Stephen Devassy, the wonder boy on the keyboard was in Hyderabad to perform with Shankar Mahadevan and Shivamani. Senior Journalist Aruna Ravikumar catches up with him to learn more about his music
A musician, who can get his crowd into a tizzy with his keyboard, Stephen Devassy’s rise to the top league of stage performers is a story of passion, grit hard work and persistence. The piano prodigy from Ottapalem in Kerala topped the Trinity College of Music from Asia. He says he trained for over 8 to 10 hours everyday between the ages of 16 to 20 to learn everything related to music before emerging as a pianist, keytarist, keyboard player, composer, arranger and music director. “I didn’t know where I would succeed and I wanted to learn everything that would make me a complete musician” he explains about the multiple hats he wears.
Although he hails from a family where there are no musicians, Stephen’s early exposure to music came from listening to the music CD’s that his father who was working in the Gulf brought home with him. And, though he had wanted to learn drums initially, he trained in the keyboard at a small music school in his hometown achieving almost a percussion style on it. Stephen took to the stage when he was just eleven years- old, giving performances at churches, small events and at home concerts garnering appreciation from different quarters before destiny beckoned him to the world stage. At the age of 18, he accompanied renowned singer Hariharan at concerts in France and Germany where they performed to packed audiences comprising mostly people from South India whose applause remains unforgettable years later, he reminisces. Hariharan has a special place in his heart as there was no looking back in his career after the reviews he garnered while accompanying him. Devassy has since given stage performances in over 39 countries and has accompanied several legendary musicians like Hariharan, L. Subramaniam, Shankar Mahadevan and the Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan among others. Interacting with several musical legends enriched his learning and provided newer dimensions. His solo performances too proved to be extremely successful helping him carve a niche for himself on the musical firmament of the country.
Devassy has given stage performances in over 39 countries and has accompanied several legendary musicians like Hariharan, L. Subramaniam, Shankar Mahadevan and the Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan among others
After the music orchestration of six songs on Johnny Sagarika’s album ‘Ishtamanu’, Stephen started a Hindi pop music band called seven with fellow musician Franco Simon and guitarist Sangeeth Pavitran and released an album called ‘Yeh Zindagani’. He was part of the’ Rex band’ the only catholic band invited from India to have performed before Pope John Paul on World Youth Day in Canada in 2002 It was while playing with this band in Germany that he discovered the Keytar, a lightweight synthesiser that is supported by a strap around the neck and shoulders, similar to the manner in which a guitar is supported by a strap. The keytar him the freedom to move around on stage while he played it and today, he has become almost synonymous with it. Credited with the music arrangement for over 100 films and having worked with several bands, Stephen Devassy runs music studios in Chennai, Kochi and Mumbai where he lives and has a busy schedule of musical events that keep him on his toes. He however loves the energy of the stage and finds live shows most fulfilling. “When you are live before the audiences there are no retakes or second chances. What you do is received immediately and the response too is instantaneous” he says.
He is performing in Hyderabad as ‘The Yes Triangle’ with Shankar Mahadevan and Shivamani for an event organised by Eleven Point Two at Shilpakalavedika
Having given over 50 concerts with Shankar Mahadevan, he says he loves the positive vibes, high octane energy and on- stage improvisation in shows with him where they get to perform a wide range of music from ghazals, fusion, Bollywood and regional hits.
A lover of world music he has, in association with cosmic music and times music set Sanskrit shlokas, mantras and verses from the Upanishads to a background of western music which sold 10 million CD’s two decades ago. Another conceptional project in Sanskrit is on the anvil and is bound to make waves as the man touted as the fastest keyboard player in the country is investing all his energy into it. A firm believer in destiny Stephen Devassy, says his quest for perfection is unceasing. Never compromising on quality, he believes that passion and hard work are important attributes for a musician. “Keep trying till you get the best results” he signs off, encompassed by music that fills his life.