Kala Ramnath in The Maui News
Classical Indian musician Kala Ramnath has been hailed as one of the greatest violinists in the world. Lauded as “The Sultana of Strings” by The Times of India, a Jazzwise review of one of her CDs proclaimed: “Ramnath is a musician of giant-like qualities. If Mozart had been transported to the South Asian subcontinent this is what he and improvised Western classical music might have sounded like.”
A stunning virtuoso, Ramnath has revolutionized the technique of playing the violin developing a unique “singing” style which imitates the human voice. “I play vocal music in totality on the violin,” she simply states.
Like all the exceptional musicians who have mastered Indian classical music, Ramnath devoted her life to her art from an early age. She began playing the violin at the age of 3 and performed her first concert at 7.
“I was born in a family steeped in music for six generations, me being the seventh in line,” she explains. “The atmosphere at home was totally musical and so I loved what I did.”
Initially under the strict tutelage of her grandfather, she studied with an aunt, and for 15 years under legendary Hindustani vocalist Pandit Jasraj.
“To become a great musician, one needs the almighty’s blessings, which comes with talent and luck and we need to add discipline, dedication and extreme hard work,” she continues. “I have heard of musicians who have worked 10 to 12 hours a day for 20 years. I personally have done an average of six to eight hours a day for 20 years.”
Few women attain the highest ranks of Indian classical music, and fewer still can claim mastery of the violin.
“There are not many women in general in classical Indian music,” she notes. “And I am one of the few women who have taken up music and a very difficult instrument, the violin.”
Ramnath’s exquisite playing can be heard on albums like “Nectar” and “Kala.” She has also recorded and performed with a diverse array of musicians from tabla legend Zakir Hussain to Ray Manzarek of The Doors.
In recent years she has enjoyed a number of world fusion collaborations including teaming with some well-known African musicians in the unique group Raga Afrika (fusing Indian and Afro jazz). She has worked with Spanish flamenco guitarist Eduardo Niebla and Frank Zappa/Jeff Beck drummer Terry Bozzio as well as playing jazz-influenced ragas in the fusion ensemble Global Conversation with saxophonist George Brooks and Kai Eckhart, bassist with the John McLaughlin Trio.
“I enjoy playing with different musicians as it’s wonderful to hear their perspective through their music,” she says. “For example, my progression or thought process towards a particular rhythm or improvising on a phrase would be totally different from another. And after all, music is music. It has no barriers or bounds.”
“When I play music, it’s a prayer to me. Anything can happen around me, but nothing disturbs me. I may be very disturbed in my mind but when I take my violin out and play,within minutes I am lost in my music and that is my greatest joy as it keeps me in sync with nature.”