The best music comes when "I don’t exist – Chandrika Tandon
After graduating from Madras Christian College, she moved to Ahamedabad to study MBA at the Indian Institute of Management. Since then, exciting job opportunities came her way. Her stint with Citicorp also saw her work in Beirut at the height of the country’s civil war in 1975. Thereafter, she joined consulting firm McKinsey.
She was among the earliest women partners in the history of the company. Job has seen her go places, work with top institutions, and interact with best business brains across the globe. In 1990, she founded New York-based advisory firm Tandon Capital Associates Inc. She is also on the Board of Trustees at New York University.
She has won many awards, including the Walter Nichols medal for representing the highest ideals of business, service, and integrity from NYU Stern, whose prior recipients include Rockefeller, Alan Greenspan and Jack Welch. More than these, she was a Grammy nominee in 2011. Her album ‘Soul Call’ was nominated in the Contemporary World Music category. The chant ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’ is central to the album. Since then, music has become a priority occupant of her mind space. She is readying to release one more album "Soul March". "This album is a tribute to all the journeys of people seeking freedom to express the truth," she says. Meet Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon, a talented business woman who is now set on a musical expedition to find inner self. Excerpts of her interview with www.carnaticdarbar.com.
What music has done to you as a person?
Jab Main Tha, Thab Hari Naahi; Ab Hari Hi, Main Nahin. (When I was there, the Divine was not; now the Divine is here; I am not - Kabir).The best music comes when "I don’t exist". Through me, I see this again and again - in myself and others. I am on a quest to lose myself. It is accelerating the inner transformation to find the light inside, and stay in. And, it affects all parts of my life - my business, my family, my friendships and everything. It has made me understand perfection in a wholly different way. Having spent a lifetime striving for perfection, you really understand you ARE perfection today, right now, right here... that different people make different forms of music, and they are all beautiful and perfect...if the forest were only filled with nightingales, it would be a very boring forest indeed...and this has become the prism with which I view my whole life and others around me...there is no judgment! It has also made me deeply and sincerely honour and respect the greats, the masters that are known, and the unknown brilliant masters who quietly teach or live in obscure parts of the world with extraordinary talent … and what effort it takes to gain mastery...and how even despite the talent "many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness in the desert air". (Gray's elegy is one of my favourite poems).
How does music help you to balance life?
Music harmonizes me as a person. It is very hard to be really down when you are singing. Intensive practice is meditation. So, it is like quieting one's mind and internal chatter for concentrated periods of time, and it permeates all aspects of my being. It is infectious. So, no one in the home can be down if I am singing away! No wonder, we have a childhood song which says "whistle a happy tune". Teaching music to a community of seniors who show up every Sunday in the harshest of weather, sometimes taking many forms of transport in an unfamiliar country- has made me realise that I get the most by teaching and sharing...it is truly enthralling to hear a group of 50-85 year olds dedicated non-singers sing with enthusiasm, devotion, and utter joy, and a community of love is born… what a gift to be able to experience that! And, I could go on and on as I love training large groups to perform at Berlin, in the U.S., in Lincoln Centre. And, most of these people are not professional singers at all.....
How does it help to practice your profession?
Keeping a focused, calm and centred mind is, to me, the most important attribute to doing my work, and living my everyday life...music enables you to get there most of the time. Interestingly, it has also made my relationships with my business associates richer. Until a few years ago, no one knew I could even sing. So, it is not unusual now for CEOs to share their closet talents in music, painting, meditation etc. It has opened up a whole new avenue of connection to my business colleagues.
Your learning has been some sort of an amalgam of different genres. Does it constrain your musical quest?
My musical exposure has been quite wide-ranging. I have learnt Carnatic classical from two great teachers - B V Raman and Lakshman; and Sangita Kalanidhi T. Viswanathan. My Hindustani teachers include Pandit Girish Wazalwar, a senior disciple of Pandit Jasraj, from the Mewati Gharana; Veena Sahasrabuddhe of the Gwalior Gharana and Pandit Vijay Kichlu, the impresario and founder of SRA, and Shubhra Guha of the Agra Gharana. And, of course, I have worked with jazz teachers in Ney York, Brazil and Europe over the years. I have sung in church choirs and general choirs. I have a collection of hundreds of 60s, 70s and 80s hits in English - from the Beatles to the Carpenters. I have heard live and on records literally hundreds of songs of French singers such as Yves Montand, Enrico Macias and Francoise Hardy; Greek singer Demis Roussos; and Brazilian singers such as Gal Costa, Daniela Mercury. I am simply crazy about these forms of music. My IIM-A yearbook entry was "She killed us all softly with her song", a take off from a famous Roberta Flack song "Killing me softly with his song", which I would play sometimes 20 times into the night. Oh by the way, I love film songs too! Some are so haunting! In fact, Sergio Mende’s 'Brazil 66 was one of my all time favoúrite albums when I was in college. And, I was awestruck to find him as a fellow Grammy nominee in the same category when `Soul Call’ was nominated!
My work over the last 30 years has taken me to every one of these countries where I have spent months. In fact, I learnt a lot of languages through music - Portuguese, French et al. So, when I hear any song in any genre, such as a Dikshithar composition expounded on by a wonderful singer, I am hearing it in all its glory. But my unconscious mind is making connections to a storehouse, which is remembered music from years and years of listening. It is very exciting when I compose because I am not bound by traditional ways of expressing a scale, as I don’t have any musical boundaries...it is all one. A flowing brilliant kaleidoscope...with some scale and raga underpinnings ... In my three CDs, I have used different ragas each time (except one repeat), and you will see that my classical training has made the framework of the raga very pure in the compositions despite this amalgamated thought process!
Finally, my goal in my albums has been to make the music easy so people can sing along. It was not about my virtuosity at all. So, I made the variations easy.
Elaborate on your latest album
I took the song `Raghupathy Raghava Raja Ram’ and re-imagined it in different rhythms and ragas - Bossanova, Calypso, a guitar Rhumba, folk tunes and different classical ragas. I used different instruments, and presented it. I worked with some amazing musicians from around the world. And, of course, Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, the Sarod maestro, was one of the prime arrangers of it. Many of my friends in the U.S. also played with me - a great Brazilian guitarist; a jazz saxophonist; amazing tribal drummers; cellists; and so many more ...
I named the album Soul March as Raghupathi Raghava Raja Ram was sung continuously during Gandhi's Salt March. This album is a tribute to all the journeys of people seeking freedom to express the truth… leaders and movements, big and small. All of us are on a quest for freedom. It is being released on April 15 in the U.S., and soon thereafter in India.
Where do you head?
I flow with the river. I go where it takes me. I am in the now, and I do not know. And, I really do not think much about what tomorrow will bring. I hope in the time I have I can touch a few lives.