The New Indian Express: Sounds good!: From childhood dream to Grammy glory, percussionist V Selvaganesh reflects on his musical journey

Dese Gowda writes:

Fresh off his Grammy win for the album ‘This Moment’, Selvaganesh recalls his family’s push to take up the kanjira, which might have been considered a ‘secondary instrument’, but has got him fame beyond measure.

BENGALURU: People have continually asked me what I was feeling when I went on stage to receive the Grammy. I’ve never said this before, but I was thinking of this one photograph that John [Mclaughlin] ji had shown a while back. It was taken in the ’80s. John ji, Shankar [Mahadevan] ji, Zakir [Hussain] bhai, and my dad [Vikku Vinayakram] are sitting together, with me standing behind them in my school uniform, holding a soda!” shares percussionist V Selvaganesh, adding, “Back then, I could never have imagined that I would one day play with these legendary musicians, be a co-producer for an album, and win a Grammy. It’s a dream come true.”

A member of the iconic band Remember Shakti, for Selvaganesh, his recent Grammy win for the album This Moment, was a culmination of a journey intertwined with family legacy and his own commitment to elevating a humble instrument. Born into a musical dynasty, the 52-year-old was exposed to Carnatic music from a very young age.

“My grandfather [TR Harihara Sarma] was a percussionist, followed by my father and then myself. When I was four or five months old, my grandfather would apparently keep me in his lap and teach his students,” he says.

Selvaganesh’s path, however, wasn’t set in stone: “I initially aspired to be a mridangam player,” he reveals. “But my grandfather suggested taking up the kanjira, which, back then, was seen as a secondary instrument. He said, ‘Take up this instrument (kanjira) because we don’t have many people who play it. Someone needs to keep it alive, and I believe our family should do it,” he recalls.

When he joined the band Shakti, it not only gave him global exposure but also elevated the ghatam to a global level. “If I had chosen to become a mridangam player, I would have faced intense competition. There were already numerous mridangam players, and carving out my own style would have been a challenge. My uncle always said that every musician must create their own style. If someone closes their eyes and listens, they should be able to tell who’s playing. Which is what I’ve worked hard for,” he says.

Meanwhile, with the upcoming Mahindra Percussion Festival to be held in Bengaluru later this month, Selvaganesh is set to realise one of his long-standing goals – a ghatam symphony.

“My father’s vision was to explore the possibility of a concert solely dedicated to percussion, with the feel of a symphony. Of course, the term ‘symphony’ encompasses a lot, and while I wouldn’t say it’s unprecedented, only a few have attempted something like this. However, our efforts have been promising. Our primary concern is creating something that sounds good to us, making it easier to present it in a way that resonates with the audience. So far, the music has exceeded our expectations in terms of composition,” he shares.