Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A December 2001 concert available for download

Charsur has made available a December 2001 concert of mine on their website for download only. This concert was held as part of the series organised by the Mylapore Academy at the RR Sabha hall. The concert featured S Varadarajan, Srimushnam Raja Rao and G Harishankar. The 2001 season was very special for me because Shri Harishankar played several concerts for me in a period of about 2 months. He was quite keen to play more but unfortunately he passed away in early 2002. If I remember Charsur had released another concert from December 2001 that I sang in Kalakshetra with Nagai Muralidharan, Trichy Sankaran and G Harishankar.

Charsur usually followed a practice of recording 3 or 4 concerts every season and releasing only one in CD form. Now with the new website and digital downloads possible more concerts from earlier seasons will be released in the coming months.

Here is the link to the download page for the concert.

Download December Season 2001 Live concert for Mylapore Academy at RR Sabha Hall.

Please support legal downloads and refrain from uploading these concerts to free servers as Charsur is making special arrangements for royalties from these downloadable concerts to reach all artistes including the accompanists.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Radio interview in Dublin

Here is a link to an interview I did with Vincent Woods of the Arts Show for RTE Radio 1 in Dublin, Ireland last month.

Interview for RTE Radio 1, Dublin, Ireland

Scale and Rakthi

As a young and upcoming musician in the late eighties I have for long heard experts talk about ragas being classified as 'scale' ragas and 'rakti' ragas. The rakti ragas were supposed to be more classical and aesthetic and provided a better listening experience to the connoisseur. There was always the dismissal of the scale ragas as being a mere collection of notes that lacked any innate aesthetics and that raga elaborations invariably 'descended' to an intellectual exercise of playing on the notes. This argument continues and musicians and rasikas have very strong view points on this matter.

A historical analysis of the evolution of ragas will clearly show that there are ragas that were born out of melodies whilst others that were born out of scales. A melody is just a collection of notes that one gets to hear. For instance a classic case is the raga Neelambari that traditionally owes its roots to the folk tradition. Neelambari has been associated with 'Taalaattu' or the song that puts children to sleep. Different variants of the lullaby generally conformed to a melody that became Neelambari. Similarly academics have traced the origin of ragas like Anandabhairavi and Huseni also to the folk versions and their interpretations. There is also strong evidence to suggest that the ancient tamizh music with their 'panns' influenced the evolution of ragas atleast in South India. Subsequent research of the traditional temple music and its singing by the 'odhuvars' lends credence to some of this. Before we jump to any conclusion we have to understand that all this has happened over a fairly long period and much of the evolution process has not been exactly documented for us to comprehend it completely. So what we have today is a collection of the so called 'rakti' ragas or those that have an inherent aesthetic to them as a result of continuous singing and polishing that has happened over so many years.

In the modern day, a 100 year analysis of raga evolution can show us how much change has happened to the nature and scale of ragas. Ragas have a capacity to slowly evolve and change over time because of the way musicians handle them and explore them. A classic parallel to this is the evolution of colours in the spectrum. How today a computer can generate millions of colours that change the way we look at art as compared to the traditional usage of the same. Can scales acquire 'rakti' or can musicians over a period of time polish and shape a raga to such an extent that the listener feels that he can experience an innate aesthetic beauty in the raga. This is really the point of the proponents of innovation. My guru Shri KSK believed very strongly that ragas evolve and acquire 'rakti' with time. He gave us the classic example of a raga like Charukesi. A reasonably modern raga, it became popular after the success of some film melodies like Aadal kaaneero, Manmada leelayai and Vasantha mullaippole vanthu. Afterall the most popular kriti in Charukesi was Adamodi and it became well known mostly through Madurai Mani Iyer. Musicians senior to MMI like Maharajapuram, Ariyakudi and Musiri hardly sang Charukesi. This raga by the seventies had gained so many different colours in the usage. There was a lighter version, an intellectual scalar version and of course a 'rakti' version if one might call it that. The bottom line is that today Charukesi is a beautiful raga that has also been borrowed by Hindustani musicians. (There is a commercial release of a Charukesi by Ustad Amir Khan)

Now let us look at some of the ragas that came into vogue after Tyagaraja or to be more specific those that Tyagaraja composed in. Compared to some older ragas these are quite modern. There is the argument that it was first handled by a musical genius, but then the same music genius' handling of several ragas have been dismissed as scalar. Let us consider two ragas like Jayantasena and Nalinakanti. The former is a typical rakti raga in the eyes of many while the latter belongs to the 'dismissed as scalar' category. Both ragas have become known through the two Tyagaraja pieces Vinata suta and Manavyala kinchara. Vinata suta became popular after it was taken and polished by Kancheepuram Naina Pillai. Since then the song has a basically common structure that most musicians stick to in their renditions. Manavyala on the other hand has been exploited by all and sundry and has gained the status of Charukesi in the modern time. The GNB and Sankara Iyer compositions in Nalinakanti give it the intellectual and rakti colours respectively, while Manavyala changes colour according to the artiste.

