Monday, September 03, 2012

Steeped in the classics

B.V. Ramachandran Nair's shop, Viji Musics, at Kochi, is a treasure trove of classical music. He pioneered music fairs in Kerala

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 11 a.m. on a Thursday, customer N. Gopakumar enters the Viji Musics store on Press Club Road, Kochi, with a friend. He tells the owner B. V. Ramachandran Nair he wants Carnatic singer Kudamaloor Janardanan's latest CD. Ramachandran gives that and a couple of other cassettes. Inside the shop, there are large posters of the legends of Hindustani and Carnatic music. They include Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Rashid Khan, Gangobhai, Swati Thirunal, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, MS Subbulakshmi and Balamuralikrishna.

The shop, which began operations in 2000, sells only CDs of Hindustani and Carnatic music, bhajans, ghazals, qawwalis and sufi songs. Astonishingly, the songs of Rabindranath Tagore are also popular. Ramachandran shows a CD, 'The Golden Boat'. It contains songs that the Nobel Laureate had composed on the banks of the River Padma. “Even if people don't know Bengali, they enjoy listening to Rabindra Sangeet,” says Ramachandran.

There are about 30,000 CDs in the shop, presented under different headings, and placed neatly on wooden racks. And in Hindustani classical, it is Bhimsen Joshi and Pandit Jasraj who are the most popular. In Carnatic, it is Balamuralikrishna and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar.

Ramachandran has pioneered the concept of music fairs. In Kochi, during the 9-day Navaratri festival, he holds a fair at the Women's Association Hall. Every year, he stages week-long or 20 day fairs in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Mallapuram, Kannur, Kasargod and Kanhangad.

And he has noticed an unusual pattern in the sales. If a singer belongs to a particular area, the sales are the highest for him. “In Palakkad, if I go with a thousand CDs of KV Narayanaswamy, they will be sold out because he hails from there,” says Ramachandran. “In Kozhikode, the CDs of MS Baburaj are best-sellers because he is a local. In Kasargod and Kannur, the albums of Jayashree Rajeev fly off the shelves.”

And sometimes misconceptions have been laid to rest. Recently, when Ramachandran went to do an exhibition in Mallapuram for the first time, music company executives told him to take a lot of stuff by local Muslim singers. “But I discovered that the people are more interested in Hindustani classical, ghazals, qawwalis and sufi songs,” says Ramachandran. “They did not care for the local stuff.”

To go for these fairs, Ramachandran has to hire a lorry. More than 150 boxes of CDs have to be loaded. He himself travels on the vehicle accompanied by four helpers. In the fair, he ends up selling 10,000 CDs. “There are people who wait for me every year,” says Ramachandran. One of them is APM Koya, a retired manager of the State Bank of India, who lives in Kozhikode. “He has the maximum number of CDs that I know of,” says Ramachandran. “Whatever song you ask for, he has a copy. He will come to the fair about ten times, looking for rare copies of songs.”

In this era of rampant digital downloads, Ramachandran is still going strong, because most of his customers are 50 plus and are not at all digital-savvy. “But companies like 'Music Today' and 'Saregama' are also taking precautions,” says Ramachandran. “They avoid selling too much of classical music on the Internet.”

Ramachandran suddenly says, “I am not doing this solely for profit. It is because of my love of music that I am in this business.” He stumbled on to the trade by accident. After 15 years of doing business in Saudi Arabia, he returned and, thanks to a suggestion from a friend, started a music shop at the GCDA Complex on Marine Drive, before he moved to the present location. Incidentally, Viji Musics is named after his wife.

Asked about his favourite singers, Ramachandran mentions the young duo of Sankaran Namboodiri and Jayashree Rajeev. “In my own way, I have tried to promote them a lot,” he says.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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