The prolific Indian slide guitar maestro Debashish Bhattacharya loves to collaborate with other musicians. He has released exquisite solo albums as well as remarkable collaborations with jazz and world music artists. On this occasion, Debashish and his brother Subhasis (tabla) team up with two acclaimed jazz musicians, Norwegian saxophone player Anders Lønne Grønseth and innovative American guitar player Kenny Wessel.
The East West fusion works perfectly, especially when the two totally different guitar styles interact with each other. Debashish uses his habitual mesmerizing resophonic guitars while Kenny Wessel uses the electric guitar and the interplay is exquisite.
Anders Lønne Grønseth’s saxophone also blends well with the guitars and tabla, especially when he uses the softer form of playing the sax, when it feels more like a whisper.
The lineup includes Debashish Bhattacharya on chaturangui and National resophonic guitars; Anders Lønne Grønseth on tenor and soprano saxophones; Kenny Wessel on electric guitar; and Subhasis Bhattacharya on tabla and percussion.
Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, son of the legendary Ustad Alla Rakha, has built a reputation as one of the finest tabla players in Indian classical music.
Zakir Hussain was born March 9 March, 1951 in Mumbai, India. He began performing as a child prodigy at age 8. In constant demand as an accompanist, he has performed with most of India’s greatest musicians and dancers. While he has few equals as a traditional tabla player, he has also been an innovator, bridging the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions by performing with both North and South Indian masters and presenting percussion concerts both as a soloist and with other drummers.
In addition to his dedication to the Indian classical music tradition, Zakir has been a pioneer in introducing the tabla to wider audiences in the West through his collaborations with jazz and rock musicians, and with percussionists from Latin America, Africa and Europe. As a member of the East-West fusion group Shakti, he won critical acclaim for his virtuosity.
Zakir’s father, Alla Rakha passed away in February of 2000, but his legacy continues with the Masters of Percussion tours that feature Zakir and two of his brothers (Fazal and Taufiq Qureshi).
Zakir Hussain’s 1986 ECM album Making Music was a major statement in the world music arena, with Jan Garbarek, John McLaughlin and bansuri flute genius Hariprasad Chaurasia as contributors.
Zakir Hussain has composed and performed music for various films. He arranged the opening music for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Hussain has also played on several ECM albums with violinist L. Shankar: Who’s to Know, Song for Everyone, Nobody Told Me, M.R.C.S., and Pancha Nadai Pallavi.
He played with Tabla Beat Science whose high-volume clash of cultures incorporated an ever-shifting cast of percussionists and DJs around a core of Zakir, sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan and bassist Bill Laswell. Zakir Hussain has also collaborated on music for ballet with Yo-Yo Ma.
In 2007, Zakir was chosen by the government of India to compose an anthem, “Jai Hind,” to celebrate India’s 60th year of independence.
Zakir has been the recipient of many awards and titles, including Padma Bhushan (2002); Padma Shri (1988); the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1991); the 1999 National Heritage Fellowship, this country’s highest honor for achievement in the traditional arts; and Grammy Awards for Best World Music Album for Planet Drum (1992) and Global Drum Project (2009) with Mickey Hart, Sikiru Adepoju and Giovanni Hidalgo.
Salar Nader, of Afghan origin, was born in 1981 in Hamburg, Germany and migrated to the United States at the age of three . It was in his early months of life when his mother and father noticed his passion for the tabla. No matter where Salar was, he had to bring along his personal tabla set that his father bought for him when he was 6 months old.
At the age of 7, Salar attended his first tabla class in Berkeley, California. The instructor of the class, Ustad Zakir Hussain, who is now Salar’s guru, is a world renowned master of the tabla.
Sooner than expected, Salar was making public appearances on nationwide television screens including; “Nowrooz” festival TV, Nima TV and Jaam-e-Jaam TV. One of his memorable appearances was with Ustad Mawaash (notable Afghan vocalist), when Salar was only 11 years old.
As time progressed Salar became more and more devoted to his tabla training and has since played internationally with renowned masters such as Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, world famous sarangi virtuoso Ustad Sultan Khan, Rob Wasserman, Pandit Chtresh Das and participated at the famous Monterey Music Festival at 18.
With a deep passion for Afghan classical music traditions but also Indian Kathak dance and music, he also enjoyed collaborating with the Dj Cheb i Sabbah and Fareed Haque Group, improvising on an Indian jazz fusion style of music.
He has performed with Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Ustad Mawaash, Rahul Sharma, Ahmad Wali, Homayun Sakhi, Fareed Haque Group, Ustad Shujaat khan, Ustad Rashid khan, Kala Ramnath, Ghulam Ali Khan and Riffat Sultana. He has also performed with ensembles such as the Rumi Ensemble (Shahram Nazeri and Hafez Nazeri), Rumination (Farzin Farhadi, Cheb I Sabbah) and Niyaz.
