While a huge chunk of the junta was relieved to see a midweek holiday on the occasion of Republic Day, Spicmacay occupied themselves by organizing their annual event, the dusk-to-dawn musical event heading into the early hours of 26th Jan. They call this event Yamini and the previous editions were graced by stalwarts like the Late Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Bombay Jayashri, Pt. Ronu Majumdar, Kadri Gopalnath and Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.
IIM Bangalore’s open air theatre was the venue for the stellar set of events lined up on the evening of the 25th. The stage setting was above average; the refreshing smell of wet grass had some obnoxious patches of heavily burning wood. Mattresses with blankets were spread in front of the stage anticipating a cold Bangalore night. People who preferred the conventional plastic chair medium for resting their tashreef were thrown further out in the back. The event didn’t start on time, but the delay was forgivable; people did not turn up in large numbers for it to start on time either. The first of the five events – a Hindustani vocal performance by Vidushi Padma Talwalkar, who was trained in the Gwalior, the Kirana and the Jaipur gharanas – started promptly after the routine lighting of the lamp and the intros. And then it began…
… with a bandish rendered in Raga Yaman, the words faintly recognizable as “Ke sakhi kaise kariye“. The vilambit (slower portion of the song) started off slowly, which was probably the intention, the raga chosen also seemed perfect to welcome the audience and wean them into the mehfil. However, the burning wood at the back, which was part of the stage setting blew onto the stage and annoyed the artiste. The MC responded by running out to avert the crisis! Back to the music, and it was still to alter pace almost sounding like a traditional slow Indian wedding song.
Accompanied by Vishwanath Nakor on the tabla, Vyasmurthy Katti on the harmonium and her protégé as a vocal accompaniment (who managed to enunciate better), the artiste then went on to the drut(faster tempo) where she was able to demonstrate her accuracy with the notes; there was one grudge however, the taal wasn’t mentioned so sections of the audience were bewildered where the verse of the drut actually began. She continued onto another raga, Durga wherein she followed the same pattern viz. alaap-vilambit-drut. The third song was rendered in a raga that resembled a cross between Khamaj and Maand, however it was disappointing that the artiste did not mention the names, despite her mastery over the swaras. She seemed at ease throughout the show (too easy perhaps), maybe she was making the whole performance look effortless, but the music lacked lustre for sure. The accompaniments did not steal the show either. A fourth song in an unknown raga concluded the show, but it was clear that the variation among the ragas was missing.
Summing up, this Hindustani vocal performance was a joy at times when the accuracy in the notes was seen. Variations in the melody were far and few, the clarity in lyrics was overlooked and the troupe on stage looked disjointed. One thing that might have changed the monotony was trying out a raga from a radically different thaat (raga family). It was not as if the samay (time) was a factor against performing certain ragas; Durga is a late night raga. The performance overall, was good, but it wasn’t spectacular in any way.
In the first instrumental and carnatic gig of the evening, the violin duo Ganesh and Kumaresh maybe didn’t openly recognize that Yamini needed a lift, but they did take the pain of carefully announcing what was in store, something that the previous artiste only briefly took interest in.
The gig started off with a raga pravesham (non-lyrical composition) in Raga Mayamalavagowla which was expertly performed and would have done justice to any gig as the opening song. The whole unit on the stage seemed to be telepathically connected, maybe it was well-planned or spontaneous, but it was a joy to behold as they went on to perform two more raga praveshams in the ragas Reethi Gowlai and Nalina Kanthi.
The distinguishing feature of the duo was that they were collaborative, competitive and that they complemented each other. While Ganesh would play the higher notes, thereby creating the portion of music that floated above all the other parts, Kumaresh was adept at providing the appropriate vehicle with very well-thought of bass notes. They also continued each other’s pieces, like two close friends knowing what is exactly on the other’s mind. They soloed at will, each solo better than the previous, the audience looked on with awe at each violinist, as if they were in an extremely slow tennis match. The tones of the violins differed slightly; by the middle of the first song a person could close his eyes and tell which one is playing. Moreover, this wasn’t completely a Carnatic concert per se. The artistes ventured outside their niche, creating a new one of their own and incorporated western techniques into their music. Traditional Carnatic listeners were stunned as Ganesh threw a dive-bomb in agamaka, Kumaresh rounded off another mini-crescendo to which the audience applauded thinking that the song was over; later Ganesh tapped notes in a non-Carnatic style while Kumaresh responded with a harmonic equivalent. The note progressions were visibly similar to western compositions.
A ragam-tanam-pallavi in the raga Dharamavati followed, and this was the focal point of the entire concert. The artistes formed pairs with one percussionist each and then exchanged players in the middle of the song providing a different experience with the sound each time. It was fascinating to see the main artistes take a back seat as the percussionists demonstrated their skill with a superb jugalbandi. The artistes rounded up the spectacular show with two more pieces, the first one in Kapi raga which featured Ganesh doing the vocals and the final piece, a fast-paced thillana in Bahudaari.
