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Profound musical offerings - Rajkumar Bharathi
by Malathi Iyengar, Los Angeles, CA

August 15, 2003

From creating soul-searching classical music to actively engaging in artistic experiments, Rajkumar has demonstrated a flair for composing music for movement. Choreographer Malathi Iyengar shares her experiences of collaborating with Rajkumar Bharathi, a consummate artist.

Rajkumar Bharathi, great grandson of Mahakavi Subrahmanya Bharathi, learnt vocal music from his mother, Lalitha Bharathi, and later from Valliyur Gurumurthi. He then underwent advanced training from Dr. M Balamuralikrishna and T V Gopalakrishnan. His talent blossomed under TVG and he stands today as one of the most popular artistes of his generation.

A native of Chennai, Rajkumar has a great following in Karnataka owing to his pleasing style of rendering ‘Dasara Padagalu‘. He has made forays into films and devotional music. A qualified engineer, music is his profession now. A strong attractive style of singing with clear diction and enunciation of ‘sahithya bhava’ are his hallmarks. Rajkumar has performed all over India, USA, Europe and the Orient as a part of concert tour and teaching assignments.

Rajkumar Bharathi has collaborated with me as a music composer since 1992. As an invited artist of Rangoli Foundation, Rajkumar gave his United States debut concert in Los Angeles in 1992. I was introduced to Rajkumar by my guru Narmada in 1991 and have since worked with him on several projects together. In addition to having composed songs for ‘Bharata Natyam Margams‘, Rajkumar has composed music for Rangoli‘s productions including ‘Anubhava (94)’, ‘Creation Myth (95)’, ’Mustard Seeds (96)’, ’Soorya Kanti (97)’, and ’Sacred Geometry (2002)’.

Rajkumar has also composed music for Udupi Lakshminarayan, Ambika Kameshwar, Jothi Raghavan, Madhu Manjunath, Menaka Thakkar, Nina Rajarani, Anandavalli, Ramaa Bharadvaj, Ramana Maharshi Center, Mysore Sachidananda Swami Ashrama, and several other artists and organizations.
Writing music for preexisting themes create a different challenge than that of composing for new imagery involving abstract or social themes. The constraints imposed by the dance narrow down the numerous possibilities and force certain creativity within an existing framework. The challenge is to endure whatever that one composes synchronizes perfectly with live dance not only on a technical level, but also on an emotional level.

The legendary Tanjore Quartet deserves the credit for composing a vast number of songs for dance and arriving at the ‘Bharatanatyam Margam’ practiced today. Since then, dancers have been fortunate to have had scores of great musicians, dance masters and practicing dancers who composed songs including the lilting melodies of Thillanas, Jatiswarams, Kritis, and of course the glorious Varnams. The list of musicians who have composed for dance is exhaustive. Much credit also goes to several practicing dancers who have not only contributed ideas, text, and research materials but also have demonstrated a flair for composing music for dance.

Rajkumar Bharathi, belonging to the present generation of musicians and composers has commanded a certain dignity in the field of classical music, which is of no surprise to people who have met and heard his extraordinary baritone voice. Rajkumar is an artist of conscience who characterizes his music with impeccable seriousness, energy, and inventiveness. Rajkumar’s sound knowledge, imagination, and aesthetic presentation has made him a sought after composer. While composing for dance, Rajkumar is skillful in understanding phrasing (the way the elements of a particular work are interrelated including articulation, melodic construction, and links), harmony (scales, intervals, and chords), and variation (melodic and rhythmic). Rajkumar accomplishes this well. He has accumulated an impressive resume of creative explorations and never reproduces the same tunes. His music brings out endless possibilities for dance improvisation. Endowed with a certain sense of style and finesse, he explores various possibilities to arrive at something that is innovative and divine.

I have often given him my concept and choreography in the form of scripts, descriptions and transitions between acts, exits, entries, mood of the scene, emotional content, movement choices, rhythmic variations, costume and lighting ideas, and many other details. In addition to fulfilling my needs, he is always eager to add his own originality and creativity. As a result, a true artistic collaboration is forged and the choreography is enriched. I recently composed ‘sollukatu’ (rhythmic vocalization) and choreography for a dance. I hesitated at first, but called him from a Chennai hotel where I was staying and asked him if he would consider tuning the piece in a particular raga. He readily agreed and asked me to recite it over the phone. Within an hour, I got a call from him and he sang the piece. Of course the morning when we were in the recording studio, it was no doubt ready in its entire splendor. The times spent in the studios with him are memorable due to his work ethics, enthusiasm, and humor. The notations and directions he gives to the accompanying musicians are so precise that there is never any lingering doubt. I have never encountered Rajkumar discussing another dancer’s choreographic work or the music composition. I am touched by his loyalty and appreciate his professionalism.

Conceiving visual imagery to Rajkumar Bharathi’s music has always been a wholesome fulfilling endeavor. Rajkumar’s altruistic resignation, in singing and composing is akin to the divine. His strength is felt when it comes to anything musical.

Malathi Iyengar has a Master of Fine Arts in Choreography from University of California, Los Angeles. She is the artistic director of Rangoli Foundation, Los Angeles, USA.