The Music Academy's decision to confer the title of Sangita Kalanidhi on vocalist Sanjay Subrahmanyan must be one of its most popular decisions for quite a while. Sanjay's has been a long and distinguished career in one so young.
At 47, Sanjay represents a generation of musicians that took Carnatic music by storm in the 1980s, and it would be no exaggeration to say that Sanjay is, along with Vijay Siva and TM Krishna, part of the leading triumvirate of vocalists to dominate the field, at least among male musicians. The Academy broke with its own normal practice when it awarded Sudha Ragunathan the title ahead of more senior artists a couple of years ago. Sanjay is even younger, sending statisticians scurrying to list out the youngest Sangita Kalanidhis in history.
The near-unanimous verdict among experts and lay rasikas alike has been that the honour is richly deserved, and that we are far better off honouring our vidwans when they are still on top of their game, so to speak, than wait for their superannuation. Sanjay is regarded by many as an intellectual among musicians, but also someone who is keenly aware of his strengths and weaknesses and equipped with the capacity to enhance the former and work on the latter with single-minded persistence. Older rasikas remember the beautiful aesthetics that ruled--and largely continue to rule--his raga awareness and delineation, his original manodharma, and his ability to create and sustain a Sanjay brand of vocalisation.
Over the decades, by his own recent admission, Sanjay has learnt to use constructive criticism to his advantage by diligently working to overcome his shortcomings, as in making intelligent use of his attractive-if-not-so-strong voice and perfecting his sruti and tala sense. Also criticised early on for his apparent disdain for clear articulation of lyrics, he has grown into someone who takes great care in internalising and accurately but also musically rendering sahitya in an exemplary fashion.
A seasoned critic we know made an interesting observation: that Sanjay, like Vijay Siva and Krishna, places great value on the excellence of kriti rendering, something younger vidwans should focus on rather than lose sight of in their eagerness to polish their manodharma.
Another, who describes Sanjay as a genius, exhorts him to concentrate on scaling musical heights without letting such preoccupations as his love of Tamil literature distract him from his pursuit of excellence.
Yet another has it that what he considers Sanjay's demerits are exactly the attributes others find particularly captivating in his music--namely, some of his vocal idiosyncrasies. Sanjay's endearing sense of humour is perhaps the source of much of these playful diversions, the same humour that makes him such a brilliant team player on stage.
This is a time to rejoice, to celebrate a master stroke by Carnatic music 's apex body, not an occasion to dissect Sanjay's music--or commiserate with other deserving musicians yet to be so honoured. We all know that this particular awardee has earned his reward through sheer hard work and blazing originality.