Live In Osnabruck, with Tehran Symphony Orchestra and Hassan Riahi (Dreyer Gaido, 2007)
Sabir Khan, born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan (India), belongs to the Sikar gharana (school) of music that has introduced several influential figures to Indian classical music.
He is the ninth generation in his family to take up the sarangi and is considered to be one of the finest players of the younger generation. He began studying music when he was six years old with his grandfather, Ustad Gulab Khan, a renowned sarangi player and vocalist.
Soon afterwards, he began training with his father, the acclaimed sarangi player and vocalist Ustad Sultan Khan, and his late uncle Ustad Nasir Khan. With a technique displaying tonal, melodic and rhythmic prowess, he is proving a worthy successor to his proud lineage.
The Sultan of Sarangi, with Ustad Sultan Khan (Dreams Entertainment, 1988)
The Legacy, with Ustad Sultan Khan (Worldwide Records, 2011)
Anita Katakkar is a Canadian percussionist who specializes in tabla. Her ancestry is Indian and Scottish. She grew up listening to Indian music through her grandmother.
Anita studied tabla with Ritesh Das in Canada and later in India with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. She spent 10 years as a member of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble.
In 2009 Anita formed Rakkatak in Toronto. It started as a solo project with Anita on her tabla, a laptop, and a sequencer to create a decidedly personal mix of classical Indian music and electronica. Rakkatak became a band with the addition of bassist Oriana Barbato and sitarist Rex Van der Spuy. Rakkatak’s style changed, concentrating on a less electronic form of Indian fusion.
In addition to her Rakkatak work, Anita teaches tabla, collaborates with yoga instructors and frequently DJs for Yoga classes in Toronto-area studios. She created music to link breath to movement with her Yoga Trax project.
Rakkatak (2010) Open (2014)
Small Pieces (Rakkatak RA017, 2017)
As announced in these columns recently, Nadopasana, a Muscat (Oman) based voluntary organization devoted to Indian classical music, staged a double concert on Saturday, the 25th March 2017. It featured two young and promising stars of the Carnatic genre. The morning session was a vocal concert by Nandini Neelakantan, while the evening session featured the vocal recital of Vignesh Ishwar.
M S Ananthakrishnan accompanied both artistes on the violin. All three artistes flew in from India, while the percussion accompaniment was provided by local artistes. The ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) very generously sponsored the travel of the visiting artistes. The whole thing was made possible by the encouragement and enthusiasm of HE Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, the Ambassador of India to Oman.
Both Nandini and Vignesh are in their twenties. At the end of their concerts, I felt in the depths of my heart that Carnatic Music as a cultural treasure and tradition was safe for the next many centuries, if these two youngsters were to be seen as yardsticks. This was not a parade of memorized kritis and swaraprastharams, not a mere show of virtuosity and voice range, but a true reflection of commitment to an art form born out of choice, even of passion for the music. Both of them revealed an understanding of the nuances of music which belied their age.
GN Balasubramaniam, who is considered by most authorities as a watershed phenomenon in the world of Carnatic music, was 18 when he gave his first concert on stage. These youngsters are not much older, and yet were able to hold the audience at the Krishna Temple, Muscat, spellbound throughout their concert – be it heavy kritis or thukkadas. A scintillating Kalyani by Nandini, and a superlative Todi by Vignesh spoke the same message – a complete understanding of the raga Lakshana, and a manodharma in doing niraval and swarams that was nothing short of awesome.
Even in the selection of items for the evening, as well, both showed a maturity that was way beyond what many of us “senior” rasikas expected from such youngsters (see below for details). The pieces chosen were not populist keertanas aimed at pleasing the masses. Yet, impress they did: Nandini’s Theerada Vilayattu Pillai, the ultimate expression of a father’s love for his daughter written by Bharathiyar, the Tamil Maha Kavi, left many in the audience with a lump in their throats, such was her bhava.
The Bageshri piece Sagara sayana vibho would have had its composer, the legendary MD Ramanathan, clucking away contentedly from his divine abode for sure. Between her and Ananthakrishnan, they showed their mastery of the Sruti Bedham technique, by transcending briefly from Kalyani to Suddha Dahnayasi during the alapana – not an easy feat by any standards. Nandagopal, elder brother of Nandini and her first source of inspiration and introduction to music, was in his usual brilliant elements, something that the Muscat audience have come to expect of him. The applause after his thani laid to rest any questions about who was the darling of the local crowd!
