“Politicisation of art is essential for art to be true”: TM Krishna performs at Concert of Hope in Manipal
MANIPAL: Oft times described as a ‘controversial innovator’, TM Krishna is a renowned Carnatic music vocalist, activist, writer, and author, championing a number of causes connected to the environment, the caste system and discrimination, and communalism amongst other concepts. In celebration of its second anniversary, Student Support Centre (SSC), a mental health resource for the students of Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), invited him to perform for the occasion at the ‘Concert of Hope’.
The Manipal Journal had the opportunity to talk to TM Krishna, and learn more about his take on initiating change through his music.
How do you relate art or music with your identity?
Well, music is my identity. There is no relation there. Art is my window to the world and it is the only way I understand the world. It is the only way I know how to see things, and for me, that is music specifically. It is a part of every identity of mine; there is no one identity for any individual because we are all encompassing so many identities. For me, every one of those identities underlays and is filled with, to use a cliché, the sound of music.
In 2016, you were awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, and termed as an advocate to ‘Art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions’. How do you carry this responsibility through your music?
I believe I just do little things – it is not in the big things. I do things in whatever way I understand it, but I believe it is the little things that have a long term, a long journey and a long impact. They are not for quick results. It is a complex idea we are dealing with. We are dealing with people; we are dealing with perceptions, judgements, discrimination, emotions. So, I think for me, it is not about showcasing anything, but it is about seeing whether we can change the way we behave as collective people, and therefore it could be generations that are impacted. From my experience, there has been a little impact, through little ways, and as long as I can keep pushing that, I will be happy.
A landmark concert in Bangalore in 2016 saw you playing with the Jogappas (transgenders). Could you walk us through your experiences with them since then?
It has been a conversation over two years, we have all played together. They are incredible people and incredible musicians, and it has been a great learning experience for me – of great understanding of my own self-awareness. I have improved my understanding of more complex issues that go with gender and LGBT issues and not just at the level of an intellectual. Also, very importantly, it has been musically transformative. To see music differently, to listen to it in a way that is not with my own little window, and to try and listen without that has actually been good fun.
An activist cum musician is something we do not see often, and you carry both well. How do you balance these professions? Do you find that they go hand in hand?
I think the problem arises the moment we see being an activist as a profession. Being an activist is not a portfolio. For me, being an activist is being a citizen. Every citizen is a citizen only if they are an activist. There are so many ways to it. What does it mean to be an activist? It means to be aware, to be sensitive and to respond. And these are basic human qualities that we should all develop. What is the purpose behind art? To be sensitive, to receive, and to respond. So how is it, in any way, different? It is just about being decent, ethical human beings to the best of your conscious and honest capacity. Therefore, I do not see the problem with it. I think that the problem is artists in general, and these are generalisations which come with caveats. Artists, in general, have been extremely selfish, self-serving people, unless they belong to communities that are already marginalised, where they have to fight. If you look across the world, where protest music happens, or political music happens, it always comes from communities that are marginalised; it does not come from people like me – and that has to change. The politicisation of art is essential for art to be true – otherwise, art in my opinion, although pleasurable, is a fraud.
Featured Image Courtesy: Yeshaswini Srihari
Edited by: Vaibhavi Vaman