Kathambam is constantly in a state of evolution and will continue to evolve, says Guru P Sushanth

An eight-person ensemble with artistes from various genres, including instrumentalists and vocalists, Kathambam stands out even in the usual talented line-up of any major arts festival. The group recently performed at the SIFAS Festival of Arts 2023 in Singapore, enchanting audiences with its multi-ethnic musical offering.

Kathambam artistes – Top row (left to right): Isuru Wijesoma, rhythm and lead guitar; Mihir Kundu, tabla; Janaki Sadagopan, supporting vocals. Middle row (left to right): Sushanth Parambath, lead vocals; Dr Tony Makarome, double bass. Bottom row (left to right): Debasish Adhikary, harmonium; Prakash Gopalakrishnan, keyboard; Nishanthie Jeganathan, vocals. Photo courtesy: SIFAS

Kathambam draws upon ancient poetry, Indian classical music, folk music, Western elements, Oriental music, and various languages. The group’s creative director and noted vocalist, Guru P Sushanth, tells Connected to India in a post-performance interview what the concept of the group is and how it is associated with Singapore.

Q: How was the idea for Kathambam conceived, and how did such a multi-cultural group of artistes come together?

A: Kathambam was first conceived as a part of the SIFAS Master Series with a small group of people and song selection. As the creative director, I wanted to do something that was beyond my comfort level and to bring my own passions and love for music through a mix of different languages and genres.

It was meant to be an experimentation and exploration with artistes I had never worked with. I just knew what instruments I needed, and the SIFAS team found the artistes who could play those instruments, and that’s how the group was formed.

Q: Do you believe that a multi-cultural, ensemble group is the best representative of today’s globalised world, where there’s frequent experimentation with musical genres and instruments?

A: Experimentation keeps the arts alive and helps with evolving and improving in any art form. It also deepens one’s understanding of our own art, as well as the arts of those we collaborate with, widening our experience.

Guru P Sushanth during Kathambam performance Photo credit: SIFAS
Guru P Sushanth during Kathambam performance Photo credit: SIFAS

Q: What is the significance of classical music in the shaping up of an artiste, no matter what kind of experimentation they do later?

A: It is the foundation. It’s like learning your alphabet before knowing how to put words and sentences together. It allows you to understand the basic structure, rhythm and patterns before moving into experimentation.

Q: Please tell us about the process through which you’ve arrived at the final version of Kathambam, which is being presented at Esplanade? Also, is this an evolving performance, in the sense, could your next performance of Kathambam become something different, seeing that it has so many different styles and instruments?

A: Kathambam is constantly in a state of evolution and will continue to evolve. In fact, it already is evolving as we speak, as we’re gearing up for another version after learning from the most recent concert at Esplanade [Theatres by the Bay, Singapore]. There was a lot of trial-and-error and push-and-pull to find the right balance and that’s what we strive for.

Q: How often do you tour as an eight-person ensemble group? Is it difficult to always come together when you want to? Do you have any special connection with Singapore, other than performing here?

A: We try to, as much as we can, because it’s difficult to get everyone together. Sometimes, we perform smaller sets, depending on the programme.

Singapore has become my second home and I’ve met so many wonderful artistes here, with whom I share a very strong kinship and comradeship, all due to Kathambam. It’s because of this bond and connection formed that I hope to work with more artistes in Singapore and explore what Singapore talents have to offer.

Singapore is a world of possibilities for such a small nation, and I can’t wait for the next performance of Kathambam to show more flavours of Singapore.