At the end of a ragam-tanam-pallavi competition last year at Sastri Hall, violin maestro VV Subramanyam, who was presiding over the programme, congratulated the young vocalist of the evening, and followed his praise with a warning to his guru: Sanjay Subrahmanyan beware! It was Sanjay’s disciple Sandeep Narayan who had so impressed VVS that he indulged in some leg pulling in his absence.
It was indeed an exceptionally good performance by this US-born musician who moved to Chennai some six years ago to pursue a career in Carnatic music, a brave decision by a young man who grew up in America and acquired a degree in Law and Society from the University of California, Santa Barbara. There must have been a few moments of doubt along the way, for trying to establish himself as a concert musician has not been an easy ride for Sandeep. The young man must be much more confident now, as he seems to have been accepted here as a vidwan of much potential, with his Music Academy season cutcheri last year drawing not only a large crowd, but also fulsome praise from the critics. His career has come full circle in a certain sense, with his recent concert trip to the US being described in the press as the first such undertaking by a Chennai-based musician raised in the US!
Sandeep, who had his early lessons from his mother Shubha Narayan, first came to Chennai in 1996, and started his tutelage under the late Calcutta KS Krishnamurthy. Since 1999, he has been a disciple of his childhood hero Sanjay Subrahmanyan, who advised him at the appropriate time to focus on a full-time music career. Sandeep is blessed with a fluent and sonorous voice with an impressive range across the octaves, and understandably, several traits reminiscent of his guru’s ways of singing. While he does tend to sound imitative of his guru, he can sing with a greater measure of originality on his day, as he proved in the concert that VVS found so praiseworthy. He has taken much trouble to articulate the lyrics correctly, though his knowledge of Indian languages is relatively limited. His singing is most often characterized by strength and vigour, but it is not without emotional content, especially in raga alapana. Confidence marks his approach to concerts.
Sandeep, who has won numerous awards, including the best concert award in his category from The Music Academy for two years and a Youth Excellence Award from the Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer Trust. He has partnered Carnatic and other musicians like his brother Nirmal Narayan’s mridangam guru Umayalpuram K Sivaraman in some interesting ventures, as well as ghatam vidwan TH Vinayakram and the versatile UK-based percussionist Pete Lockett in world music projects.
Sandeep Narayan, who also teaches and conducts workshops at universities abroad, is certainly one of the more promising young vocalists in the contemporary Carnatic music scene.