Sitar player Kumar Karthigesu was honoured as a ‘living treasure’ yesterday. He tells Subhadra Devan why music makes a difference to humanity
NINE well-known artistes, from the arts world, were named National Living Heritage Treasures yesterday.
One was sitar player 39-year-old Kumar Karthigesu, who was awarded the Anugerah Karyawan Seni in 2009.
A full-time member of the fusion band AkashA, he has been an integral part of the Indian classical scene with the Temple of Fine Arts since 1986, upon his return from studies in Britain.
With an early music education in carnatic vocal, mridangam and violin, the Penang-born Kumar expanded on that base when he followed his father, Professor R. Karthigesu, to Leicester, in Britain. There, the 11-year-old was in a guitar class in school when the local education ministry introduced Indian music and dance subjects in schools as part of the curriculum. It was then that Kumar got his first taste of learning the sitar, under Pandit Dharambhir Singh, a young but senior disciple of the renowned Ustad Vilayat Khan.
After obtaining his Master’s in Performing Arts from Middlesex University, Kumar returned to Kuala Lumpur and resumed his post as sitar tutor at TFA. Today, he also teaches Indian Music at the University of Malaya, the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (Aswara) and other institutions.
He has performed in Southeast Asia, India and elsewhere. His most recent is a performance in Singapore with Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra flautist Sonia Croucher .
Kumar is also the producer of Tryam, a 40-member Indian-based orchestra of TFA International, which has performed in Kuala Lumpur, and India’s Chennai and Hyderabad.
He also composes, having done the soundtracks for two highly successful dance dramas: Butterfly Lovers and The Legend of Mahsuri. The latter, produced under the patronage of the Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry, premiered at the Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur.
The upcoming AkashA album will contain three tracks composed by Kumar. He and the band are due to perform at festivals in Greece, Romania, and London during the Summer Olympics 2012.
“I am grateful for this Living Heritage Treasure award,” says Kumar, “and will work harder to live up to the honour.”
Kumar is also looking to take music to the villages of Malaysia, sponsorship and time permitting. “This won’t be a one-off event. I want it to be sustainable. It is necessary to have music in this world today. It is, I feel, a critical element, through which we seek comfort, and it even helps make us who we are.
“See what happened when 9/11 took place. People didn’t flock to the malls. The first response was to sing, and express their emotions through music.”
He stresses: “Music is important in life, and to life. I feel it is my duty to make people aware of this, through education and exposure. But we lack that platform to take music to outside the cities. We need corporate and government help to do this.”
Other award recipients include Ramli Ibrahim and Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid, better known as Lat.
The awards are under the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry. In 2009, other awardees declared Living Heritage Treasures include the late boria king Abu Bakar Jaafar, the late traditional drum master Tan Hooi Song, bharathanatyam exponent Vatsala Kurup (Shivadas) and music maestro Tan Sri Ahmad Merican.