ghatams are derived. Currently an internationally acclaimed clay instrument specialist from Greece is working on bringing out my signature series ghatams.
What got you interested in contemporary music and fusion?
As much as I was performing carnatic music in big venues in early eighties, my guru Sri T V Gopalakrisnan,a creative legend and a pioneer in fusion in India made me a member of his Carnatic Jazz Band along with Dileep (A R Rahman now), Drums Sivamani, Kadri Gopalnath and others. We did hundreds of shows all over India. That laid the seed for my further exploration into fusion music. I also had the best opportunities to play with internationally acclaimed musicians in Jazz and fusion music courtesy Guru Karaikkudi Mani , mridangam maestro and leader of fusion band ‘Sruthilaya’ We performed with a wide range of world music experts from Finland, Sweden, Australia and America. We also recorded with pop legend Paul Simon for his album “So Beautiful or So What”
You have done fusions with many groups and travelled around the world they are …
Sruthi Laya, Australian Art Orchestra, Rhythmscape, Sacred Drums of India, Zohar-Suresh duo, Universal World Music ensemble, Karnatik Drum Fire are the bands I travel around the world with.
What did you play for this recent concert at LASALLE?
Rhythmic freestyle improvisations on Indian rhythmic instruments by me and on western Drum Kit by Darren, interwoven with authentic carnatic compositions shared by both. We also did rounds of konnakol (phonetic percussion) in between.
What is the latest on your agenda?
With our albums released by this year end, we are embarking on a world tour next year starting with Australia and New Zealand in March 2015 and Japan and Europe in September 2015.
Suresh adds in chaste Malayalam, “My favourite audience have always been Keralites who are serious traditional music listeners yet open to experimental music too.” And he wishes all Pravasi Express readers Happy Onam!
On August 18th Suresh Vaidyanathan and Darren Moore played at SIA Theatre Stage at the LASALLE Lunchtime Concert Series.