Vignesh, for his part, made full use of his voice, showing flashes of brigas at breakneck speed, without in any way compromising melodic content. He also demonstrated his depth of understanding of the maestros. His concert was laced liberally with anecdotes about the composers and the great masters who had popularized the kritis he sang. He demonstrated how Madurai Mani Iyer or GNB would have handled the swaras for the ever-so-pleasing Kapi Narayani (sarasa sama dana) – after himself giving an excellent account of kalpana swaras. It prompted this reviewer to sit and listen to the kriti sung by various artistes after returning home, and realize how little I had observed of them in all these years! His humility in underscoring the contributions of the great stalwarts in Carnatic music reflected how and where he viewed himself in the broad sense of the Carnatic tradition – a sterling quality which he would do very well to nurture and adhere to. Vignesh’s elaborate Todi (Koluvamaragade by Sri Thyagaraja) was followed by a short tani by Srinivasan. Srinivasan’s style a mellow, soft and suave one rendered an able support through the concert.
Both Nandini and Vignesh exhibited another quality which is often overlooked as a success factor – the art of team work. Both of them ensured their accompanists were always in the limelight, by repeatedly showing appreciation for their efforts.
Not that Ananthakrishnan would have gone unnoticed otherwise. With his astute anticipation of the vocalist’s moves, and the ability to explore the higher octaves with the single finger technique, he showed how he has established himself as the scion of the Parur family of violinists. That he seamlessly shifted pitch from accompanying a female to a male voice within the space of a few hours, spoke volumes about his oneness with his instrument. Of especial note were his repartees to Nandini’s Jayanthasri (Marukelara) and Vignesh’s Poorvikalyani (Deva deva jagadeeswara).
Summing up the two concerts of the day, everyone agreed that this trend of multiple concerts could well see Muscat transforming itself into a Cleveland or a second Chennai – something that would be very welcome to the growing Carnatic music fan following in Oman! Nadopasana, an abecedarian just the other day, is indeed making great strides in its very first year.
Morning Concert: MJ Nandini (Vocal) – MS Ananthakrishnan (Violin) – N Nandagopal (Mridangam)
Sarod master Alam Khan is set to perform on Friday, April 7, 2017, 8:00 p.m. in Manhattan, New York. Alam Khan will celebrate his father, the acclaimed sarod player and teacher Ali Akbar Khan, on what would have been his 95th Birthday. Om Gam Ensemble will be the opening act.
Alam Khan will be joined by Nitin Mitta on tabla. Alam has toured internationally and established himself as Ali Akbar Khan’s genuine heir and the face of a new cohort of sarod players.
“Alam Khan is the torch bearer of a very distinguished and important Indian music tradition,” says WMI Artistic Director Par Neiburger. “His father and teacher Ali Akbar Khan was widely regarded as one of the most important and influential Indian musicians of all time. His work popularized the music of India in the West, and the Ali Akbar College—which Alam is now the head teacher of—has had countless students spreading this important tradition around the world.”
Masters of Indian Music
Friday, April 7, 2017, 8:00 p.m.
(Le) Poisson Rouge
158 Bleecker Street, Manhattan
Tickets: $25-$35 www.worldmusicinstitute.org
Fresh from the memory of momentous inaugural concert by Prince Rama Varma, music fans in Muscat are being treated to a double delight by Nadopasana. A totally voluntary organization dreamed up by a bunch of die-hard rasikas of classical Carnatic music, Nadopasana is in its very first year of service to the music lovers of Oman. Encouraged by the support provided by its well-wishers, the organizing team has arranged for two concerts by promising young musicians who are currently making waves in the Indian music scene.
The concerts, planned for the 25th of March 2017 at the Krishna Temple, Darsait, Muscat, will feature Mrs Nandini Neelakantan in the morning session and Mr Vignesh Ishwar in the evening.
Mrs Neelakantan (nee NJ Nandini of Trivandrum), stormed the Carnatic music scene a few years back by winning many of the reality competition shows on Indian television channels. Blessed with a lovely voice and a matching countenance, she has imbibed everything from her Gurus and created an enchanting style of her own. Yet to be 25, she is already an “A” grade artiste with All India Radio, and has performed over 700 concerts in India and abroad. If her track record is any indication, the discerning audience in Muscat is in for a real treat on Saturday, the 25th March. Her concert starts at 10.00 am.
She will be accompanied by Sri M S Ananthakrrishnan, the youngest torch bearer of the great Parur style of violin playing, made internationally famous by his grandfather Sri M.S. Anantharaman and the legendary Sri M. S. Gopalakrishnan.
The Parur style emphasizes strict adherence to sruti and focuses on the gayaki style of playing the violin. In recent years, young Ananthakrrishnan has repeatedly won laurels for upholding the trend set by his illustrious predecessors.
The percussion accompaniment for Nandini will be by her brother Sri Nandagopal, already a well-known and much sought after mridangist, vocalist and teacher in Muscat. As a loving elder sibling, Nandagopal has been nurturing Nandini’s career and his presence and support on the mridangam is bound to bring the very best out of Nandini.
