Only 16 years old, but has already experienced many things in his life. He plays the "mridangam" since he is two years old, has always been on the road with his famous grandfather Palghat R. Raghu, practiced his instrument for hours and hours at the age of 5 and 6 - these are some stations in Anantha R. Krishnan´s life.
Today he goes to school like any ordinary boy of his age, has a lot of homework to do in the afternoons, is good in sports as well - and still practises the mridangam about one hour a day - more playing is possible on weekends only. - However he enjoys being a musician and a normal student as well. And he also is priviledged in a way: The school tolerates his travels with his father Anantha Krishnan sr., the violin-player, and his grandfather, the mentioned Palghat R. Raghu - even, if he stays away from home for several weeks in a row within school-time. Anantha has played with his family and other musicians at the "Back Room Project (Part III)" at the "House of Cultures" (Berlin) and talked there with Carina Prange about his opinion towards "being a musician" and "being young".
Carina: You were born and you grew up in the U.S.A.?
Anantha: I was born in India, but when I was about six or six and a half, I moved to America. And ever since then I have been going to school in America, but I have been travelling to India frequently. And so I can say I have been brought up in equal amounts in both places.
Carina: And when did you start playing an instrument?
Anantha: Oh, when I was two, you know, even one and a half, I liked to beat the coffee tins and make a noise. And my grandfather slowly saw I had a kind of "small inkling" for drums - the rhythm - in a way. I used to go to the concerts when I was little, I used to go with him. After that I slowly got interested when he used to teach students, I sat by his side and I started playing. At the age of five I started playing the mridangam and started learning from him.
Carina: And you enjoyed to play it?
Anantha: Yes, of course.
Carina: That´s not always so. - You are 16 years old now and you play concerts now since you were 8 years old - how does it feel for you to be on stage etc.?
Anantha: You know, since when my grandfather used to go for that concerts, I used to be on stage with him when I was two or three. So I never felt that called "stage-fright" or anything, I was almost used to it since when I actually started playing on stage.
Carina: Is there enough time for you left to do other things (A: "Yeah!") or do you think you have to behave like an adult now?
Anantha: Even if I am supposed to behave like an adult, I don´t think, I can. But you know, it all depends - when you like something, you are doing. You don´t feel as though it carries that much of a burden on you. I go home, practise - but for the school - I play football, what they call "soccer", tennis, basketball, I watch TV. I have a good time. I don´t feel as though it takes away anything from me. But that time I have spent on it - when I was young I used to practise a lot: Almost six, seven hours a day sometimes - that seems long. But when you are having fun, time flies.
Carina: Can you tell me something about your instrument?
Anantha: The "mridangam" is a two-sided drum. One side is set to the tonic pitch - in this concert it is "D". So, you have that - it´s like - you got a picture or something?
See: that is the tonic side with the black spot in the middle - anyway it´s supposed to be black ... That´s made from a ferrous stone - like iron. It´s ground into fine powder, mixed with rice in a paste and applied to the skin. Then with the stone you polish it, you need like fifteen to twenty layers of it. And you get a nice dome-shaped figure in the middle. Sound only vibrates when you have one thing in the middle and two things up and below. So the top part is made of a buffalo skin, and when you play it, it gives the beat -"dong" - like the bells. You can tune it to the bells.
On the other side of the drum - for me the right - is the "bass side". That´s with two layers of buffalo-skin and one cow skin - without the cow-skin you´d have to apply something like a "cream of wheat". You make a paste with water and apply it in the middle; that gives a nice bass sound.
In the middle on the body of the drum are straps for the tension - if you tighten the straps, it goes to a higher pitch. - They have given it a nice blue covering around it: so people don´t see everything.
In concerts I play the mridangam the opposite direction of my grandfather. He plays with his right hand the "tonic side", I play it with my left.
Carina: Plans for the future?
Anantha: It means for what? - in music or in ...
Carina: ... or in life: you go to school ...
Anantha: Yes I am in school, but I would like to be a business-man. On one side, sometimes I feel I´ll have not enough time for the mridangam, but that´s what people tell me. - I don´t know yet. I hope I will be able to do both, to a significant amount. I really enjoy mridangam, I don´t want to stop it somewhere, I´d like to persue it.
Carina: Do you feel more like an American or like an Indian?
Anantha: They always ask me this question!
Anantha: I don´t know - there are certain aspects of an American and certain aspects of an Indian in me. I don´t know - it´s a nice mix.
Carina: What about tradition?
Anantha: I like Indian tradition and the mridangam and all that, but I don´t know - since I have an Indian passport, you consider me more Indian - but I also have an significant amount of American culture and "laid back attitude" and all that. It´s only for the better. If I really had to choose, I´d have to think it over carefully, because I like both places to an amount.
Photos: Carina Prange
more: The Back Room Project Part 3 - a review (in german)