Sivabalan S.Shanmuga Sundram
Sivabalan S.Shanmuga Sundram joined the Temple of Fine Arts, Kuala Lumpur in 1987 Under the tutelage of Guru Sri Suresh Ramachandran for mridangam. He was also privileged to have been under the tutelage of great masters such as Shri Thamarakudi K.R Vijayakuamar and Palghat S.V Ramani. He performed his graduation debut (Arangetram) in 1992 and was awarded the title ‘Layaanjali’ by the Temple of Fine Arts. Kuala Lumpur. Sivabalan then went on to perform with the Temple of Fine Arts orchestra all over in Malaysia and Singapore. He was also appointed as a teacher at the Temple of Fine Arts Kuala Lumpur for 3 years.
A regular feature in RTM’s Radio 6 Carnatic music segment, Sivabalan is also at ease with playing other instruments such as Ganjira and Harmonium. He also has learnt the art of Carnatic Vocal music, and was celebrated with the title ‘Yogyatha Patra” for excellence in performance in the examinations conducted for vocal music by the Temple of Fine Arts.
Sivabalan has developed a keen sense to the art of mridangam playing not only for music performances but also to accompany bharatanatyam or South Indian classical dance shows. He has to date performed for over 170 dance arangetrams, salangai pooja’s and performances showcasing bharatanatyam in Malaysia, Jakarta, Singapore and Bangkok. He has also accompanied great nattuvanar’s like Padmashree Adyar K. Lakshman and Tanjore Sree.B.Herambanathan and played for dancers in the likes of Mavin Khoo, Ramli Ibrahim and Dr. Chandrabanu.
As early as 1996, he thirsted for new sounds and collaborative work, making him part of the ‘Rhythmic Fusion’, the 1st big scale live collaborative work encompassing Indian classical music and western instruments by Dhanosh Productions which was a huge success.
Sivabalan has also had the privilege to work with many different ethnic music groups to further develop the possibilities in creating new sounds and sense in rhythm. In Scotland, Sivabalan, together with a group of musicians performed on drums and rhythms at Sterling, Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen during his stint there. He also had traveled to conduct Carnatic music calculation and lecture demonstration workshops in London, Wales and Dublin.
His return to Malaysia saw expanding horizons in the capabilities of the mridangam and other Indian percussive sounds and rhythms, leading to a recent collaborative work with local Malaysian Gamelan group, Rhythm In Bronze. Sivabalan led the group through intrinsic calculations and was the 1st mridangist to have performed at the Malaysian Philharmonic Hall (KLCC). He was invited by the Java Synchrosound Group to conduct music theory lecture demonstrations and has performed with them numerous times. Sivabalan was initially part of the fusion ensemble, PRANA, whose album, ‘Life Breath’, was released in 2004. With PRANA, Sivabalan has done numerous gigs and concerts, thrilling varied audiences with his mridangam and ganjeera playing, along with ‘kunnakol’ or vocalized syllabic pronunciation of mridangam sounds. The feature piece “Funky Indians” which featured the ‘Thani Avarthanam’ ‘ won Best Composition at the Boh Cameronian Arts Festival, 2005. Sivabalan is also noted for being the voice behind the Kunnakol for the critically acclaimed album ‘Vallavan’ by Yogi B and Natchathra. Other achievements include emerging as champion for Indian Classical Music category for Music Fest 2005 organized by the Ministry of Culture Arts and Heritage (KEKKWA). Amongst the more extensive workshops held was the Indian drums clinic in collaboration with DIGI under the Amazing Malaysians Programme in North Peninsula Malaysia and the collaborative music direction for Guru Samarpanam, a musical tribute.
in 2008, Sivabalan founded AkashA. Together with AkashA, Sivabalan has realized his mridangam, ganjira and kunnakol art form potential to its fullest in the critically acclaimed albums, Into AkashA and Karakoram Highway. AkashA has won numerous international awards around the globe and is the choice band for major world music festivals today. Some of the countries performed at include USA, Australia, China, India, South Africa, Singapore, Korea and Thailand.
For his contributions, he was awarded the coveted title Cross Cultural Champion of the Year by the Boh Cameronian Arts Festival in 2009 where incidentally AkashA won the best Instrumental Act as well. In 2013, Sivabalan’s focus and spearheading of AkashA was awarded when he was recognized as one of the top individuals by Prestige Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 in Malaysia being captain’s of their respective industry.
Not neglecting a career as a pharmacist, Sivabalan believes –prevention is better than cure, however, there is nothing like music as medicine for the soul-. He now has private students brandishing his own style of playing and understanding the calculative measures of the music involved whilst heavily promoting the art form in various lecture demonstrations, discussions, performances and collaborative works.