Sanjay Subrahmanyan was born in Chennai on January 21, 1968 into a family steeped in Carnatic music. The air in his childhood home was thick with the strains of some of the greatest voices ever known to the Carnatic music world – blaring out from the radio, tape recorders and the gramophone. Like many others in the family, Sanjay took to the art form like a duck to water. His early training included violin and vocal classes from Guru V. Lakshminarayana, his grand aunt Guru Rukmini Rajagopalan, Guru Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurthi and more recently, from Nadaswaram maestro Guru S.R.D. Vaidyanathan. Today, at the height of his powers, Sanjay is himself an iconic inspiration to the younger generation, and his legion of admirers is spread all over the globe.
Sanjay Subrahmanyan is one of those rare and complete performers whose concerts are the product of a lively and intelligent mind. His music has the high authority and purity of tradition and the creativity of an exceptionally gifted artist. His concerts, like those of the great musicians of the past, convey an air of freedom. They sang in the presence of an audience, but they sang for their music. The durability of their music lies partly in this strength of spirit that it embodies. Their joy in their music is a part of our enjoyment of it. Sanjay’s performances have this great attribute. He is visibly lost in his music and takes us with him.
Today Sanjay sings with an air of freedom and abandon that few can match. Hisrepertoire is vast and varied and an unending work in progress. He delights us with the unpredictability and newness of what he chooses to sing. The intensive and exhaustive elaboration of unconventional ragas, and those that are outside the major mainstream, is a unique feature of his concerts that finds him in his elements. At the same time his treatment of the time honoured classical ragas like Todi, Kalyani, Khamboji, Bhairavi, Sankarabharanam and so on, find new and refreshing interpretations each time he essays them. This unique combination of tradition and modernity is what makes the fans throng to his performances – be they in Chennai or Chicago, New Delhi or New Jersey, Bangalore or Boston. Sanjay’s fondness for his mother tongue, Tamil, deserves a special mention. This ancient language finds the singer in his elements, as he offers classic Tamil compostions in tandem with those that he assiduously mines of composers whose works have not seen the light of day. This is a much anticipated aspect of his performances.
Sanjay’s innovativeness is quite outstanding, although he makes it seem so easy. While maintaining the same high standard, no one concert of his is like another. He gives of his best each time. We hear in him a musician who has been learning continually, honing his craft and training his voice. He has the humility not to take his audiences for granted and the discernment not to cater to any popular notion of music as primarily the outpouring of emotional or religious fervour. It comes as no surprise that awards and accolades, too numerous to mention, have followed him wherever he has performed. The prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi title, conferred on him by the Music Academy Madras in 2016, at the relatively young age of 47, can be considered his crowning glory.
The great artists of Carnatic music have always sought after the infinite and taken usalong with them in their quest and striving. The best among them today, like Sanjay Subrahmanyan, harmonize the wisdom and stabilizing influences of the past with their own artistic and intellectual creativity.