Carnatic’s custodian – in this young star

Seldom do we hear of very young artistes being able to carve a niche of their own. I would say, after GNB; here is a fine young man, who could set the perfect example for sustaining one’s individuality and at the same time, adhere to tradition. This is the simplest way I could usher an introduction to Abhishek Raghuram!

Before going any further, I’d like to repeat – it is commendable that Abhishek has been able to build and sustain a style of his own, at a very young age.

Abhishek’s concerts are mathematical and profound. In what I’ve noticed, he sticks to starting with a Varna, but proceeds as he unravels any Raga. A neraval or Ragam looks genuinely healthily spontaneous and unrepeated.

Season 2017-18 : Abhishek sang a Purvikalyani Ragam for almost an hour – and unlike most others, Abhishek’s Poorviklayani was coronated with the sincereity to spontaneity, gait of gamaka and melody to music. 

Of his Krithis and manodharma Sangeetha, I would prefer Abhishek singing manodharma Sangeetha. It is full of promising wow moments, every single time. He doesn’t not compromise with Krithis – well paced with due respect to kalapramana and vaggeyakaras. Should we forget that he comes out of the celebrated Lalgudi parampara. 

His concerts centre both – Krithis and Pallavis. I’ve personally loved how he handles both. There is an effort to sing to his best, but never an effort to seek attention and appreciation. That distinguishes Abhishek’s music, from music that genres today’s Carnatic platform. Shruthibhedam and Grahabhedam should be more of an exploration, than a rehearsed performance. That is one of the biggest takeaways from his concerts. Not to forget, Abhishek’s math is a lethal and arresting combination of math, poise and genius. 

Abhishek is not essentially a second half artist, there have been instances when he has concluded just after the Ragam Tanam Pallavi. The chap sings to honour the moment; the audience has to live that with him. There is no question of singing to appease an audience! He immaculately presents his thukadas and thillanas, but what would a Rasika remember Abhishek for ?

I’d say the crest jewel to his over all personality is the humility. It’s all about music, with Abhishek😊

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Unequal Halves 

A patriotic Carnatic concert goer will crack this oxymoron at ease ! 

Yes; I do refer, to the uneven distribution of the concert format that has become a standard in today’s date.

Concerts are planned based on the type of songs presented. Generally, rather I say : traditionally, the first half of the concert spins around the more Carnatic zest. It involves either beginning with Varna or Ganesha Sthuthi; beautifully concocting with colourful Raga elaborations, Krithis, Neravals and Kalpanaswarams – the impromptu improvisations (today all rote!). The highlight is usually the main piece that contains the percussion solo- Taniavartanam. The main piece could be a Kruthi or a Pallavi; preceded by an elaborate exploration of the Raga. 

The second half, for long, was limited to Javalis, Padams, Devarnamas, Virtthams, Utsava Sampradaya Krithis, Divyanama Krithis and Ashtapadis. It was the great Ariykudi RamanujaIyengar who introduced Pasuram singing in the second half. We must generally laud the legend – MS Subbulakshmi for introducing the Bhajans, Abhangs and other Thukadas – thereby crossing the border of the Vindhyas and entering the Carnatic country – down south. Having completed the main pieces and cream highlights; the concert is now in a slightly more relaxed mood. 

Typically, the part where the thukadas begin is the second half. Well it doesn’t matter if this lasts for even 25 minutes in a three hour concert; the whole of it is considered the second half. Your truly would have myself abused this hyphenated compound; mercilessly- particularly in concerts of some star artists 😂

One of the reasons for this unequal division is the separation of the Ragam Thanam Pallavi section from the main piece. Pallavi is singing is a must-be in every kucheri today (FYI : I’m smirking as I type) – which prolongs the first half. One relief to second half lovers is that Krithis; why even Neravals these days so substandard , that even the first half starts seeming like the more relaxed second half.

That was the kucheri buzz – on a lighter note !

The alms, that the monk refused

The sun silvered the skies of this beautiful neighbourhood 

Everymorning. So loveley to imagine, one never could.

