Born and brought up in Kakinada, Phani Narayana was not keen on learning music. But, growing up in a musically-inclined home meant he began training in vocal music pretty early.
His mother was a vocalist and a veena player, so learning to sing came easy as he watched her teaching the other kids. He shifted to playing veena upon the advice of his uncle who told him there was a glut of singers in the field.
Talent was perhaps ingrained in him, which can explain his being counted among the fastest veena players down south, adding gamakas to musical phrases.
“I never planned anything in my life, everything happened automatically, my good friend and singer Nemani Partha Sarathi, who owns Keerthan Studios, one of the oldest recording theatres in the city, invited me to Hyderabad. He suggested moving to Hyderabad, as Chennai at the time was home to many musicians and I would be one among the many veena players there. So, I shifted to the city in 2004,” says Phani.
Word of his flair for the instrument spread rapidly after his first recording and he became a sought after veena player in the city. Sharing one instance from his recording days, he says, “Once I went to play a veena bit in a folk song recording, it so happened that what I was playing was sounding very classical and I wasn’t convinced. I saw a guitar kept in the corner and picked it up and played the bit on it. To my surprise, the music director liked it and finalised the music. So, I also became a classical guitar player,” laughs Phani Narayana who is also an All India Radio (AIR) artist. Among his experiments with the instruments is trying to play in a standing position.
In his career, Phani has worked with the most popular music directors in the South Indian film industry. Since travelling for recording is not possible always, he also owns a recording theatre beside his residence, where he records the bits and sends it to the music directors. “I am thankful to most of the music directors who still believe manual music adds a lot of value to the songs or the re-recording. It’s because of them instrument players are still able to get work,” says Phani Narayana who also runs a band, besides a YouTube channel called String Wings.
“Once I was in Chennai for a programme, but a music director named Linius called me for a recording, and I told him that it will take around 15 days to come back to Hyderabad. But, they still wanted the veena music in a devotional album, so they waited for me to return and literally postponed their release. Such incidents make me feel special and I will cherish it lifelong,” he says.
Phani has trained a few students both in vocal and veena music, one of them being anchor-turned-veena player Veena Srivani. “As of now, I stopped taking classes, as I don’t know how my day will turn out, and I don’t want somebody to wait for me. Once I take care of my commitments, maybe I will continue to take classes,” says Phani Narayana who also enjoys composing classical dance ballets.
Crediting his success to his better half Pavani, Phani says, “My wife is also a very good veena player, but she is the one who has taken up my role in the family and takes care of my children. We performed together many times. But, right now, she is focusing on family,” says the artiste. Despite having a good command on classical and western music, he refutes any plan of composing music.
“I am not very keen on composing music for films. But, if it’s a music-oriented subject, then I wouldn’t miss the opportunity,” signs off Phani Narayana who learnt veena playing techniques from Paacha (Partha Sarathy) from Chennai.