Famed Fingersmith no more..
Huge loss to music Fraternity.
A harmonium player of celebrated eminence, Vasant Kanakapur was a native of Dharwad. He received his initial training from the age of five under Shri R. G. Desai and Shri Gopalrao Desai of Hubli and was further trained under the late Shri Hanumantrao Walvekar of Dharwad. He provided his first accompaniment to Surshri Kesarbai Kerkar at the age of eleven. Vasant Kanakapur has accompanied on the harmonium a galaxy of reputed musicians such as Ustad Amir Khan, Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur, Pt. Basavraj Rajguru, Smt. Gangubai Hangal, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Smt. Kishori Amonkar, Smt. Parveen Sultana, Smt. Prabha Atre and Pt. Rasiklal Andharia.
He was the recipient of several titles and awards such as Karnataka Kala Tilaka from the Sangeeta Nritya Akademi, the prestigious state award from the government of Karnataka, Manjusharatna from the the government of Maharashtra and Nadashree from Karnataka Kalakar Mandal. Kanakapur was a retired staff artiste from All India Radio, Dharwad.
DOWN TO EARTH Vasanth Kanakapur inspired the lead performers with his unusual insights into the raga.
Vasant Kanakapur met with a severe road accident few years ago and the survival was a sheer miracle. But on coming to his senses, the first thing he wanted to know was if his fingers were intact – the harmonium maestro could not bear to think of being separated from his favourite instrument. This native of Dharwad, a rare representative of Karnataka among harmonium solo performers shares his pride of place with stalwarts like Pt. Rambhau Bijapure, Pt. Tulasidas Borkar, Appa Jalgaonkar and others who have explored the possibilities of this instrument for earnest musical expression.
The harmonium has always been considered an instrument with an inherent inadequacy in the context of Hindustani music since it does not embody the 22 shrutis. Since its reed structure hinders a complete rendering of the gayaki ang, it is considered alien and unsuitable for capturing the subtleties of Hindustani classical music.
In fact, the instrument was banned from the radio circuit in the early forties and reintroduced only in 1972. It even had to undergo a probationary period of two years. It is interesting that Tagore, Coomaraswamy and Nehru were all vehement in opposing the harmonium while all the great musicians of that time including Bade Ghulam Ali khan had already accepted the instrument. Thus it never quit the concert circuit.
Pandit Kanakapur learnt music from R.G. Desai. The focused learning for 14 long years was further sharpened under the guidance of Hanumantrao Walvekar. The curious fact here is that he was the exclusive shishya to receive training in the harmonium solo concert genre by R.G. Desai.
A brief stint at a newspaper office and later at a high school finally landed him in a job at Akashavani, Dharwad, in 1975 as a music-composer. Organising concerts and sammelans, composing music for a given lyric, writing the notation for background music, training artistes…such activities honed his skills of orchestration and engaged him on a day-to-day basis till he retired in 1994.
Music composition also led to an intense engagement with Kannada poetry, particularly the poetic works of Bendre, Kuvempu, D.S. Karki, Chennaveera Kanavi and other writers. Intense music learningcontinued and Vasantji attained a masterly finesse on the harmonium, imbibing the gayaki ang in his playing. Solo concerts not only enabled an independent journey backed by individual exploration but also liberated him from the mindset of playing-the-second-fiddle.
Kanakapurji has lent harmonium- saath to eminent vocalists including the legendary Ustad Amir Khan, Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Parveen Sultana, Prabha Atre among others. The Basavaraj Rajguru-Vasant Kanakapur duo is one among the celebrated saath-performers of yesteryears. Kritis like “Toredu Jeevisabahude” by Kanakadasa, “Sakalavenage neene” by Mahipathi Dasa, Basavanna’s vachanas “Kalabeda kolabeda” and “Dhare hatti uridare” vouch for his acute sensitivity as a music composer. Albums “Smarane Saalade”, “Nadavarshini” and “Guru Vachana Prabha” composed and rendered by Kanakapur-Venkatesh Kumar duo have gone on to make record sales and reach the hearts of innumerable Kannadigas.
Amidst all these joys and accomplishments, it is the proliferation of harmonium solo music that has always remained the calling for Kanakapurji. He lays stress upon the teaching of basics and fingering techniques on harmonium which include the morchana or the scale change method, practice of shuddha swaras, various ‘touches’ for every swara and construction of rare gamak taans, all directed towards the embellishment of the gayaki ang in harmonium-playing.
Harmonium music cannot trace its identity to a gharana. Individual artistes identify their lineage based on the vocal style that they follow as does Vasantji with the Gwalior gharana. Going by the general premise that voice techniques and bandishes determine a gharana, the perplexing question remains whether it is really possible to thoroughly evoke gamaks and other subtle nuances that are gharana-specific on the harmonium. “Blame the artiste and not the instrument,” holds Pandit Kanakapur. “If you know how to handle the bellows and adjust your reeds, it is possible to tide over the shruti inadequacy to a large extent and also achieve sustenance of sound,” explains this rare musician who has won several prestigious awards.
Music connoisseurs termed harmonium music as the “acoustic perfume” in the absence of which “the variations, elaborations and pattern-weaving by the main artist appeared to be bare, naked and raucous”. All the awards that have come Pandit Kanakapur’s way are a tribute to the “acoustic perfume” that has enveloped his life and being.
Music fraternity faces a huge loss by the void created by his death and music can never be alike without his transcendental presence.
Some excerpts are courtesy Ms.C.N.Sarvamangala, The Hindu, Bangalore: