Posts Tagged ‘Hindustani’

ta-ka-ta, TA-ka-tah!

October 22, 2009

“Welcome to Dartmouth.”

That was the gracious opening remark from a man who, himself, was actually the visitor on Tuesday night. But only in the most formal sense. As a performer on the world stage for over five decades, in truth Ravi Shankar’s name and music are as well known as even the most frequent visitors at the Hopkins Center’s Spaulding Auditorium.

He continued, “I will miss Anoushka tonight as much as you will miss her. We will do our best to make up for it as much as we can.”

It had just been announced that his daughter Anoushka had taken ill and would not be joining him on the stage that evening. That could have been a disappointment, but instead it turned instead into a very intriguing prospect: her absence allowed for his first live performance without her, in fifteen years.

The first half of the concert had been filled with a single raga, plaintive and rhythmic with Ravichandra Kulur’s  soulful solo flute taking the lead. Typical of North Indian classical music the textures were layered and transparent, the structure was patient to develop, gaining volume and speed even as each of the three instruments folded in to the mix. The first half ended in a breathless punctuation of synchronized voices.  Exciting!

After what seemed to be an extraordinarily long intermission (I didn’t time it, but it felt like a half hour or so) Ravi Shankar and the original three musicians took the stage: Kulur on flute, with percussionists Tanmoy Bose and Pirashanna Thevarajah, along with two younger players identified as Kenji (Shankar’s student) and Benjamin.

They played a long set of several ragas, and throughout the whole performance the one thing that struck me was what a bluesy sound Shankar  was able to make with his sitar. I’ve heard the instrument played in many different ways, in live settings and on recordings in all kinds of music. And I’ve heard a lot of Indian slide guitar, much like the lap steel of American blues music in both construction and sound. But I’ve never heard the sitar sound like a blues voice before Shankar’s performance.

So is that his legacy to the art? It’s certainly one of them, but with a professional and personal history so closely associated with the Beatles, the Indian music infusion of the ’60s, and a long past of humanitarian work – it’s only one of many.

One final thought – the Spaulding stage sits low, and the auditorium seating is at a very moderate incline. Since Indian musicians traditionally sit right on the  stage the situation made for difficult viewing at best.

Maybe a raised platform on the stage can be arranged for the next Indian concert?

Which reminds me, the next show: April 1st, 7pm, again at the Spaulding. One of the best Indian percussionists in the world, Zakir Hussain. Must see (hear!)

calcutta slide guitar

September 20, 2009
brothers, Subhasis & Debashish Bhattcharya

brothers, Subhasis & Debashish Bhattcharya

“I didn’t introduce myself or the music at the beginning. Music is the best voice to speak in.”

Those were the words offered by slide guitarist Pandit (“master”) Debashish Bhattacharya at the conclusion of the first couple of unannounced ragas in tonight’s recital with his brother, tabla master Subhasis Bhattcharya. It was held at the UVM recital hall, sponsored by the Friends of Indian Music and Dance. And it was the opening concert on the brothers’ tour in support of their new (third) recording, O Shakuntala! on Riverboat Records.

Several years of listening to their first two recordings (Calcutta Slide Guitar, and last year’s Grammy nominee, Calcutta Chronicles) were little preparation for the impact of their live show. How do two people make that much music? Part of the answer lies in the 22-string chaturangui, an instrument of Debashish Bhattcharya’s own invention, and one of the self-described “trinity of guitars” he plays. It makes a big sound. But that’s only part of it.

The truth is, brothers Debashish and Subhasis are a singleminded musical force. They think and play as one, in music that ranges from the esoterically introspective to the frenetically precise, in the traditional Hindustani classical music of North India to the vocally-oriented Carnatic sounds of the South…often all in the same piece.

I couldn’t have enjoyed this more.

mi fado

March 5, 2009

It takes a lot for all of the elements to come together just right and create the kind of music experience offered last night at the Flynn Center.

3/4/09 - marquis for mariza

3/4/09 - marquis for mariza

The evening began at 6 in the adjacent Amy Tarrant Flynn Gallery with an excellent hour-long, anecdote-packed a/v tour through the colorful history of Portuguese “fado” music, a relatively recently evolved singing style from two very different but coexistent sources: the ‘tavernas’ in Lisbon’s working class neighborhoods, and the more formal academic environment at the University of Coibra (where fado is traditionally only sung by men! Quel dommage!).

One music; two distinct paths of expression – as I was listening to the discussion on fado it occurred to me how often we find this kind of divergence as a particular style takes root and evolves simultaneously but separately, in different areas of the same geographical region. Indian classical music came to mind immediately, with its improvisatory Hindustani tradition in the North (a style partly shaped by centuries of neighboring Islamic and Persian influence), and the voice-reliant, religious-themed orientation of Carnatic music in the South.

At 7:30 the concert began, three solitary guitars on the stage in three distinct voices (bass, lyrical Portuguese, and classical acoustic), strumming a stirring prelude in anticipation of the entrance. And a moment later, there she was: Mariza, with her signature stylish peroxide wavy bob and long black fitted dress. She strolled into the scene with a radiant smile and a broad wave and began singing in the dark, soaring voice that simultaneously defines her artistry and dispels any initial impressions given by her petite physique.

Half African (mum is from Mozambique, where the future fadista was born), and half Portuguese, Mariza was raised in a seaside Lisbon ‘taverna’ owned by her father. Early on, she described the ‘fado weekends’ her father’s tavern hosted, and her own first forays on the stage as gradeschooler when she was allowed to sing her three fado songs at 9pm each Saturday night, promptly followed by a 10pm bedtime where her father carried her upstairs and tucked her in. (And where the young Mariza, waiting in anticipation for the sound of her father’s footsteps going back downstairs, promptly hopped out of bed and took a seat on the second floor landing to listen the rest of the night’s singers…)

If you’ve heard ‘fado’ you may be inclined to describe it as a mournful, wailing, sad or nostalgic sounding style of singing. You’re definitely right about that. As Mariza demonstrated, though, that’s like looking at the half moon and describing it as “dark”. Accurate, but that’s only part of the story. In omitting the ‘other’ half you’ve not only missed a significant and defining characteristic of the whole picture, you’ve also neglected to describe the one obvious factor upon which you based your judgement of the ‘dark’. (Without light, no dark. The classic paradox.)

So, as it goes with most artistic effort, fado can be thought of much more as a spectrum of expressive capacity rather than a single wedge of the emotional color wheel. For all of its poignancy and longing and wistfulness (‘saudade’) there is also joy and passion, and a love of life and homeland. Mariza’s performance was infused with all of that, and the surprisingly contrasting emotions of the songs she shared made for a compelling and exciting narrative that just kept on unfolding in new insights throughout the show.

I mentioned all of the elements coming together last night to make this a special, memorable experience. The musicianship was incomparable; the unique combination and balance of instruments seemed a good fit for what occasionally can be an alternately constrained or overly ‘lively’ sound at the Flynn; and the subdued, striking lighting schemes gave every illusion of creating the intimate ‘taverna’ space that this music calls home. (I could have lived without the flashing “laser Floyd” spotlight efx on one of the early ‘up’ numbers, but it’s a small complaint to balance against the otherwise beautiful tableaux throughout.)

Mariza is in the second month of a 4-month, 47-city North American tour in promotion of her new recording “Terra”. She is a powerhouse of a singer and a gracious, charming host on stage, generously sharing the spotlight and credits with her fellow performers. If you missed her here you may still be able catch her in another city, and by all means do it if you can. (Tour schedule’s on her website…a Flash-heavy experience, be patient…)

Otherwise I can recommend her earlier recordings, “Fado em Mim”, “Fado Curvo”, and “Transparente” (a tribute recording to her African grandmother).

“Fado”, as Mariza informed the audience last night, “means ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’.”

How very fortunate for us that hers included Vermont as a destination.


[The musicians: Mariza, fadista; Jose Marino Abreu de Freitas, bass; Angelo Braz Freire, Portuguese guitar; Diogo Clemente, classical guitar; Hugo Marques, drums; Simon Wadsworth, piano/trumpet]

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