Kumar Karthigesu

kumarIt was perhaps destined that Kumar was to choose music as his career and ultimate objective in his life. Born to keen music enthusiast parents Dr. R. Karthigesu and Puvaneswari, Kumar began his music education by learning carnatic vocal, mridangam and violin from the early age of six with the blessings and continual encouragement of his spiritual guru, Swami Shantanand Saraswathi.

In 1983, Kumar traveled to Leicester, United Kingdom, while his father underwent his PhD studies, marking the beginning a three year period of education in Soar Valley College. It was ironically here that Kumar got his first taste of learning the sitar, under the able tutelage of Pandit Dharambhir Singh, a disciple of the world renowned Ustad Vilayat Khan. While in the UK, Kumar won the ‘Musician of the Year’ award in 1985 by the London Carnatic Music Circle, as well as ‘National Musician of the Year’ award organized by the Brent Competition UK, and subsequently performed at the highly prestigious Brent Music Festival in London in 1986. He also had several radio and television recordings during this stint in the UK.

Back in Malaysia in 1986, Kumar underwent sitar lessons from Shri Orme Maheswaran of Port Dickson, Malaysia, a disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar, during his holidays.  In 1988, Kumar had the rare opportunity of performing a solo item at the Opening Ceremony of the World Tamil Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It was in 1991 that fate brought him to meet his lifelong guru, Ustad Usman Khan, who had visited The Temple of Fine Arts KL and Penang, for a concert at that time. On an invitation to learn under his tutelage, Kumar, with friends Prakash Kandasamy and Umesh Shetty, set out to Pune, India, to stay and train intensively under Usmanji’ s guidance. Under a modern approach to the ancient Gurukula system of training, Kumar formed an intimate guru – sishya relationship with his Guru, Usmanji, and progressed in his training rapidly.
sitarkumar1Kumar also graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Economics) at the University of Pune. While intensively training under Usmanji, Kumar also performed extensively in India, and participated in several audio recordings of Usmanji’s music. One such memorable concert was performing at the prestigious Pune Festival in 1996, and also being the lead sitarist in the recording of ‘The Taj Mahal’ a soundtrack for a dance drama by The Temple of Fine Arts International, which has since toured and performed in Malaysia, Singapore, India and Sri Lanka.

In 1998, Kumar moved to London, United Kingdom, to pursue a Masters degree in Performing Arts at the Middlesex University. During this three-year period, Kumar performed concerts in various parts of England, Glasgow (Scotland), Cardiff (Wales), and in Gent, Belgium. Kumar co-composed the music score for ‘Cast in Stone’, a production by Mavin Khoo and Christopher Bannerman, and subsequently performed live when it was staged at the South Bank Centre, UK in the year 2000.

Upon the completion of his postgraduate degree, Kumar returned to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2001, and assumed the post as sitar tutor at The Temple of Fine Arts Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore. In 2002, he also joined the University of Malaya as a part time lecturer of Indian Music.

Since making Kuala Lumpur his base in 2001, Kumar’s performing career leaped dramatically and firmly established himself as a known personality in the field of music in the South East Asian region. He has performed extensively throughout Malaysia and Singapore, performing solo as well as performing in orchestral and fusion concerts. Along with fellow musicians Jyotsna Prakash and Prakash Kandasamy, Kumar was a co composer and co arranger of Tryam, a 40 member Indian based orchestra of The Temple of Fine Arts International, which has since performed in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Chennai and Hyderabad, India. In 2002, Kumar also co composed and co arranged the music soundtracks for two highly successful dance dramas by the Temple of Fine Arts, ‘Butterfly Lovers’ and ‘ The Legend of Mahsuri’. Butterfly Lovers toured Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Singapore, Australia, Sri Lanka and India, while  ‘the legend of Mahsuri’, produced under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism of Malaysia, premiered at the Istana Budaya (National Theatre), Kuala Lumpur, and subsequently was performed in Langkawi.
Kumar01Kumar has also recorded for two tracks in popular R & B singer Reshmonu’s album ‘Monumental’, released in 2003. His performance record continues to expand, and he frequently travels overseas to perform internationally. He has had performances in Australia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, several cities in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Korea, South Africa, UK and the USA.

In 2005, Kumar co directed ‘inside out’, an exciting production of contemporary dance and music, with fellow artists Jyotsna Prakash, Prakash Kandasamy and Umesh Shetty under their own label, Inner Space Performing Arts. ‘inside out’ went on to win a whopping 8 awards at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards in 2006, including for Best Music Direction and Best Group Performance. Following its success, Kumar has been invited as a principal artist for the Malaysian Traditional Orchestra, and a  guest artiste for the RTM Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and other such established groups in Malaysia.

His achievements include the release of a CD album entitled Taar Sitara, with fellow tabla player, Vick Ramakrishnan.  In Feb 2009, Kumar was awarded the coveted Anugerah Seni Negara (Karyawan Seni) by the Government of Malaysia, for his excellence in the Arts and service to the nation. Just recently, in 2012, Kumar was given the title of Tokoh Warisan Negara, or National Living Treasure, by the Heritage Department, Government of Malaysia.

In 2008, Kumar joined a number of fellow musicians to form AkashA, a fusion music outfit which rapidly gained iconic status. AkashA has since performed at festivals in USA, South Africa, China, Korea, Thailand, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, and continues to get invitations from all over the world. AkashA has released two best selling world music albums to date, ‘Into…AkashA’ and ‘Karakoram Highway’, both of which are available at all major retail stores. Kumar remains as the lead sitar player in AkashA. He continues to form new relationships and music partnerships with many leading music practitioners of different genres, always discovering new ground and exploring his musical creativity. In May 2012, Kumar composed a innovative score and performed alongside Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s flautist Sonia Croucher at a International Flute Festival in Singapore.

Sharing his art form with fellow Malaysians, Kumar now is a faculty member and ltutor at the Temple of Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and is a part time lecturer in the Malaysian Arts Academy (ASWARA), where he has developed music syllabi and curriculum for both degree and diploma students.

Already a recognized sitar performer and composer by the government and the artistic sector in Malaysia, Kumar continues to grow as a sitar artist, composer, arranger, producer and teacher and gain recognition and respect locally and internationally.