Written by Krishnan Sivaramakrishnan on 26 July 2020

Inside each one of us lives a performer, and all it takes is an event like SANGAM to draw her out.

SANGAM is an “Annual Global Meet” says the Shankar Mahadevan Academy’s website. An interesting choice of words, which, knowing the penchant the Academy’s founders Sridhar Ranganathan and Shankar Mahadevan have for conveying intent and emotion through every word, is a deliberate choice. 

The word “global” is no accident. It’s an online academy, with nearly 500 students logging in from distant lands overseas everyday. “We Indians are everywhere,” Sridhar Ranganathan, the Academy’s Founder and CEO, had remarked in jest at SANGAM 2019, “And where Indians go, Indian music follows”. Music truly knows no boundaries.

When you’re a music academy, the weight an annual get together rests on student performances. The word “meet” shifts the focus from it being merely performances, to a meeting of different worlds. Spend a day at SANGAM and you would get to meet students of the Academy, young and old, normally-abled and specially-abled, and their parents. You’d get to meet teachers, curriculum designers, the Academy’s think tank and business partners. You get to watch and listen to performing artists, accompanists and luminaries from the world of Indian classical music. Automatically – and by design – the experience becomes broader, more immersive, more inclusive. 

Everyone’s a performer at SANGAM. Being a performer is to express yourself to the world – through your music, your art, your song or even a twist and a shout! Yes, as a member of the audience, you are encouraged to be a performer too. Performance teaches you instinct - when performers receive an applause or any other feedback from their audience, they know deep inside if they’ve done justice to what has been learned and if more work is required. All they’ve got to do is feel where the heart sank and where it bounded with joy. There’s nothing that makes learning truer and more memorable than performing. For every budding artist it’s the truest friend, after the teacher.

At SANGAM we were witness to a series of rousing performances. There were performances that stirred our emotions and brought tears to our eyes (the special kids of Joyful Choir); those that made our hearts beat with joy (the enthusiastic kids of Inspire India); those that made us realise the intimate connection between music and nature (Grow with Music kids in their colourful garb); those that made us experience the wonder and divinity of music (by the performers of Carnatic Vocal music), and marvel at its communicativeness (Hindustani Vocal music performers’ tribute to Shankar Mahadevan). Then, there was our own performance as members of the audience that led us to shake our hip, throw our hands up and let our hair down (Twist and Shout, tribute to the World Singing Day).

But at SANGAM 2019, performance did not confine itself to singing or playing or listening to music. It went a step further, into the world of on-stage conversations. A conversation can connect you to a stranger you’ve just met, and a conversation with a luminary can give you insights into the inspiring journey of their life!

At SANGAM 2019, we had question and answer sessions with seasoned artists who made each conversation seem like a performing art too! 

It’s even a concert of the mind. Proof of that are the Q&A conversation Padma Shankar had with Carnatic vocalist S. Shankar and the one Chaitra Sontakke had with Hindustani vocalist Pandit Parameshwar Hegde. Or that highly engaging conversation Shankar Mahadevan had with Hindustani vocal artiste Kaushiki Chakraborty. Every individual who witnessed that Q&A virtually watched the movie of her life as master-questioner Shankar jovially nudged her to recount the most precious learning moments of her life. How the audience connected, and how it learned through that shared connection!

Last but not the least, the Riyaz with Shankar and Kaushiki it challenged both seasoned and bathroom singers and brought out the performer in each of us, enthralling the young and old alike!

So that was a view of SANGAM 2019 from a backbench member of the audience. The stories that follow will hopefully give you a ringside view.  

Fact File

Inspire India

Inspire India is a project where the Academy teaches music to the underprivileged sector. Shankar Mahadevan says, "You can be poor but extremely talented. And that talent will go waste if it’s not tapped into. So we go and teach music to underprivileged children from areas like Dharavi or Govandi, where they are extremely poor but they have the passion, the drive, the happiness to come out and learn.” 

Joyful Choir

In Joyful Choir the Academy teaches music to special children. Shankar Mahadevan says, "Special children belong to a special world where there’s no hatred, no enmity. There’s only love, love, love and love. They get extreme joy when they get exposed to music, when they’re able to sing, when they’re able to perform. Being able to sing and perform is a big high point in their lives. Through Joyful Choir we are able to cultivate those high points in their lives. And watching them enjoy becomes a high point in our lives too."