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Anantha R. Krishnan

Anantha R. Krishnan started his musical journey on the mridanga, the principle drum of Karnatic classical Indian music. The grandson and disciple of the great mridanga maestro, Shri Palghat R. Raghu, Anantha first learnt the fundamentals of the mridanga from his uncle, Shri R. Ramkumar.  At the age of five, Anantha then began a formal tutelage under his grandfather.

He performed his first concert at the age of seven. Before the age of twenty, he had performed alongside a rare generation of Indian classical musicians, including, among others, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, Professor T.N. Krishnan, Dr. K.J. Yesudas and Mandolin Srinivas. During this period, he received many awards from traditional organizations of classical music in India. Most notably, he won the categorical Best Mridangist Prize five times in six years from a reputed institution for promoting classical Indian music, the Music Academy in Madras. Also, as part of the National Endowment of the Arts’ effort to promote cultural awareness in the United States, from 1997 to 1998, he was twice awarded the State of the Arts Award from the New Jersey state government in the United States.

In 1999, he was invited to perform for the Millennium celebrations in Berlin, Germany at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and at the EXPO 2000 in Hanover. Recently, he went back to Germany at the invitation of Fred Frith, the British experimental guitarist, to perform for the seminal New Jazz Meeting for SWR 2, a national radio station in Baden.

In October 2007, he was invited by Rudresh Mahanthappa to perform with the group, Samdhi, at the Festival of the Firsts in Pittsburgh, PA. In July 2011, he performed in a Carte Blanche Artist Series at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam with the same group. Performing again with Samdhi, Anantha was the first mridanga artist to appear in Carnegie Hall’s Shape of Jazz series in New York City.

In May 2008, he was a featured soloist in the Grammy-nominated, “Miles from India” tour, which premiered at the New York City Town Hall, presenting the great Miles Davis’ music with Indian instrumentation featuring jazz legends Ron Carter, Dave Liebman, Lenny White, Ndugu Chancler, and Pete Cosey. He received a commission from the San Francisco Foundation in 2009 to compose a body of work for voice and drum with Gautam Ganeshan called “New Directions in Indian Classical Music”.

He was invited by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain to perform solo on the mridanga to honour renowned tabla maestro Alla Rakha in Mumbai and for the Abbaji Jayanti Celebration in Pune in February and April of 2014. In November 2014, he was invited to perform at the opening ceremony for the International Film Festival (IFF) in Goa. He toured Scotland in January 2015 with Carnatic violin virtuosos Ganesh and Kumaresh for the BBC Celtic Connections. Anantha was invited during the spring of 2016 to be a part of Ustad Zakir Hussain’s Master of Percussion ensemble. With Ensemble KNM in Berlin, in March 2017, he was part of a unique concert of new music entitled “Memory Space”.

Anantha has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Western Music and Philosophy from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Electronic Music and Percussion from Mills College, California. For the past seven years, he also has been studying the tabla under Ustad Zakir Hussain.  He appears on lntakt Records, Echo Music and ACT Records. Currently, he serves on the faculty at A.R. Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory in Chennai, India.

Anantha’s most recent recognition was by way of being selected to represent an ensemble of Indic classical musicians at the BBC Proms and perform at the Royal Albert Hall alongside stellar maestros like Budhaditya Mukherjee, Kumaresh Rajagopalan and Jayanthi Kumaresh.


Mridanga

Mridanga (also popularly known as mridangam) is a cylindrical drum made specifically to be played on both sides as a percussion instrument. This particular drum is of Vedic origin and is often the preferred drum for ceremonies or festivals. The drum mridanga is aptly known as daiva-vādya or a celestial music instrument, due to the heavenly quality of its rhythmic sound that is tinged with a metallic timbre.

The Sanskrit name mr̥daṅga is a conjunction of mr̥ttikā (clay or earth) and aṅga (limb or part), since early instruments were made of hardened clay. However, the mridanga has evolved to be made of wood due to its increased durability and longevity. Nowadays, its body is constructed using hollowed cylindrical piece of jackfruit wood. The two end apertures are then covered with goatskin and laced to each other with leather straps around the circumference. These straps are pulled and tensed tightly to stretch out the circular membranes on either side of the hull. As in the caser of other barrel-drums, these end membranes have differing width to allow for bass and treble adjustments when tuned and struck. The wider aperture produces lower pitched bass sounds and the smaller aperture produces higher pitched sounds with a metallic tonality.

The goatskin covering the smaller aperture is anointed in the centre with a black disk made of rice flour and ferric oxide powder. This black disk that is routinely massaged with starch lends the mridanga its distinct metallic timbre. Right before a performance, the leather covering the wider aperture is moistened and a paste of wet wheat powder (semolina) is applied to the centre, which lowers the pitch of the left membrane and gives it a very powerful resonating bass sound.

More recently, rubber gum is applied instead to loosen the membrane, helping to create the bass sound, and unlike wheat, it is not sticky. The mridanga is tuned by varying the tension in the leather straps spanning the hull of the instrument. Because the leather straps are interwoven between both the smaller and larger aperture, adjusting the tension on one side often can affect the tension on the other. Therefore, the stepwise tuning and pitch balancing is quite an undertaking.

Like in other barrel drums, the artist tunes the mridanga by adjusting the tension in the leather straps spanning the hull of the instrument. The resonance of two, nonhomogeneous circular membranes allows for unique and distinct harmonics. Nobel Prize winning Physicist, Professor C.V. Raman has published comprehensive analysis of the mathematics of these harmonics. It is widely accepted by experts in this area that the tabla, the percussion counterpart used in North Indian classical music, came about by splitting the mridanga in half. An integral part of the Karnatic music, the mridanga is a regular part of traditional festivals and temple ceremonies.


Collaboration with Hansavedas

His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda, the head monk of Hansavedas Maṭha and founding monk of Self Enquiry Life Fellowship, requested Anantha to recreate the Vedic rhythmic mystique using the mridanga. This specially composed meditative music was inspired by the traditional repertoire of Vedic rhythms attributed to Lord Natarāja Shiva and is part of the preservation project undertaken by the nonprofit organization Self Enquiry Life Fellowship to record and archive meditative Vedic music and chants.

Anantha Krishnan

Album Release