Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Kaushiki- Rakesh jugalbandi

A triumph of communication

By PNV Ram

My four-day long visit to SIFAS helped me to understand the work the institution has done in the last fifty years to promote Indian classical music and dance in Singapore. Among the people I met were those who extended their warm hospitality and shared several insights into the functioning of SIFAS. Mr PS Somasekharan took great trouble over making my stay comfortable and gave me a delightful lunch at Singapore Cricket Club, where I had played a match back in January 1978 as a member of the visiting Deccan Blues Cricket Club. He also made sure I had transport and good seats at every concert besides driving me around whenever possible. Mr Ashok Talwar was another person who made my visit enjoyable.

Dr ST Kasinathan took me on a conducted tour of SIFAS, taking me to a variety of class rooms and introducing me to the dedicated faculty and other staff. Dr Seshan Ramaswami, Ms Sarita Alurkar-Sriram, Mr and Mr Shankar Rajan have all been part of Kala Manjari, a coffee table book on SIFAS's role in propagating Indian music and dance for the last fifty years, and it was a pleasure to interact with them and learn a bit of the SIFAS lore from them.  More about this in a later blog post.

Among the highlights of the SIFAS festival this year was the jugalbandi between Kaushiki Chakraborty and Rakesh Chaurasia. The duo obviously enjoy a brilliant chemistry on stage, and this enabled them to keep the packed hall totally hooked to the music on offer. Both boast impeccable pedigrees as does Satyajit Talwalkar, the tabla artist who accompanied them that evening. Not only did the artists offer music of quality, both Kaushiki and Rakesh, displayed a certain spontaneity as communicators, and drew as much applause for their witty remarks as their music. The vocalist and flautist performed solo first before combining in the second part of the concert. The choice of ragas was refreshingly different from the menu we are used to in Chennai, where visiting Hindustani musicians tend to give us an overdose of Yaman. Kaushiki's Rageshri was beautifully rendered, especially in the slower pace. The gifted singer that she is, Kaushiki tends to overdo the virtuosic part of superfast taans and incredible voice modulation that she is capable of. Sure enough, she earned tremendous applause with her extraordinary prowess, but it did seem like avoidable overkill to an old-fashioned rasika.

Likewise, Rakesh Chaurasia, too, knows how to wow his young audience, and who are we traditionalists to complain when speed and extreme sound effects take over from evocative music to the delight of the majority of those present? Like many other rasikas I know, I have long been a critic of the harmonium as an instrument for Indian classical music, but within the limitations of the instrument, young accompanist Tanmay Deochake was delightfully inventive and supportive of the main artists, showing excellent aesthetics.

Of the SIFAS musicians and dancers I heard or watched, PK Geethanadhan, a Kalakshetra product, was most impressive in his margam performance. His abhinaya was as striking as his nritta, and his trim, boyish figure made the performance a visual treat. The singing by TP Nishanth (said to be a disciple of PS Narayanaswami and a recent entrant into singing for dance), nattuvangam by PN Vikas, violin by Naveen Kumar, flute by V Sivakumar and mridangam by Tripunithura Sreekanth, were a perfect foil for Geethanadhan's dance, and the overall effect was as dignified and aesthetically pleasing as a Kalakshetra production.

The other local artists (among those I heard) to give a good account of themselves included Seema Jayesh (Hindustani vocal), Sabapathy Tirupathy Ramana (Carnatic flute) and Gayatri Krishna (Carnatic vocal). Ramana tended to get carried away with his own virtuosity, while his accompanists Naveen Kumar (violin) and Tripunithura Sreekanth (mridangam) were a sobering influence on him. Both Seema Jayesh (of the Kairana gharana) and Gayatri Krishna seemed to have minor vocal niggles, but both acquitted themselves very well. Gayatri has been a student of the redoubtable teacher Seetha Rajan of Chennai, and the Semmangudi bani was very much in evidence in her concert. The violin-sitar jugalbandi by Bharati Murali and Priya Bedekar never really took off after promising much, perhaps as a result of insufficient practice together. Young Kathak dance Os Agrawal did a neat job of her performance, bringing credit to her guru Mulla Afsar Khan, an ever present encouragement at the venue.

It was overall a very satisfying sample of the local talent available.

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