Ecstatic Afternoon Raga: Vikas Gupta

Vikas Gupta – A Journey
Vikas Gupta

A Journey (Sense World Music, 2005)

I had one of those deja vu experiences upon receiving Sitarist Vikas Gupta’s debut release, A Journey on Sense World Music. I looked through my Indian classical CDs and I couldn’t find any recordings by the artist, but it is possible that I heard his work on a compilation of Indian music. The ecstatic feeling that came from listening to A Journey also rung of the familiar since I had felt equally blissful in the past while listening to Shiv Kumar Sharma Shafaat Ahmed Khan’s The Inner Path (Sense World Music) and Ghazal‘s
The Rain (ECM).

“Journey” is an appropriate title for this recording because Gupta’s sensitivity and virtuosity takes its listeners on an inner journey and it’s a fabulous trek that leaves one’s body in a blissful state.This might be Vikas’ debut recording on Sense World Music, but he has gained recognition throughout India and abroad for his musical prowess. “His fast growing reputation has been built on his ability to articulate improvised passages with great speed and clarity based on sound raga structure, combined with the skillful control of meend, the technique of pulling the main string across the fret of the sitar in order to vary the pitch of the note.” (liner notes)

This technique is employed so that the sitar mirrors classical Indian vocals. Besides, Vikas’ musical gift, the sitar is the best known and most popular string-instrument in the northern half of India. It is also one of the most popular classical Indian instrument known outside of India. Even someone unfamiliar with classical Indian music would recognize the sitar’s deep twang thanks to great Sitar masters like Ravi Shankar and other illustrious talent. The sitar is often heard in soundtracks of Bollywood and Merchant & Ivory movies and on various 1960’s and 70’s pop music albums, not to mention numerous contemporary world music CDs.

Vikas hails from Jaipur situated in Rajasthan. He trained with Sarod master Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Guitarist Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Sarod player Shri Damodar Lal Kabra and Sitarist Smt. Annapoorna Devi (the first wife of Ravi Shankar). As the custom, Vikas began with vocal training first under the tutelage of Shri Man Mohan Bhatt and at the age of ten began studies with Guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. His playing is representative of Maihar and Senia Gharana, a style of playing crafted by Baba Allauddin Khan.

According to Vikas, “Being a disciple of Babas’ Maihar Gharana, I consider each raga as a deity and play sitar with a feeling of eternal ecstasy. My music goes over body, mind and intellect, touching and stirring the soul. Balance between ‘Gayaki’ (vocal) and ‘Tantrakari’ (instrumental nuance) is the pattern of my recital mindful of raga structure, sustainability of notes and vibrancy of sound.” And similar to a Sufi master musician or any mystical musical performer, Vikas’ music journeys straight into the heart of the sacred. His performance of Raga Gaud Sarang is not for the faint of heart for when his sitar and Akram Khan’s tabla take flight, only those who know how to soar behind and through the clouds will grasp the true intensity of this music.

The raga starts off in a tame fashion, with Vikas exploring the tone and texture of the raga and a gentle unfolding of a sweet melody occurs during the Alap. A rhythmic pulse is added during the jor section of the Alap and already in the early stages of the raga, Vikas is exhibiting his great speed and clarity. By the time, the tabla beats come in and powerfully weave with Vikas’s sitar, excitement also builds. In no way, could anyone treat this raga as background music for it is too powerful to ignore. The raga will work the heart and the mind, leaving the body blissful, but exhausted. Fortunately, the musicians end the recording with the romantic Raga Pilu which is associated with lighter classical genres such as the vocal style, thumri.

A Journey is a fabulous recording that takes its listeners on a whirlwind journey around the globe and beyond. The performance reminds us that he world truly is sacred and that our spirits can soar if we only permit our hearts and minds to be as one. Although this is an intense recording, I still believe that it acts as a good introduction to Indian classical music and it begs to be cherished by all those mystics of heart. Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music

Author: cranky crow