Being the young upstart music student that I was in the eighties, I have had long arguments with my Guru. In order to show how much rakti meant to him he said "Do you know I prefer Sourashtram to Chakravakam." This was a man who had composed his first tune in Gopikatilakam, a 'not exploited scale' in the early forties. So much for rakti! He then proceeded to tell me how any raga is only a collection of notes and the beauty comes from the handling. He said, "I'd rather listen to a satisfying Ranjani than a badly sung Sahana." But then I have heard some 'knowledgeable' rasikas (like our own Mr Srinivasan) tell me that they'd rather hear (or even read) about a Begada (even if sung badly) than a brilliantly sung Dharmavati! Finally it is a matter of taste and things boil down to individual likes and dislikes. It is however interesting to see how people like to justify their likes by adding phrases like rakthi or classical.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Another last day of the tour ordeal!

As I am waiting to be kicked out of my hotel room in Paris because they have a check out time, I though I'll jot down another 'last concert of the tour' ordeal that happened yesterday.

Somehow these last concerts of a long tour have something about them that make it quite a long and arduous affair. Though there are a lot of pleasant memories about yesterday's experience (which I will write shortly) I just felt like describing the 'ordeal' part of it.

Saturday night we had a big concert at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris and by the time everything ended, we had dinner and crashed it was 2.00 AM. We were due to travel to Correns in the south of France for our last concert of the month long European tour. The train was at 7.15 am, and was a 3 hour ride on the TGV from Paris to Aix en Provence. From there we had a an hour's drive to Correns. The train was comfortable but then we had to get up early and be at the station. After we got into the train, we found that the staff at the cafe on the train was on strike, so no refreshments available. Fortunately I had bought some breakfast stuff at the station even though our contact had said we can eat on the train. That atleast gave us the fuel to last the train ride.

We reached Aix en Provence at 10.30 and were picked up by a car. Halfway through the drive they realised that we had not picked up another musician who was due to perform at the festival in Correns. So we went back to pick him up and by the time we reached Correns it was 12 noon.

We had some good food waiting for us and an hour's rest before the sound test at 1.30. It was bright and sunny and the venue was an open air one. As we finished the sound test at 2.00 pm clouds gathered! Our concert was only at 5.00 pm so people were not really worried. We roamed around the streets of the quaint little village for a few minutes and came back to get some rest. This was a festival and there were several bands and musicians. So resting place was most noisy with musicians playing and singing etc. A jolly experience by itself but not for us three weary travellers from India at that moment.

Meanwhile the sky was getting darker and the technicians started covering the stuff on stage. We still did not know whether they will go ahead with the concert because of the rain threat. It was a bit like a cricket match with the skies darkening just before start of play. At about 4.45 they decided that since it had not started raining they would go ahead with concert. We got ready and as we were about step on stage it started to rain! It was dark, gloomy and chilly for 3 hours and raindrops fell at that precise moment when were due on stage.

So within 10 minutes an alternate venue was set up, and the concert began immediately in about half an hours time. The wait and uncertainty had really made us nervous with some of resembling expectant fathers outside the maternity ward at Isabel's hospital in Chennai as we paced up and down looking at the sky!

The concert went off well, the people were most gracious and accepting and we had a good time on stage. As I finished Kambhoji raga alapana, and the audience was still unsure whether to clap or not, because they did not know if they should at that moment, a young kid lying down on his mom's lap launched a spontaneous applause!

Anyway we finished dinner, drove back through a long winding mountain road on a full stomach clutching our intestines, as the driver with his experience of taking fast turns with power steering on a speedy Peugeot van reminded us a of a ride from Kothagiri to Coonoor on a Matador van! We reached the station and caught the train to reach Paris at about 1.00 am and in time to be in bed at 2.00 AM! I looked back at a post I made some months back on a similar 'last concert of the tour' exerience and thought to myself history has a way of repeating itself.