After his widely publicised appearances as a prodigy, Ravikiran moved on to become a vocalist under the careful guidance of his father, Narasimhan. The latter’s unique teaching methods enabled Ravikiran to develop rigorous discipline and have fun with music at the same time. Over the next couple of years, Ravikiran acquired a repertoire approximating to 500 compositions, and was also trained in the deeper and improvisational aspects of Carnatic music, including the ragam-tanam-pallavi.
Ravikiran debuted as a vocalist in 1972, at Coimbatore, India, at age five. His capacity to perform full-fledged three-hour concerts with senior accompanists, displaying rare mastery over both melodic and rhythmic aspects (such as singing a khanda ata tala varnam in khanda eka tala in the five jati-s) of Carnatic music, amazed scholars and lovers of music alike.
Ravikiran presented concerts to packed audiences for major organisations in various cities until the age of 10, at which time (anticipating a voice change),he switched over to the beautiful 21-stringed Chitravina.
However, he resumed his vocal recitals in 1999 and now presents both vocal and instrumental concerts. His immense knowledge of music, musical acumen, imaginative approach, breath control, vocal techniques and diction, have made him a desired artiste in prominent venues both in and outside India.
From 1986-96, Ravikiran had the rare privilege of learning from the celebrated vocalist T Brinda, widely acknowledged as a musicians’ musician. His interaction with her added a whole new dimension to his perception of the microscopic nuances of music.
His thematic vocal recitals on the works of venerated composers such as Tyagaraja and Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi have won approbation from music lovers.
Ravikiran’s maiden chitravina performance was at age 11. He has been hailed as a versatile virtuoso in world music for many years, contributing unique techniques to slide instruments as a whole. These include
A track from Ravikiran’s album, Mumtaz Mahal with Blues singer Taj Mahal and Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt was featured in the Hollywood Film, “2 days in the Valley” directed by John Herzfeld (1996). In his early teens, he also played in a few Indian films where his classical style was required. He has collaborated with Oscar winning film director like A R Rahman in a National Anthem film that featured some of India’s greatest legends.
Ravikiran has performed at top venues like the Theatre de la Ville(Paris), Vienna Palace (Austria), Tate Modern (London), National Theatre (Melbourne), Institute of World Music (New York), Esplanade (Singapore), Sadler’s Wells (London), Oji Hall (Tokyo) and at events including The Millennium Festival (UK), Autumn Festival (France), Europalia Festival (Belgium), Brisbane Festival (Australia), Madison Festival (USA), Radio Koln Festival (Germany), Harborfront Festival (Canada), Masters of India Festival (Hungary), Festivals of India (France, Germany and Switzerland), Amsterdam-India Festival (Holland) and the Cleveland Tyagaraja Festival (USA). He has also showcased the Chitravina’s prowess through powerful collaborations with celebrated artistes. While his interpretation of Pavane by Gabriel Urbain Faur with artistes of BBC Philharmonic touched hearts in UK, his re-creation of Luiz Gonzaga’s famous Asa Branca had audiences spontaneously singing along in concerts across Brazil.
Ravikiran has proved that world audiences need not be wooed by diluting or polluting core Carnatic values. He has blended emotive appeal, intellectual sophistication, virtuosity and classicism, without detracting from grammatical correctness or aesthetic values. In his fidelity to pitch, rhythm and ornamentation, and in his perception and communication of the musical spirit of great composers, micro-tonal oscillations, awareness of lyrics and his appreciation of their spirit, Ravikiran stands out as a deeply evolved musician. His ability to blend the best aspects of vocal and instrumental techniques have won him a global following of both listeners and students.
Ravikiran’s “traditional innovations” include intricate rhythmic cadenzas, improvisation-centric pieces like an 8-kalai pallavi (which even vocalists rarely venture into) and a unique shataragamalika ragam-tanam-pallavi (RTP) – a single piece featuring 100 ragas.
Ravikiran briefly performed on the electric slide-guitar (Hawaiian guitar) but soon designed the navachitravina, a sleek 20-stringed slide-instrument that gives him flexibility in pitch, apart from a sharper tone.