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Indian vocal star Sharreth flies in for concert

BY CLAIRE DIETZ | MARCH 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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Professional jazz musicians will often admit their education is never over, that the intricate genre continues to present challenges.

This is true of many musical styles, not all of which taught at Julliard or the the Royal Academy. Sharreth, one of India’s most distinguished classical vocalists, said his favorite genre, Carantic, keeps him on his toes.

“A lifetime is not enough time to learn the art form,” said the musician and film composer, who has been singing since he was 6. “I’ve been practicing for 40 years, and I know not even 1 percent of what Carnatic has to offer.”

This weekend, Iowa City audiences have the opportunity to hear Sarretth without traveling halfway around the world — 7,468 miles to be exact.

“The Exotic Voice of South India,” a showcase for the South Indian classical music genre Carnatic, will take place at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington, at 5 p.m. March 8. The event is sponsored by the Iowa Arts Council and Sarva Sree Foundation —  a nonprofit aiming to spread the knowledge and experience of Carnatic music. 

The concert is sponsored by the Arts Council. It is also helped by a large contribution from the Sarva Sree Foundation and the efforts of the founder and president of the Iowan chapter of the foundation, Meghna Ameen. After for working for more than two years on having Sharreth visit Iowa City, the work is coming to a fruition.  

The six-piece ensemble includes Sharreth, who has served as a judge on several Indian reality shows such as “India Star Singer.”

Frederick Smith, a University of Iowa professor of Sanskrit and classical Indian literature, said Sharreth is a man of many talents.

“He’s a well-known singer, music director, and playback singer,” Smith said. “He’s mostly a classical and semiclassical singer, but also a playback singer … The songs are never sung by the actors or actresses themselves, they’re always lip-syncing; they’re only actors. So his voice is the voice in the voice-over for the lip-sync for the actors.”

Sharreth will be accompanied by Arun Ramamurthy on the violin, Prasant Radhakrishnan on saxophone, Vasanth Vaseegaran on keyboards, Akshay Anantapadmanabhan on the mridanga — a heavy double-headed drum that is played sitting down — and Ravi Balasubramanian on the ghatam, a reinforced clay pot that is played as a percussion instrument. 

Jeff Morgan of the Iowa Arts Council said those presenting the show hope to promote Caranatic music, a genre Sharreth commonly performs. 

“The Iowa Arts Council is committed to supporting high quality arts projects that demonstrate public value to Iowans,” Morgan said. “Exotic Voice of South India will engage Iowans with a unique performance of Carnatic music that highlights the cultural diversity within the state.”

Sharreth said he prefers it to lending his voice to films.

“Film music he likes, he enjoys, but he likes Carnatic music even more,” Anantapadmanabhan translated for Sharreth. “There’s a very live element to it. When you do it, it’s alive, there’s no recording. With films, there are punches, takes, and you can make things sound perfect.”

Iowa City is home to several Indian cultural events hosted by the the University of Iowa Indian Student Alliance, including the a cappella competition Gathe Raho in April and Nachte Raho, one of the biggest Indian dance competitions in the country, which will take place on Saturday in the IMU.

Exotic Voices will add to the wealth of Indian music events this spring. Smith said the artists gracing the Englert stage are unlike any Iowans have seen before.

“These musicians are like the top-tier violinists and pianists in the Western world,” Smith said. “These musicians are on a par, musically, with the best musicians there. So we are really honored to have them come to us in Iowa City.”

Though vocals are at the center of Carnatic music, Sharreth said the performance will have a heavy instrumental element and plenty of improvisation.

“You can expect a traditional Carnatic performance with light music,” Sharreth said. “We don’t just have vocal performances, we also have a saxophonist and a keyboard and ghatam … The light elements will come into play when the keyboard and the saxophone are involved.”

Sharreth has also worked as the musical director on 75 movies, for which he has won numerous awards. He said his 76th film, currently in the works, is a “romance-action” flick — “After all, romance is action.”

Upon learning that an Indian dance competition, Nachte Raho, would take place in Iowa City on Saturday, Sharreth and Anantapadmanabhan said they may purchase tickets — though Sharreth said he prefers singing over dancing.

“Only if there is music is there dance,” he said.


MUSIC
Exotic Voice of South India
When: 5 p.m. March 8
Where: Englert, 221 E. Washington
Admission: $5-$18


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