To the devout rituals and chants

To cleanse of the mind,  of crud and scants 

The bright day would be ornate by the jingling feet,

Of the monk in saffron, pale but neat

Like others, he’d bustle into his rituals- daily

Every passerby, he’d greet gaily
Holy verses, he would mumble
While seeking his alms – humble

Hearing him, came a chaste in haste

In his charity, a moment she wouldn’t waste

“No” – refused the hermit

Her charity, he couldn’t permit

Off he walked, leaving her in a muddle

To the doors of one, of a life – puddle

Her doors were knocked; by many before

By men, many – on and off the shore

From her came the alms, the monk would partake

This was for real – not racquet or namesake

What was in the harlot, that not in the chaste
So much that the monk , refused her alms in haste ?

Faith, the crown of chastity was missing

Mistrust, the venomous snake hissing

For, everynight, when she lay on her darling’s chest

Did she doubt of infidelity in his every quest

Of Fiedelty and faith, the later sans

Refusing her alms, the monk was gone !

 

Sa Pa Sa – If Euclid were from Tanjavur …

If Euclid were from Tanjavur, he would have postulated – ” The best way to define a Shruthi is between two notes; okay now get me a cup of strong filter Coffee ”  as against ” the best way to define a straight line is by two points”.

Today, these two statements make sense to me, and I’m marvelled at how beautiful they are(forget the Coffee part😊).

Any musician will start of with ensuring Shruthi is set – even before a voice check. The invariant notes – Shadja (Sa) and Panchamam(Pa) are traditionally used to set the Shruthi of the voice box or any instrument. 

This is exactly the same as fixing two points and defining a straight line in Euclidean geometry.  The shortest distance between two points is the straight line they define. 

Now, there can be infinite points on that straight line between those two original points. Likewise between Sa and Pa and upper Sa, there can be infinite frequencies, but those distinguishable to the human ear are probably just 10.

Here is an effort to list of those frequencies (points) we can appreciate between Sa Pa Sa (straight line) 

Sa(lower)

|

R1 

|

R2/ G1

|

G2 / R3

|

M1

|

M2

|

Pa

|

D1

|

D2/ N1

|

N2/ D3

|

N3

|

Sa (upper) 


That’s the vertical line of Swaras, up there 😊

Speaking of infinite points, doing a permutation and combination of these notes – with haphazard (Vakra) arrangements, there can still be infinite scales. But aesthetically only around 3Million could be sung, played, explained, delineated and enjoyed – hence they become Ragas. Of these only 5000 are in practice today. Of these, say  50 are sung religiously! 

Which of the 50 are sung with right grammar and with a sense of exploration, passion and courage ? That I will let the Rasika think! 

When you expect the unexpected : you know you’re listening to TNS! 

One of those styles that has left me craving for more music if its kind, is the inimitable debonair  of Sri Madurai Thirumalai Nambi Sesshagopalan sir, TNS for short.

In one of the concerts his son, TNS Krishna mentioned ” My revered father is often compared to Sachin Tendulkar, but I think he is closest to Garry Sobers. When Garry Sobers was on the field, people could be heard saying that he can do anything on the field. My father could and has done everything with music ” – this is something I find hard to deny.

TNS sings, composes, presents Harikathas, plays instruments like Veena, Harmonium and Keyboard and writes lyrics to songs of his own repertoire.  Here, let us recollect the thillana in Niroshta – the entire Sahitya of this Thillana is sung without the singers lips ever coming in contact ! 

A TNS kucheri would often begin traditionally with a Varna – down the Charana – TNS would break into elaborate and amazing Swara Prastharas. I can recollect TNS Krishna(torch bearer of this tradition )  singing Kalpana Swaras for almost 15 minutes during the Saveri Varna. A stark comparison was the same Varna sung for 2 minutes by other artistes. Of the Veterans I have heard – Ariyakudi, GNB and the MLV would do this. 

One of the biggest attitudes of TNS’s music is that  there is music in every kind of a composition – and hence it is presented with utmost devotion on the dias – even a beginners lesson like “Sri Ganamatha “. TNS would explore this Malahari like any Krithi – with Neraval and Swara. This opening piece will run into 15 surprising minutes easily.

Then follow the cascades of Krithis of various composers – Kamban, Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi, The Trinities(Tamizh and Thiruvaiyaru ) or Muthaiah Bhagavathar – TNS easily brings to life the prisitine thoughts pregnant in these divine songs. 

