Rajna Swaminathan, disciple of mrudangam maestro Sri Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman accompanies Carnatic musicians. She started learning Mrudangam from her father Dr. P. K. Swaminathan at the age of 5 and came under the direct tutelage of Sri Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman at the age of 8. She is 14 years old and is studying in Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Maryland. Rajna is only one of a handful of female mrudangam artists and one of a very few female percussionists in the world.
She has performed at many local Thyagaraja utsavams and other programs. Along with her father Dr. P. K. Swaminathan she has accompanied high caliber artists such as Dr. N. Ramani Sikkil Mala Chandrasekhar Rudrapatnam Brothers Charumathi Ramachandran etc. and won their praise.
During Fall 2004 Rajna toured the USA along with her illustrious Guru and performed for one piece on Mrudangam with Sri Sivaraman accompanying on Kanjira and encouraging her. Sri Sivaraman presented her to the Maryland audience for a full two hour concert debut at the auspices of the Chinmaya Mission Maryland on October 9th 24 with Sri Somayajulu on Jalatharangam Sri Nagai Sriram on Violin and Sri E. M. Subramaniam on Ghatam.
Rajna also performs mrudangam for dance programs, most notably the grand Kuchipudi dance ballet Bharata Sambhavam held at Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.
In addition to mrudangam, Rajna plays piano and has learned Bharathanatyam for some years.
In the notification in these columns about Ranjani-Gayatri’s upcoming concert in Muscat, I had predicted it would be a grand affair. An easy way to score a point as a clairvoyant, since their concerts are always grand! More than 800 people had a sublime experience, not one of them choosing to go – even after the concert! The organizers had to practically hustle the sisters away from the hall for some much needed dinner!
I have made a another prediction about Ranjani and Gayatri (R-G): that they will be the torch bearers for the restructuring of the Carnatic Music concert pattern – something their illustrious predecessor, Sri Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, did many decades ago. At a time where incredibly silly things are being tried in the name of innovation, R-G sisters are sticking to a format that all at once respects the basic tenets of the grandest of India’s music traditions, yet gives them ample room for experimentation. It is their ability to exercise freedom with a sense of discipline and reverence to our divine musical heritage that gives me the courage to say that their pattern will be the one in vogue in the coming decades.
They stuck to their formula yesterday – a crisp Abhogi varnam (although I must confess I was hoping to hear some kalpana swarams a-la the great GNB, another master innovator within traditions), a crisp Kedaram (Swati Tirunal’s Paramananda Natana) then a Rangapura Vihara in Brindavana Saranga (a special treat for the Indian Ambassador, as the composition is in Sanskrit, and the raga is common to both Hindustani and Carnatic systems); a detailed Todi (Tyagaraja’s Raju vedala) was followed by a composition in Dwijavanti (payorasi bhale). This kriti is by Smt Kalyani Varadarajan, whose wonderful compositions are gaining popularity amongst the top performers because of their intellectual appeal.
Then came an elaborate alapana in Mohanam as a preface to the ever popular “kapaali” by Papanasam Sivan. This was followed by a scintillating thani avarthanam by Manoj Siva, who drew a massive applause for his efforts. By now, the audience was totally mesmerized.
In keeping with their charming ability to connect with the audience, they announced the details of the compositions they sang. After a melodious Nasikabhushani (Tyagaraja’s Maravairi ramani) they took up the main item of the concert: a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi (RTP for short), a unique feature of Carnatic music. Ranjani and Gayatri, known for their sensitive handling of both heavy and off beat ragas, chose to treat the audience to an RTP in beautiful Hamsanandi. Every shade, every hue of this pleasant raga was brought out in consummate detail by both sisters – the transition from one to the other in mid phrase was so aesthetic, it drew repeated applause.
But this was nothing compared to the garland of ragas they weaved at the end – the ragamalika – composed of Nattai, Reethigaula, Hamir Kalyani and Sindhubhiaravi. Ranjani’s handling of Hamir kalyani once again underscored the in-depth knowledge of ragas derived from the north. The last, most deservingly referred to as the queen of ragas, was handled brilliantly by Gayatri – she was so engrossed, she could have gone on for an hour elaborating the raga. Sampath’s violin was sweet and soothing to the ears, and his repartee to each of the sisters’ volleys was remarkable. The audience’s joy was boundless at the end of the piece – no one seemed in any hurry to stop clapping! Then followed the “thukkadas”. The term may be translated to mean tidbits, but in their melodic intent, they were as weighty as the major kritis preceding them. There was a viruttam in karaharapriya, saveri and a delectable Maand, then Purandara dasa’s Narayana nine in Suddha dhanyasi, and a lilting bhajan in Khamaj (payoji meine ram rattan dhan payo). The finale was the much awaited abhang that the sisters are especially well known for – they chose Bhoota mothe in Chandrakauns, made extremely enjoyable by Gayatri’s explanation of the lyrics up front.
