Hailing from the land of France, Emmanuelle Martin declared her love for South Indian classical music when she mastered the art of Karnatik music. She has trained in all the different aspects of Karnatik music; Kalpita Sangita (composed music) and Manodharma Sangita (improvisational music). She has learned a great number of compositions from the Trinity (composers of the 18th century from Tamil Nadu: Sri Tyagaraja, Sri Muttuswamy Diskshitar, and Sri Shyama Sastri) as well as other Tamil composers, post-trinity. Looks like we could all take a little inspiration from this French-born musician who has recognized and embraced the beauty and symphony of the sacred, traditional music of South India.
It is a very challenging task for me; one that almost always seems impossible. I often feel overwhelmed and sometimes discouraged. But I know in the depth of my being that despite the difficulties and sometimes the failures, it is my path to follow and keep going because I know it reveals all the secrets of life for me.”
Much before Karnatik music, Emmanuelle was a young French woman, going to school and learning western music. She was passionate about gypsy music, especially the flamenco, and almost went to southern Spain instead of south India to train in flamenco. She was waiting for her purpose and was in search of the true sense of her life, knowing all along that her first love was to sing.
“The first time I sang Karnatik music was with my father when I was maybe around 12 years old.”
It’s hard enough for an Indian woman to learn the art of Karnatik music, but for a French woman, it’s like learning to walk on water! “Actually I feel that most of the time”, Emmanuelle admits. “It is a very challenging task for me; one that almost always seems impossible. I often feel overwhelmed and sometimes discouraged. But I know in the depth of my being that despite the difficulties and sometimes the failures, it is my path to follow and keep going because I know it reveals all the secrets of life for me.”
Overcoming Troubled Waters
In March 2004 Emmanuelle started learning Karnatik music (singing) from the renowned master Shri T.M Krishna. She was very fortunate to travel with him to his concerts all over India, accompanying him on the Thambura. This was also when she faced one of the most difficult moments of her musical career. It was about 5 years into her training when Emmanuelle was reaching a level of saturation and felt she had so many blocks that prevented her from going forward. She was feeling extremely weak, emotionally and physically. Living alone in Chennai was hard on her and her teacher was extremely demanding. He was always setting the bar just a bit higher than what she thought she was able to accomplish. She would cry and complain to him and it even reached a point where she was struggling so much that he told her to go home. And that froze Emmanuelle. He then gave her one of the hardest speeches she has ever heard to date, saying that maybe it was all, indeed, too much for her and that she wasn’t going be able to do it and that she was making him waste his time on her, as well as wasting her own time. He told her to take a break, pack up and go back to France.
Emmanuelle felt her whole world collapsing around her. After a sleepless night, she had absolute clarity the next morning. She went to see him and said to him, “I’m not going anywhere. I just want to go on”, to which he said, “Good! Class at 4 pm today!”
And from Then On There Was No Looking Back…
From August 2007 to August 2010, Emmanuelle was awarded the prestigious Indo-French cultural exchange scholarship, making her the only scholar of this program to receive the grant for 3 consecutive years. In August 2010, she won 2nd prize in the Tyagaraja Competition – Music Academy, Chennai. Apart from Karnatik music, Emmanuelle also loves North Indian music, Iranian music, flamenco music, Eastern European gypsy music, the blues, country music, and rock. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and Michael Jackson are some of her favorite artists in their respective genres.
In December 2013, 2014 and 2015 she performed for three consecutive years at the prestigious December Music Festival in Chennai, making her one of the only westerners to ever perform at this festival. Emmanuelle also performs all across France and Europe; aiming at serving Karnatik Music in the west in cities such as London, Paris, Brussels, Lyon, Nantes, and Glasgow.
Emmanuelle’s family has always been very supportive, although of course, sometimes would worry about how she would make a living out of it and survive. “But I am still alive”, Emmanuelle says confidently. She has never really had another professional interest, not after she chose this path.
Sharing Her Music with The World
“Music is a way to connect with truth or reality. An opportunity to create beauty. A gift that allows me to praise. A way to know myself and experience a more refined life internally.” She urges others who are aiming to pursue music professionally to keep at it no matter what. “If you have a true vocation, a true calling, then follow it, with all your heart, and how do you know if you do? You just know it!”
From 2008 to 2011 Emmanuelle has conducted workshops in France to teach the basics of Karnatik music. Since June 2013, she’s been teaching private classes, as well as workshops on Karnatik Music in France and all across Europe. From January 2016 to March 2017, Emmanuelle has been working with renowned theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine, teaching Karnatik singing and voice work to over 40 comedians of different cultures. She is also a part of the group Svanubhava, a very successful festival that takes place every year since 2008, in cities such as Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Trichy to name a few, dedicated to promoting the performing arts of India among the youth.
Emmanuelle ends on a truly bold and awe-inspiring ‘note’, “If you can run, run before it is too late, run now! Because once you have committed, the only way out is through and through, and I can testify now how true this is!” We admire people like Emmanuelle who beat all odds by becoming a foreign Karnatik music prodigy and we hope that she continues to fulfill her dreams by making sweet music.