Wednesday, 14 March, 2007

Beat This!

I had the opportunity to attend an interesting concert organized by the ITC Sangeet Research Academy - the Sangeet Sammelan (Bangalore edition), held on March 11 at Chowdiah Hall. I use the term 'interesting', since this was a (mainly) percussion-only classical concert, which is something of a rarity. This taala-vaadya had Pt Anindo Chatterjee (tabla), Pt Bhawani Shankar (pakhawaj, which sort of looks like the South Indian mridangam, but having a very different tone/timbre and style of playing), and Ghatam Giridhar Udupa (ghatam).

There were several aspects that were new to me. I've seen and heard tabla players before, be it while backing up vocalists/instrumentalists, or in the solo format. But this was one of the few times I've seen a pakhawaj performance. And what an amazingly powerful percussion instrument it is! It's got a huge bass tone, and is played with a very 'open' style that allows for a lot of resonance and reverb - overall, creating an effect of power, strength and majesty. Not that it can't be played with a lot of sophistication or finesse, but the grandeur is what sort-of stands out.

What was also new was the format of the performance itself. Where one is used to percussionists playing a supporting role, here was an instance of the sarangi player whose only role was to 'keep time' by running over the same bandish (phrase/verse) again and again in the same tempo. And the percussionists basically play around on this structure. Very cool! Again, one can see this in the 'regular' concerts also, where, in Hindustani, the vocalist does the phrase-repetition while the tabalchi gets to improvise for a few bars right at the end of the bandish, or in Carnatic, where the percussionists get to do a thani-aavarthanam (solo improvization) at the end of the kriti. Imagine something like that, but only about 45 minutes or so long! That's the format for you!

There were creditable performances by all the artistes, but I was particularly blown away by Giridhar Udupa's playing. Here he was, in a predominantly Hindustani environ, playing with artistes who are much more senior to him (though in his case I don't believe that should faze him much, since he is a well-travelled and experienced performer despite his young age), and playing an instrument that, at best, is relegated usually to the status of providing extra embellishments to the overall piece.
Check out this piece (on Udupa's website) by Shri Vikku Vinayakram, perhaps the most revered ghatam player today.

From what little I've observed (and I confess it's not much at all), the
ghatam is typically not an instrument that is used as a stand-alone percussion support. It usually supports the mridangam in the traditional Carnatic format. The instrument sounds heavenly though, with very sweet sounds that often surprise you with their versatility, and often people like AR Rahman, Lucky Ali and many modern musicians and composers have given this pot a place of prominence in their scores. And it was this beauty and versatility that Udupa brought out very colourfully in this concert. There was style and power in his playing, and all the cunning and 'math' that is the very DNA of both the Hindustani and Carnatic percussion playing styles. The reason I think I am over the moon about Udupa's playing is, I guess, my pleasant surprise at the fact that he showed the audience that this clay pot can do so much! It was quite evident in the crowd's reaction and enthusiastic appreciation of his playing as well. The icing on the cake was, of course, his trademark electrifying konnakol (vocal rendering of rhythm, sort of like scat), which provides the final 'rush of blood' flourish to get the audience charged up.

Watch out for this man - he is likely to be one of the stars of this generation.


Grandebelf said...

Yo Andamegam! Nice to know u started blogging;) nice writing as well.. Ya Udupa the rocks with clay and the pots;)

Anonymous said...

i hv seen udupa perform.....he's too good...
ajay garg

Neelakantan said...

aah! you have started writing. Good.