Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna gets the Magsaysay Award for breaking social barriers with his music
With the increasing popularity of Western music, the classical and folk genres in Indian music have found their appeal on the wane. Call Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna a lone ranger, but his efforts to take the classical music form to the masses has had a revolutionary ancillary effect—that of breaking caste and class barriers. TMK—as the 40-year-old performer, social activist, author and teacher is popularly known—organises charity concerts and has also launched a programme to teach music to slum children in Chennai. He also conducts workshops to teach Carnatic music to those interested. Doing all this, he has rescued Carnatic from the elite.
Bagging the Magsaysay honour this year, TMK joins a long list of Indians whose contributions to society have been recognised with the award named after the former president of the Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay. TMK is the third Indian musician, after sitar-maestro Ravi Shankar and Carnatic legend MS Subbulakshmi, to be conferred the award. To say that he is solely a Carnatic vocalist would be wrong as puritans think of him as the bete noire of Carnatic music—he constantly breaks with tradition in the way concerts are conducted. TMK has challenged caste structures by giving Carnatic music—so far a preserve of the caste elites of Southern India—a larger audience. His efforts have led to a simplification of the musical form for the masses by emphasising that the listener need not always be technically proficient and know the ragas, but be affected by the music at an emotive level, to appreciate it.