The Singapore-based artist who originally hails from Chennai attempts to aurally paint a picture of Man, Nature and the interconnectedness between them both with her collaborator Aditya Prakash on ‘HOME’. The second album from Sushma – features seven tracks of contemporary Carnatic classical in mesmerising, experimental arrangements
What would you be doing today if not for this interview?
Hiking the Rainier National Park in Seattle
If you were to introduce your music and genre to someone unaware of your music, how would you?
I am a Karnatik music practitioner, a form of music from Southern India. The fundamental elements of this microtonal form of music are raga (melody), tala (rhythm) and the marriage of both through the sahitya (lyrics). What drives me as a Karnatik practitioner is the abstraction of emotion that the music evokes. My recent works are rooted in my Karnatik training, and explore beyond the conventional Karnatik repertoire.
HOME is your upcoming album, what can you tell us about it?
SS: HOME is a reflection on my relationship with Nature and the Environment and my response to the events around the world that I have been impacted by. Using Karnatik music as the foundation in this album and exploring sounds from our everyday lives that impact our environmental landscapes, HOME attempts to aurally paint a picture of Man, Nature and the interconnectedness between them both. HOME was created with Los Angeles composer and musician, Aditya Prakash.
What has been your non-financial investment in this album? Elaborate.
The biggest investment would be time! Time spent on research – listening to various types of music and sieving through different poems and songs to find inspiration from. Also research on the history of forms of music and instruments to understand the implication of their use in the album. And of course, research on the topic itself. What is sustainable? What is not?
Time spent on practice – this was a challenging album both physically and mentally. For example, tracks like Ma and Ivory Game required strength and power and I had to ensure my voice could deliver without giving way. The tracks, The Elephant’s Funeral and Grief needed vulnerability and tenderness and I had to also find that space in my voice. Navigating these different spectrums both emotionally and physically required immense practice.
Time spent on creation – Both Aditya Prakash and I set aside 3 months from December 2020 to work on HOME. This was the first time we both had marked entire months to work on just a single project.
How does the artwork and the concept of the album come together in harmony? What’s the inspiration?
I remember giving this note to my designer, Gowrishankar Venkatraman, which best reflects the inspiration – ‘I want it to look comforting and inviting, like how Nature is when we look at it. But upon closer look, I want the image to have elements that are threatening our home today. Elements that have been used in the album – plastic, ship horns, guns, industrialisation. The overall cover should be a juxtaposition of comfort with the impending doom that’s a reflection of the consequences of our actions.’
Is the inspiration to write the album real? Whether real or fictional, how would you describe the protagonist’s feeling and current mental state after listening to the album?
SS: HOME comes from a very personal space for me. I was gutted as I witnessed and read about events unfolding around the world; from the pregnant elephant in India who fed on a pineapple loaded with firecrackers when she was caught in the human vs wildlife habitat conflict, to gorillas scrambling for their safety amidst armed militia violence, forest logging and poaching in the Congo, to the loss of indigenous plant and wildlife in the Amazon forest fires, and the list goes on.
I was also becoming increasingly bothered by the happenings in my own world; from the careless consumption of single use plastic, to blatant wastage of resources – the list goes on. As impacted as I was by all of these, I found myself struggling to reconcile my love for the natural world with my own everyday choices that seemed to contradict just that.
And I think that’s what the album reflects too. It starts off with my wonderment for nature and voyages through a spectrum of emotions including happiness, rage, disappointment and ends with me feeling immense grief.
- A challenge in making this album. Elaborate.
SS: One of the challenges was working through COVID. Travel was shut. I could not make my way to India to meet one of my key collaborators Praveen Sparsh. I could fly to the USA to work with Aditya who is based there, but the trip was loaded with restrictions and I had to serve a 2 week quarantine after I got back to Singapore. It was not easy to navigate the geographical difficulty while making this album.
According to you, what does it take to earn the acclaimed badge of “Established Artist”?
Apart from the high proficiency in the art form, what sets apart an ‘established artist’ to me is the level of engagement with which the artist practices the form. Witnessing the artist and art evolve simultaneously together inspires me.
Your Highlight performance till date and why so?
I remember performing at the Nallur Murugan temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka in 2010 after the Sri Lankan civil war was over. The way the audience came up to me after that concert and thanked me and expressed their appreciation – I will never forget that experience. It was not just any ordinary appreciation, but it was one that expressed how important Art is to our human experience.
An artist’s Best Friend is?
Patience. No great Art is produced without rigour, discipline and thought, all of which require patience.
A piece of equipment that has been absolutely pivotal in onstage performance?
In recent times, I guess the microphone?
How has your place of Origin been an influence on your music?
I am definitely a product of the local support I had while growing up. The Singapore National Arts Council was instrumental in encouraging and supporting my journey.
Growing up in Singapore was a double edged sword in my journey with Karnatik music. Initially, I felt isolated as I felt that my friends did not understand the form of music I practiced and I was not confident to speak about it to others. However, I realise now how the multi-racial upbringing has influenced my thought process and approach to music and has built my conviction to practice the form without compromising on its integrity.
How are the psychological rewards in this career you have chosen?
Music is my safe and intimate space – one wherein I can express my deepest vulnerabilities and greatest joys.
Well, thank you once again for spending time with us, giving us valuable insight into your career. We wish you all the very best of luck in your endeavors. See you soon at a Concert.
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