The evening concert, scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm, will feature another rising star in the Carnatic scene, Sri Vignesh Ishwar. Born with the advantage of belonging to a musically evolved family, Vignesh has grasped the essence of Carnatic music, which is revealed in impressive stage presence, and confident rendition of alapanas, kritis and kalpana swarams.
Making good use of his technical background (he holds a masters in sound and music technology), Vignesh has been involved in many innovative schemes to improve and preserve the great heritage of classical Indian music. He has a bagful of honors and awards to his credit, and there is no doubt he will leave his mark on the Muscat audience.
Young Ananthakrishnan will be Vignesh’s violin accompanist. It is creditable that Ananthakrishnan has agreed to play the violin for a lead female and male artiste on the same day, as this can be technically demanding.
The mridangist for the evening will be Delhi R Srinivasan, who has an enviable track record as an accompanist to almost all the great vocalists and instrumentalists who have visited Delhi in the last thirty odd years. He has been chosen to accompany many of these artistes abroad on their concert tours, such is his level of understanding the role of a percussionist. Another Muscat boy, Srinivasan is bound to delight the many locals who already know his prowess.
Saturday the 25th March promises to be an exciting day, alright!
Some years back, I wrote an article titled “What makes for an interesting concert?” Although it was part of a concert review, I was doing some introspection while trying to find a solution to that question. I should have waited. Prince Rama Varma’s concert at the Krishna Temple, Muscat, on 25th February, under the auspices of Nadopasana, provided the answer unambiguously. I came away immensely satisfied, and can now understand not only what makes a concert interesting, but also what gives a sense of fulfillment to the discerning rasika. And this, despite the concert not having an RTP. A remarkable feat indeed.
The success of a concert, I realized, lies in the ability of the main artist to communicate with the audience, and not just by a show of his repertoire or virtuosity. Rama Varma and his team were sitting on the stage. But for the audience, they may as well have been sitting in their midst, talking, making eye contact, and wholesomely reaching out, to almost everyone in the audience of over 400 people.
The proof was there for all to see. No one, not a single child, moved during the entire concert, no phones rang, and extra chairs were pulled to accommodate curious entrants to the temple hall who were drawn into Varma’s enchanting web of music mixed with conversation. He introduced every kriti with an anecdote that took you an immense step closer to the creative instinct of the composer. He has a sense of spontaneous, inoffensive humor which he uses liberally in all his concerts. He can play on words like few others in his field. (for example, he urged people to Google the meaning of various keertanas, gently reminding those present that they were not missing out by skipping a Tamil play (based on Google) that was going on at a nearby venue). I think that by the time he was done, he had aroused the interest of many students and rasikas into exploring the world of composers, sahithyas and meanings of the thousands of wonderful kritis now extant.
Not for nothing is he well known for bringing rare kritis to the concert platform, in keeping with similar work done by his esteemed guru, Sri Balamurali Krishna. How many would have heard Mali’s immortal “magudi” piece in oral form? We were the lucky few last Saturday.
Rama Varma had accepted a request from the local organizers and came to the city nearly four days prior to the concert. He gave of his fullest during this time: three elaborate classes for aspiring musicians of the city (age range 7 to 71!). He indulged a mixed audience to a lecture demonstration on Indian classical music and its position viz. other forms of world music. The lec-dem was at the Indian Embassy, Muscat, and the brain child of the ambassador of India.
The students he taught had been forewarned that they may be asked to sing along at the end of the main concert, but he still managed to make it all exciting: He announced to the audience that he had “discovered” a few people knew some of the songs he liked to sing, so would they please join him from wherever they were sitting? It was a kind of a musical Flash-Mob, if you like, and one that endeared him to every single person in the hall – his students and their parents (or children!) beaming with pride, the unknowing amongst the audience pleasantly surprised, and the whole hall reverberating to an orchestra of classical Carnatic music in its purest form!
When it was all over, as all concerts must, there was a deep sense of longing in the hearts of all rasikas, lay and connoisseur alike. It was reflected by the most asked question when people queued up to meet him and his team – when do we see you again?
I will break from the standard pattern of listing and elaborating on the nuances of each kriti he sang, for two good reasons: I have dwelled long enough on other aspects of this memorable concert. More importantly, Varma generously allows all of his concerts to be uploaded to YouTube, and it would be presumptuous of me to explain what was good and what was excellent – everyone is welcome to their own opinion. I notice that already some noble soul has uploaded the flash-mob bits at youtube.com. I must hasten to add though that the success of this master craftsman’s concert was to a large extent because of his longtime associates – Sri SR Vinu on the violin and Dr G Babu on the mridangam, both “musicians who are magicians” in their own right.
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