Traditional in roots and experimental at heart, musician Varijashree Venugopal talks about her latest collaborations.
When Hindustani classical virtuoso Shubha Mudgal calls you ‘prodigiously talented’ and dedicates an entire column to you, it’s quite something isn’t it? A candid chat with musician Varijashree Venugopal leads us to exactly why. Whether it is marrying classical raga and funk in her latest raving collaboration, Cloud 11 or her upcoming collaboration — mashing up two styles of romantic poetry, from Carnatic music to great Ghazals, with some of the best artistes in the country, one thing’s a given — this 25-year-old won’t just skirt around boundaries of genre, she will embrace them.
Growing up with Carnatic flautist H S Venugopal and musician Rama Venugopal for parents, Varijashree developed a rare ability to recognise ragas when she was just one-and-a half-years-old! “They’ve been great friends too and have never questioned my choices. Their faith puts me in a more responsible position and helps me make good decisions,” she tells us. Primarily trained in Carnatic and performing for 20 years now, Varijashree believes that listening to cross-cultural music and working on recording sessions for theatre productions and television has nudged her to create her own music compositions, developing a unique style. “I feel like there’s a strong connection between jazz and Carnatic. That’s led to my latest effort ‘Carnatic Scat Singing’ where I try to sing jazz compositions using Carnatic solfege (Sargams). It is humbling to see that this effort has been appreciated by many great artistes and music lovers from around the world,” says the 25-year-old who has a bachelor’s degree in music. “Every time I listen to some wonderful music, it only makes me feel smaller and insignificant. It’s always like that, isn’t it? There’s always so much more!” she adds.
Inspired by everyone from Lalgudi Jayaraman, Mandolin U Srinivas, Salamat — Nazakat Ali and the Alathur Brothers to Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and the like, her own musical repertoire is inspirited with collaborations. Her latest, Cloud 11 is a ‘classic’ example. Calling it close to her heart and featuring her talented friends – Gino Banks, Stephen Devassy and Sheldon D’Silva, Varijashree says, “The individual creative flavours of each artiste has beautifully come together to create this Indian classical-funk number. The song is in 11-beat cycle and is about flying high, aspiring, and enjoying doing the thing that you love. Hence, the name Cloud 11.” She’s also working on mashing up two styles of romantic poetry from Carnatic and Ghazal styles. “We call it ‘Jaavali & Shayri’. This will feature few of the best artistes in country – Jayachandra Rao, Gurumurthy Vaidya, Murad Ali Khan, Pramath Kiran and Praveen D Rao. Customised lyrics in Telugu and Urdu are written by GoTuRi and Amanullah. This music video will also feature a special dance performance by Nirupama Rajendra,” she says.
A part of Chakrafonics, a quartet fusion band which is known for its unique blend of traditional classical music with other genres of music, Varijashree loves to unwind with movies (she insists that she can watch three movies back-to-back!), food and books. But given a choice, one’s best guess is that it will always be more music.