Kunnakudi Balamurali Krishna

The inspiring journey of Kunnakudi M. Balamurali Krishna

Interview by Ramaa Ramesh

Kunnakudi Balamurali Krishna sits at the forefront of Carnatic vocalists today, a position earned the hard way - through grit, passion and an unyielding spirit. Born on 30 June 1985, into a family of teachers, Balamurali started performing at the age of 11 and excelled at both vocals and percussion, winning prizes, scholarships, awards and touring India and abroad. His path to the top seemed a straightforward one until life threw him an unexpected curveball. In 2010, out of nowhere, Balamurali lost his voice and, to some extent, his sense of purpose. Battling medical appointments and uncertain diagnoses for years, he recovered his voice in 2014 and recommenced the journey back to being a performer. In this candid conversation, he opens up about his career and how he fought back from those depths to reclaim his place on stage, his experience of learning from musical legends and his evolving approach to music and sound.

Tell me about your earliest memories of Carnatic music and your roots?

My father, R. Meenakshisundaram is a music teacher. After his wedding, he prayed at Tyagaraja’s sannidhi in Tiruvaiyaru, asking for a son who would grow up to sing. When I was born, I was named after the legend Balamuralikrishna, as Appa is a big fan of his. I was born and raised in Tambaram, and my first memory of listening to a concert was at the local Rama Navami festival. Around the start of the 1990s, popular artists like T.N. Seshagopalan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan would perform there. I was about four years old and had just started to learn the mridangam; I apparently used to play an imaginary mridangam on Horlicks boxes, as if accompanying the artists from where I sat in the front row. The amused artists would notice this and enquire about me after the concerts. At home, I used to sit in on Appa’s lessons with his students, from which I absorbed geetams and the popular varnams. I was shy to sing initially, though I never shied away from playing the mridangam which was my first love; rhythm was and remains a passion.

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