19 November, 2013
Nisha Rajagopal would receive the ‘Isai-p-peroli’ title from Kartik Fine Arts in December 2013. She is now an established singer and is one of the leading artistes among those in the late 20s age group.
The ignition for her career in Carnatic music was perhaps switched on by a chance meeting Nisha Rajagopal and her parents had with Prof. T.R. Subramaniam at Pittsburg (USA) Venkatachalapathy temple in 1991. At that time they were living in Toronto, Canada and used to visit the temple periodically. TRS was there to present a concert. After a surprised greeting of, “what are you doing here?” by each other, he asked them to come to meet him the next day. Earlier when Nisha’s mother Vasundara was in Delhi with her parents she had learnt music from him. Since her father was in the army and was posted in places where there was no Carnatic musician, it became possible for her to start learning music only when she was 17; after five years, when she had began presenting concerts, she got married and moved to Toronto with her husband.
Nisha had casually learnt to sing from her mother, who used to teach some children, who were of similar age, in Toronto and they also used to have week end Bhajan sessions regularly. “I would say it was only Amma who kindled interest in music with the local Indian families there”, declared Nisha. When TRS came to know that Nisha could sing, he asked her to sing; finding she had a promising talent, he offered to teach her and for the next 2 ½ months every week end Nisha was driven to Pittsburg to learn from him; each session would last around 7-8 hours. After that they came to Chennai for the December season on his suggestion that year.
TRS told them if they were serious about music they should come back to India. That was the impetus to make them decide to return and within a short time they did so and Nisha’s father Rajagopal was extremely supportive. While he stayed back in Toronto, Vasundara and her three daughters – Nisha is the middle one – came to Delhi and stayed there from 92 to 95; during that time they could also learn from TRS who was working there. Later in 1995 Rajagopal found a job in Chennai and they all moved to Chennai and they have been here since then. Vasundara and Nisha learnt from TRS whenever he came to Chennai and also from Calcutta Krishnamurthy, who they consider a great teacher. Vasundara also had a very well paid job in a multinational company in Chennai, which entailed a lot of traveling too; but after a few years she felt it was taking too much of her time and as a result she could not spare much time for her children or music. Her husband was once again quite supportive when she decided to quit her job and concentrate on her family and music in 1999. Her musical career took off only then.
After sometime when TRS could not teach due to health reasons, Nisha began to learn from Sangita Kala Acharya P.S. Narayanaswsamy. In Canada Nisha was not too interested in music; she began to evince keenness only after coming here, taking part in competitions and getting to perform a few concerts in her late teens. While abroad Nisha hardly knew any Tamil, though Vasundara was particular when singing English accent should be avoided. Nisha is a graduate in Electronic Engineering and she also was employed for a couple of years, when life rather hectic. “It was left to her to decide whether she wanted to pursue music as a career, but I wanted her to have an academic qualification as a fall back measure”, says Vasundara.
Nisha’s husband Aravind, a pilot with Jet Airways and his parents too are very appreciative and encouraging of her career. She too travels a lot for her concerts that sometimes they don’t meet each other for days together. She has about 5-8 concerts a month on an average. Besides P.S. Narayanaswamy, she also learns from Sangita Kala Acharya Suguna Varadachari.
Nisha has been in the field since 2002 and it has taken about 10 years to become a recognized artiste; “even though it is only about 10 years’ difference, it has not been as easy as it is for young musicians these days, some of whom are promoted as “super singer fame” etc.” Agreeing with her Vasundara says, “definitely you have benefited from far more opportunities than the previous generation, not only in terms of concerts and types of programmes, but even financially it has been far better”. “Certainly! With the advent of YACM, youngsters began getting more recognition. We get concert opportunities not just in Chennai, but outside like Bangalore, Coimbatore, Kolkata, Delhi and so on and the crowd too is quite cosmopolitan. Even outside India audiences include people other than Indians, which was not the case even 10 years ago”; for instance in the US, Indian music concerts take place almost everywhere. In fact most artistes seem to spend several months in the US every year”, adds Nisha.
She has been part of two theatre productions ‘Sarpa Sutra’ and “Yashodara”; “singing in them was a very different experience; in fact I didn’t at first realize that I was also like one of the characters! It was nice to sing in a different set up and also to realize how Carnatic music fits into theatre”.
Does she have any favourite musicians? “From the earlier generation I like MLV, KVN and of course MS; but actually I like different artistes for different aspects”. She also likes other styles like Hindusthani, Western, Jazz, R&B etc. What about favourite Ragas?
“That keeps changing!” Nisha likes reading fiction and comics like Calvin and Hobbes.
What is her life as a musician like? “Very busy, but I like it; I have no regrets about leaving my job”. She has performed for most of the important organizations in Chennai and elsewhere in India as also in the USA, UK, Australia, Canada and Singapore. She was a faculty member of the Music India project at Liver pool conducted by Milapfest in 2013.
She is the recipient of several awards including D.K. Pattammal award of Excellence, Kartik Fine Arts 2004, Yuvakala Bharathi, Bharath Kalachar 2007, Gana Kala Vipanchee 2007, Best vocalist under the age of 25, Music Academy 2003, Outstanding Lady Vocalist, Music Academy 2008 and 2009, The Hindu Saregama M S Subbulakshmi Award 2011, Kalki Krishnamurthi Memorial Award 2012 and Isai-p-Peroli, Kartik Fine Arts 2013. Nisha would like to acknowledge the support she has received from Kartik Fine Arts from the beginning.