Interview: Ramya Tangirala

Tonight the final instalment of Milap Liverpool’s ‘Music for the Mind and Soul’ Spring series takes to The Capstone Theatre, with a specially commissioned repertoire by South-Indian (Carnatic) vocalist Ramya Tangirala.

The performance will also feature pianist Paul Wilkinson, North Indian (Hindustani) vocalist Dr. Vijay Rajput and Milap’s artist-in-residence Kousic Sen. As part of a PRS Foundation mentoring program for female composers interested in cross-cultural or fusion music, skilled musician and visual artist Ramya will be showcasing her new works for the first time ever. We chat with Ramya to find out more below…

Hi Ramya. We’re excited for your performance with Milap this Thursday! What can we expect from your performance?

The audience will enjoy a high quality cultural experience. I hope to reach out and broaden horizons to engage with the wider audience, as well as removing barriers to enjoyment. I’d also like to study the impact of my music through a survey and publish it with a medical peer review, devising techniques to make it a multifaceted and holistic exploration.

How did you first get into music?

I come from a family of performing musicians on my mother’s side. My grandmother’s elder brother was a well known Carnatic musician, G.N Balasubramaniam. My grandma, who was also a performing artist, first got me into South Indian classical vocal music. We would sing lullabies and listen to it on a regular basis.

Coming from a family of legendary musicians, have they had a big influence on your work? If so, how?

My grandparents were actively involved in the music scene. My grandmother performed concerts on the radio and my grandfather was the secretary of the prestigious Madras Music Academy, which hosts music concerts of very high caliber. The radio was always on, playing classical concerts and film music in the background. The musicians from the concerts would sometimes visit my grandparents; we were in awe when we saw them face-to-face.

My mum is a Hindustani vocalist and my uncle also used to play Western music on the guitar while he was child-minding me. The song ‘Windmills of the Mind’ fills me with nostalgia – I enjoy Western Music as well as South and North Indian music. My mind is always filled with music.

Can you tell us a bit more about the characteristics of Carnatic Vocal Music?

Carnatic Vocals is the South Indian Classical Music that evolved from tradition and was passed on to the future generations. There are different scales known as ‘ragas’ and rhythmic cycles called ‘talas’. These concepts are taught through first learning to sing the musical notes called ‘svaras’, then gradually learning various compositions. Over time, improvisations to the scale as well as certain lines of the composition are taught. Skill is achieved with regular practice and plenty of listening. It usually takes at least 10 years of regular learning to be able to perform a concert.

Carnatic Vocal Music is usually performed by an ensemble of musicians. The main performer has a melodic accompaniment (usually the violin) and a rhythm accompaniment (usually a mridangam and a drone on the tanpura) throughout the whole piece.

What is the South Asian music scene like in Leeds? Do your surroundings have much of an impact on your work?

There are a few arts organisations in and around Leeds. South Asian Music is showcased and by SAA UK, Manasamitra, Annapurna Indian Dance Company and Kalasangam, supported by the Arts Council of England. I have performed for all these organisations in the region, as well as at Literature Festivals that platform South Asian Arts. It is amazing to receive such positive reception for South Asian Music, it motivates me to explore different genres of music and incorporate them into my concerts.

Having performed at many festivals and events, what has been your highlight so far?

Performing at each event has been an enriching experience. I also provide vocals for Bharatanatyam, South Asian Classical Dance, which has inspired me to take up dance. In addition to performing and teaching music, I am now also a student teacher at SAA UK. My collaborative work with a Western musician is a dream come true, as it crosses intergenerational horizons.

What instruments can you play?

The only instrument I play is the veena, an ancient 7-stringed instrument.

What else do you have planned for 2022?

I have recently performed at Dewsbury Minster for Manasamitra and at Leeds Corn Exchange for SAA UK. Last week I also played at the 30th Anniversary celebrations of the Hebden Bridge Town Hall, for Annapurna Indian Dance Company.

Tonight I perform at Milapfest Liverpool for their Music for the Mind & Soul series, taking place at the Capstone Theatre. Then the following:

9th July: Edward Foster Art Gallery, Lancashire 

27th July: The Sounds of Asia at The Millenium Square, Leeds

September: Performing Vocals for a South Asian dance debut, accompanied on the carnatic violin by my son Aditya Tangirala 2

1st February 2023: Leeds International Concert Season and SAA UK, Leeds College of Music 

Get your tickets for tonight’s performance here. In the meantime, we were joined earlier this month by Milap’s CEO Alok Nayak for ‘The North South Divide?’, a guest show featuring an exclusive chat with Ramya and Paul – listen back below!