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I Am a Student of Music: Hariharan

The versatile singer on what music means to him.


The peppered ponytail is pretty much in place. Backstage at the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech after his Atlanta concert, he politely shakes hands, smiles and chats up with his crowd of admirers, switching from English to Hindi to Tamil as only a Bombayaite Tamilian can. 

If he is tired and jet lagged, (he arrived from India the previous evening) he doesn’t show it. He is pleased as punch with the audience response. “This was a great kick-off concert. The audience was very receptive,” he says. His month-long tour of US cities ends with a concert in Tampa on September 18th.

In the midst of a horde of fans, this world musician takes time to chat up with this reporter.

Hariharan the musician is forever a student of music, he says. It means constantly moving with the times, being innovative, and learning.

His music is proof enough of his innovative spirit. From Carnatic to Hindustani, ghazals to fusion, pop to Urdu Blues, Hariharan’s music transverses the entire spectrum of music.

Born to renowned Carnatic vocalists, the late H. A. S. Mani and Alamelu, Hariharan’s childhood was grounded in Carnatic music. Later, in his teens, he started training in Hindustani music from Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. He was also greatly inspired by Mehdi Hassan, and developed a deep passion for ghazals.

Growing up in Mumbai, he was also influenced by Catholic choral music, which possibly explains his love of fusion and for his innovative trend that he calls ‘Urdu Blues’- soulful ghazals with a jazzy feel to it.

He admits that the market for ghazals has declined considerably. “You don’t see a ghazal wave. It is just 3-4 singers that are holding fort now.” The same goes for all non-filmi music, he adds. “Hindi pop did come on the scene a few years ago. But then this element was taken over by Bollywood. So Hindi pop became filmi. So now you’ve got to redefine pop. That’s important.”

And what about the scene down south? “At the moment, Tamil pop doesn’t exist. But if supported with good videos, there could be a market for it.”

Good videos. The master of innovation agrees that it is important to be seen in music videos in order to survive in this industry. “The visual media is very strong. So music videos have become necessary these days.”

After years of boundary breaking music, is an international tie-up the next step in his multihued musical career? “It is too early to talk about it, but yes definitely that is a possibility.”

Innovation, reach, appreciation… What drives Hariharan the musician? “To make people happy,” he says simply. “Give them peace, solitude and spirituality.” Over the years, Hariharan has done just that, be it with ghazals, film music, fusion or Urdu Blues. 

The swarm of fans around him is proof enough of how he has warmed hearts and touched souls with his music.

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