P. Unnikrishnan was next to set the stage alight; he started off with a traditional varnam in the raga Saveri preceded by a raga alaapana.The varnam was beautifully paced with a lot of emphasis on the lyrics of the song, something which the previous vocalist of the evening failed to highlight. In each subsequent number, you could see the two percussionists – Ghatam Giridhar Udupa and Arjun Kumar on the mridangam – engage in mini-jugalbandis, like two kids up to a lot of mischief. On the violin, HK Venkataraman showed his dexterity with well-timed notes to add weight to the vocalist’s fine voice. The varnam was followed by a piece, ‘Shambo Mahadeva‘ in raga Panthuvarali, in tribute to the popular composer Thyagaraja Swamigal, who had entered samadhi at this time of the year, about 200 years ago. This was followed by another Thyagaraja composition, ‘Nadaloludai’ in the raga Kalyana Vasantham. Both were brilliantly rendered, especially the former wherein the artiste incorporated aneraval (verse improv) and a kalpana swaram (note scat-jam).
The gig progressed onto Unni performing his central piece, ‘Koluva Maragatha’ in the raga Hanumatodi. The raga is known to be very difficult to perform, the very reason why it is chosen by master artistes to be performed in kutcheries. Unnikrishnan was able to bring out the very flavour of the raga in the alaapana; the violinist followed that up with a virtuoso piece himself. Unni then started off unconventionally with the anupallavi (verse) rather than the pallavi (chorus). A neraval and akalpana swaram (in which the artiste made superb use of the divisions) in two tempos was the artiste’s finishing touch to the song before the instruments took centre stage. Ghatam Udupa and Arjun Kumar engaged in an epic jugalbandi that blew the audience away. Mesmerizing stuff!
After ‘Koluva Maragatha’, Unni picked himself to perform his much-loved rendition of ‘Pibare Ramarasam‘ in the raga Ahirr Bhairavi followed by a Senjuruti krithi, ‘Rara Chinnanna Rarori Balakrishna‘, in which he caressed the audience to a dreamy state. A few more krithis and the aristes bowed on stage to be greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd. At times Unni, ‘reluctant’ to open his mouth to sing seemed conservative, but effortless. There was no doubting the fact that the artiste was in a state of flow throughout the performance. The accompaniments were superb and it must have taken some thought to putting this troupe together because their styles blended in perfectly. Overall, this was a spectacular show; despite Unni barely hitting second gear.
A kuchipudi performance provided a brief respite to those who had come there only for the music. The organisers did take the gamble of losing numbers in the crowd by scheduling the popular Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan performance at 3 a.m. The numbers were there however; everyone felt proud and enthusiastic at turning up at that time for the gig. Not a single soul on the chairs at the back; everyone found their places on the mattress.
The Ustad carries the legacy of being another product of a family that has produced some of India’s greatest Sitar players in history including the likes of Ustad Sahabdad Khan, Ustad Imdad Khan (his great grandfather), Ustad Wahid Khan (his grandfather) and Ustad Vilayat Khan. So it was natural that the crowd was very anxious when the Ustad coolly took the stage and took his time setting up his instrument. He wore a relaxed expression on his face as he meticulously tuned his elaborate sitar. No one in the audience dared indulge in useless banter even when the Ustad prepared his sitar, for the fear of missing out on the start of the performance.
The artiste who belonged to Etawah Gharana, then promptly announced what was in store, with a smile. He appropriately chose Miyaan ki Todi as his first raga and then took the audience on a journey through the stars with a superb alaap. Some of the audience felt it necessary to recline and observe the fast moving clouds in the dark orange sky while the Ustad went on to a faster version of the alaap viz. the jod. Witnessing nature itself altering its pace to keep up with the music was a heavenly experience.
The vilambit was rendered in teen taal and the Ustad’s mastery over the notes and the raga improvisations were simply superb. The audience surrendered themselves at such a powerful manifestation of music and when they were still lolling their heads, the Ustad went onto the madhayama and the drut. There was a deafening applause from even the reclining audience as the Sultan rounded off the piece.
The composition ‘Babul Mora Naihar Chhuto hi Jaaye‘ in raga Bhairavi which was similar in structure to the previous song was extraordinarily performed. The tabla player provided superb support and exchanged appreciations with the Ustad after each of them finished off mindblowing parts. It was fitting that the sky began to lighten up as the artistes looked to round up their performance. If there was any Indian classical instrument that had to welcome the morning sun, the Ustad advocated the case of the Sitar very well.
On the whole, the event was fabulous and a lovely experience. Kudos to Spicmacay!