An Inner Voice by Yarlinie Thanabalasingham and Kobini Ananth is the result of a three-year journey of experimenting, creating, learning and evolving organically. This unique forty-minute vocal Carnatic piece focusing on harmonies has recently been touring across the UK with audiences left thrilled by this innovative music. It is something I have had the privilege of seeing develop from the beginning.
Yarlinie and Kobini have already individually gained recognition for their talents; now they are also well-recognised across the Carnatic community and the current generation of artists as a duo to be reckoned with. As they reflect on their journey together, learning veena from Yarlinie’s mother, performing together in many community concerts and eventually coming together to join Tarang, the national ensemble for Indian classical music, it is obvious that they share a close bond.
Speaking and reflecting on the process of creating An Inner Voice, Kobini talks about their “Western and Eastern musical influences and understanding of how the various styles might work together” being a key catalyst to thinking about harmonies within Carnatic music. As I approached them back in 2014 to develop this idea further within a zerOclassikal commission, both were keen to explore new possibilities in an initial work-in-progress. Looking back, Yarlinie says: “Our ideas initially stemmed from developing harmonies within pieces we already knew, from slokas (Sanskrit verses) to thillanas (rhythmic pieces) and exploring the different types of harmonies within them.” Their first work-in-progress performance showcased something special, yet the challenge came now when they were asked to create a full commission of original music.
“…[explore] new possibilities… developing harmonies…”
An Inner Voice developed with the need to find match-funding for zerOclassikal’s commissioned project. Yarlinie and Kobini had something unique to offer as two females with their own British outlook and story to tell within Carnatic music, fighting for a place within an arts sector focused predominantly on promoting artists from India and lacking in professional pathways for British artists. They gained funding from both the PRS Foundation and Help Musicians UK, which enabled mentorship, research and development so they were able to delve deeper into their understanding of harmonies and hone their compositional skills, something rarely taught within Carnatic training. This funding, along with Arts Council support and grants from the Fenton Art Trust mean that for the first time, two young British Carnatic vocalists have been able to create something that is new, unique, paving a future for their careers to blossom and allowing new audiences to access their music.
Though initially Yarlinie and Kobini saw composition as a hurdle, once they had settled in it seemed as if they had unlocked a whole new avenue within their musical creativity, developing contemporary ideas within Carnatic music while sustaining its core. And as I ask what An Inner Voice looks like now, Kobini explains it as “split into two movements – our first movement explores three ragas where we’ve experimented with different types of harmonies based on the different gamakams (ornaments) in each ragam (or alapana, a slow improvisation without rhythm). Our second movement is based primarily in one raga, exploring the various styles of composition focusing on the melodic and rhythmic intricacies of Carnatic music. Our tanpura is used as a ‘third melodic harmony’ – this has been quite interesting in creating tension and confusion within the piece!”
“Our tanpura is used as a ‘third melodic harmony’…”
These two artists have showcased how an idea, determination and a thirst to explore can reveal something astonishing and lead to a piece with the clear stamp of British identity. This I believe is the beginning of contemporary South Asian classical music and I look forward to the future development of these two artists.
An Inner Voice was commissioned by the zerOclassikal project and supported by the Fenton Arts Trust, PRS Foundation and HMUK.
Mithila Sarma is Artistic Director of the zerOclassikal project.