His Raga exploration is rather aggressive and passionate – yet very definite and crisp. You don’t know what’s coming next, TNS certainly does. We are living in times when concerts are planned with just 10 Krithis learnt, Raga and KalpanaSwara – memorised by heart. TNS is indeed the oasis of elixir of such desert times. I can very recollect how he effortlessly transited from Abheri, to KalyanVasanta to Janaranjni performing perfect ShruthiBhedam. Here is true impromptu music – Practised to perfection, but not rehearsed! Kalpita sangeeta at its best.

The highlight however of his singing is the challenge he throws to the violinist by complex calculations of Swaras. The permutations are lucid, but spilling with the genius. There have apparently been times when MSG would place down the Violin and say “I cannot play to your singing “. TNS is probably the only after Chembai , who established that KalpanaSwaram can be sung in any place in Kruthi. One can hear him exercise this in Bantureethi at the Pallavi, Nagumomu at “Jagamelu” – thereby breaking another glass roof.

His Raging Ragamaalikas are a delight in themselves. To say it short I’d like to put it up this way, TNS doesn’t choose what Raga he will present next. The Raga chooses to be presented at its best in TNS’s Swaras !! One can look it up on the internet for his Rendiiton of Swaras in almost 20 ragas – as if he were drinking a glass of water – with no difficulty at all!!

The second half of TNS’s concerts is unconventional as is the first half – he gives a taste of various Pasurams, Shlokas, Devarnamas, Bhajans, Abhangs and Thillanas. Special mention of how he presents Abhangs and Bhajans without emphasis on Gamakas – to ensure authenticity of North Indian music on these pieces. 

“If TNS couldn’t do something, it is to bring out his complete genius to the world. What we know is the tip of the iceberg ” – my friend’s mother and one of my inspirations to carnatic music mentioned. TNS did indeed loose his voice, but what he couldn’t loose is his genius !  His thought process continues to marvel me, even when I don’t get to listen to him as often these days. 

Signatures of today

Bani – signature style is typical of Carnatic music.  Legendary musicians have left behind lasting impressions and have evolved their own styles or Banis, that some of their disciples are carrying forward today; whilst others claim to do so as well.

Take the classic comparison of the Semmangudi Bani that dealt with slow melodious exploration of lower octaves verses the brisk Bhriga Bani of GNB. MLV cautiously carved her own niche retaining the systematic Raga Alaapana format of her guru, GNB’s Baani with the addition of the Bhava element, unique to the MLV Bani. If at all the Abhangs and Bhajans crossed the Vindhyas, MSS is undisputedly to credit. 

Through the series of the next few blogs under this category, I’d like to share some of those styles that have left me deeply impressed and inspired. Whether these styles can be called Bani might still be a hazy question to debate; the styles of these musicians are no doubt unique.

I might not mention some names, for various reasons, which could range from shear ignorance to complete disconnectivity to some hearings. I’d like to store my current experiences  of Carnatic music and musicians and re-visit this some day to recollect the wow-moments that I enjoy right now. The reader is free to judge me for being acidic anytime, but I vouch for myself – I have not been biased with these opinions. 

Being emotional is not bad, but letting it control; is

There is a loud notion that being any close to emotional at work is unprofessional- unproductive( surprised that autocorrect prompted the later the moment I used emotional). I refuse to believe that. 

Here are some emotions that make one more professional and productive 

Loyalty to feel loyal to ones work is great motivation and spreads the air of positivity at ease. Mind you, this is the hormones playing up there in the brain : but one can not express it as grief or joy and hence misses the list of emotions easily.

Integrity I’d say this is the greatest quality anyone ought to have in any walk of life. Why I look at integrity as an emotion is interesting to me. I believe in honouring my Integrity and my actions will reflect my faith. There is a subtle undercurrent beyond which Integrity is more of a feeling in the mind rather than a quality I’d don my sleeve !

Passion The most crucial one, sans which anything else is fruitless.

If one’s work decisions are driven with these unconventional emotions, sanity is not challenged : not at all.
Hell breaks loose when, there is a sense of attachment to anything and expectation of returns. This leads to ego, infatuation, lack of discrimination and eventual downfall.