The soulful southern Indian sounds of the Iyer Brothers come to Montrose

The Iyer Brothers, Ramnath and Gopinath, will be bringing their soulful sounding music to Montrose. Picture: SUPPLIED.

By Mikayla van Loon

Travel to the South of India as the Iyer Brothers transport an audience using the traditional instrument of their homeland, the veena.

Coming to Montrose on Sunday 21 April, the brothers, who have been playing and sharing music known as Carnatic for over 50 years, will bring the soulful tunes to the Town Centre for the enjoyment of the broader Yarra Ranges.

Ramnath Iyer said it was in 1973 when he and his brother, Gopinath, first started to learn the veena when growing up in southern India.

“We started learning in ‘73 through three different gurus and we learned for about 15 years,” he said.

“We came to Australia, we came here to settle and since then, we’ve been also teaching and performing the traditional South Indian Carnatic music…here in Melbourne.”

The veena itself is said to have been first performed around 400 years ago and has stayed relatively the same throughout time.

“The basic structure is still the same, some new materials have been added replacing the older materials but the main instrument itself is made of jackfruit wood, which has got very good acoustic quality,” Ramnath said.

“It’s a string instrument equivalent to the sitar, in the north of India.”

For those who haven’t heard the veena played, Ramnath said “the music is based on singing”, giving it that smooth, tranquil quality.

“The instrument closely follows the vocalisation. So, in traditional South Indian music, we have lots of compositions written by masters, even from 500-600 years ago and from then on lots of compositions exist,” he said.

“So we start learning them vocally first, and then we play them on the instrument.”

Another element of what the Iyer Brothers play, Ramnath said, is based on raga, or improvisation, “the core of Indian music, both in the north and the south”.

“Raga is a melody with a particular name, it’s got an ascending and descending scale and it’s also got other ornamental features like oscillation, different types of oscillations for the notes.

“So we try to bring that in. So in a concert we structure it so there’s about 40 to 50 per cent improvisation plus other compositions also.”

Ensuring the veena and southern Indian music continues to have a legacy here in Australia, as well as in India, Ramnath said that’s an important aspect of what he and his brother do.

The Iyer Brothers have hosted for the last eight years the Melbourne Veena Festival where their students and artists from around Australia and New Zealand are invited to play.

Two of their students Nisha Iyer and Nanthesh Sivarajah will be joining them in Montrose as supporting musicians.

“Every year, we also return to India at the end of the year in December to do performances there so we are connected there, and we are still recognised there.”

Ramnath said for the most part, he and Gopinath “will let the music speak for itself” with the occasional story told where necessary.

“The audience can expect a relaxed, soulful experience. You don’t need to know any technicalities and complexities of the music, you can just sit back and soak it in.”

After the show, Ramnath said the audience will be invited, if they wish, to get a more up close look at the instrument.

The performance will begin at 2pm. Tickets can be purchased here,