Perhaps the most striking thing about Nisha Rajagopal is her voice. And for one so young, she has a remarkable stage presence that complements her youthful good looks. On the kutcheri stage, she remains totally focused on her performance and has not developed any irritating mannerisms.
At present a student of both P.S. Narayanaswamy and Suguna Varadachary, Nisha started her music lessons with her mother Vasundhra Rajagopal, herself an accomplished vocalist and a disciple of Gopala Iyer, a descendant of the famous composer Koteeswara Iyer. This was in Delhi before the Rajagopalans—Raju, Vasundhra and kids—moved to Canada. Nisha’s earliest memories of her involvement with Carnatic music have to do with driving down weekends from Toronto to Pittsburgh, where visiting vidwan T.R. Subramanyam taught.
When the family moved back to India—they came to Chennai in 1995—the lessons with TRS continued. Unsurprisingly, Nisha’s fundamentals were sound and her grasp of the intricacies of laya grew quite exceptional. Another important influence was the late Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurti.
Nisha has evidently learnt to absorb the best from each of her guru-s. She knows how to exploit the range of a naturally pliant voice and has developed some excellent musical habits—like akshara suddham and impressively modulated and full-throated singing. She has been variously complimented by critics for her excellent akara, vocal control in the tara sthayi, good aesthetics, well negotiated sanchara-s and sense of proportion in elaborating raga-s according to their scale and scope. Rakti raga-s like Mukhari, Sahana and Dhanyasi are among her favourites, a preference that often shows in her sensitive rendering of these.
Her voice has been described as ‘mellifluous and expansive,’ ‘rich in bhava’ and ‘beautifully sruti aligned’. She gets the grammar of the music and vocalisation right most of the time, even if on occasion the emotion of the raga may not entirely come through. Her exploration of ghana raga-s has often been notable for her grasp of their depth and her understanding of their vastness. On rare occasions, the voice may tend to show strain in the higher sanchara-s, in alapana or niraval, but by and large her improvisation, whether in alapana, niraval, swara singing or ragam-tanam-pallavi, is flowing and imaginative.
An ‘A’ grade artist of All India Radio, Nisha belongs to that special breed of Carnatic musicians who balance music and an active corporate career. She holds a BE degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from the University of Madras and has a full-fledged job in the IT sector.
Nisha has sung at all the major sabha-s of Chennai and elsewhere in India, besides performing abroad. Her first appearance on the Madras Music Academy stage was in 1999, during the Spirit of Freedom series of concerts there. She made her Chennai season debut soon after that and at the Academy in 2003. She is now a regular fixture during the season at all the major sabha venues.
Nisha has won the first prize in a number of music competitions and is the recipient of scholarships from the Dept. of Culture and CCRT to pursue advanced training in music. Winner of many endowment awards given by sabha-s and cultural organisations, Nisha has also released some audio cassettes and recordings.
Nisha—whose most treasured on-stage memory is that of being blessed by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer when she sang the prayer song at his 94th birthday celebrations organised by Krishna Sweets—is poised to move on to the next rung of the Carnatic music concert hierarchy from the promising youngster category.