Saxy Sisters

Two young women play Carnatic ragas on the saxophone.We trace their journey

This could be an image of globalisation: two sisters clad in silk saris, sitting on the floor and playing intricate Carnatic ragas on the saxophone.

Years ago, when as young girls, M.S. Lavanya and M.S. Subbalaxmi expressed their desire to learn saxophone, their parents thought it was just a childhood fantasy.

But the sisters turned out to be professional saxophone players. Being grandchildren of a court musician of the Mysore Palace and daughters of an acclaimed mridangam player, it was but natural for them to follow this path. What was different was their choice of instrument, the saxophone, which is as foreign as it gets when it comes to Indian schools of classical music.

They have evolved as performers over the years, playing not just to Carnatic music but also Western classical and Hindustani classical pieces—dressed in ornate saris or, when the occasion demanded, a pair of casual trousers. They perform at weddings, corporate functions and concerts all over the country, from Chennai and Bangalore to Delhi and Mumbai.

The sisters have recorded six albums, and are working on their seventh—a collaboration with Carnatic vocalist Palakkad Sriram, who had sung Liquid Dance, a soundtrack in Slumdog Millionaire. But it is the live concert that gives them a high.

"Every concert is an exam that we have to pass. The people are first baffled, then curious and finally pleased," says Lavanya, who lives in Chennai where she is learning Carnatic music "further" and has even dabbled in audio engineering. Younger sibling Subbalaxmi, 26, has done 3D animation and lives in Bangalore with her family. Sometimes, the audience asks them to perform to a popular Hindi or Tamil song. "We always need to keep learning. Har din naye naye songs aate hain," says Lavanya, who with Subbalaxmi, has performed to popular Bollywood numbers like Mitwa (from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna) and Yeh mera dil (from Don)

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