The true hallmark of a great artiste is their ability to deliver in the presence of adversity. A Tendulkar or a Roger Federer doesn’t get perturbed by the dryness of the pitch or the slippery court. They give of their best to the fans. In what could be mildly put as audio adversity, Ranjani and Gayatri delivered ace after ace, cover drive after cover drive, each one more pleasing to the senses than the other. Within minutes of the concert being over, accolades galore were clogging the whatsapp messages of all the organizers. This was Nadopasana’s 4th concert of the year, but quite easily the concert of a lifetime.
The top-ranking Indian Classical music duo of Smt. Ranjani and Smt. Gayatri are to perform for the music loving audience of Muscat on Saturday 28th October. They are coming from Chennai, the cultural capital of India, for their maiden performance in Oman.
Ranjani and Gayatri are sisters who have been giving classical music concerts from a very young age. They established themselves as a leading violin duo, but have now changed to giving vocal concerts. They are among the most sought-after singers in India, because of their wide repertoire – (they sing compositions in many major Indian languages, including all the South Indian languages, Hindi, Marathi and Bengali) and their being outstanding consummate musicians. They are especially well known for their rendition of Marathi Abhangs, some of which they have tuned to music themselves.
Their concert is being organized by a group of music enthusiasts who call themselves Nadopasana. The organizers said they were extremely pleased to be able bring the numero uno team of vocalists for the listening pleasure of music lovers in Muscat. Although they have toured all around the world extensively, this is their first ever visit to Muscat, which regularly sees Classical Music stalwarts perform in the city every year. Two talented youngsters, Trivandrum Sampath (violin) and Manoj Siva (mridangam) will accompany the sisters.
“We are overwhelmed by the response from music lovers” said one of the organizer. “Their concert is bound to inspire the large number of young music students in the city”, he added. Such good events are made feasible through the magnanimous grace and patronage of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
Muscat Holiday Hotel,
Al Khuwair – Muscat.
Time: 05:30 PM
Date: 28th Oct. 2017
Niti Ranjan Biswas is an exciting tabla player and percussionist who has managed to incorporate an appealing blend of tradition and creativity into his music. Based in Amsterdam he is now one of the most sought after tabla players in Europe and has played with some of the great names of Indian classical music including Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute), Kala Ramnath (violin), Pt. Dhruba Ghosh (sarangi), Pt. Budhaditya Mukherjee (sitar), and Purbayan Chatterjee (sitar).
Niti is a prominent member of two of Europe’s most innovative music projects. Drums United is a unique percussion group based in the Netherlands which brings together rhythms and percussionists from four continents. Later this year Niti will be joining them for his second major European tour with the project.
Since 2004 Niti has been working with Jungle Warriors a collaborative music project that brings together some of the best musicians from around the world. He will be performing with a band that includes outstanding and respected musicians from China India Netherlands and Senegal in the World of Strings tour.
Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh Niti started his musical journey at the tender age of just five and by his early teens was a favorite accompanist of Dhaka’s premier musicians. In 1993 he received a scholarship from the Government of India to study with one of the great exponents of the Ajrara tabla gharana Professor Sudhir Kumar Saxena in Baroda, Gujarat. While there he was also fortunate to study with the eminent tabla teacher Shri P.K. Shridhar. Niti has been fortunate to receive guidance from celebrated artists Pt. Anindo Chatterjee, Yogesh Samsi and Dhruba Ghosh. All of these musicians have had a profound influence on Niti’s musical development.
He successfully completed his Bachelor of Performing Arts (tabla) in 1996 and Masters of Performing Arts in 1998 with First Class Distinction. In 2003 he attained his Masters Degree in Jazz Percussion from the Conservatorium of Amsterdam. He is one of the few tabla artists suitably qualified to absorb Jazz influences into his tabla playing in a meaningful and innovative way.
Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan Ali Bangash, Ayaan Ali Bangash and Elmira Darvarova – Peace Worshipers (Affetto Records AF1706, 2017)
Two of the world’s great musical traditions, Indian classical and western classical music come together in Peace Worshipers. The album features a family trio of sarod players led by one of the great masters of our time, Amjad Ali Khan and his equally talented sons, Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash. The three artists representing the Indian classical music tradition collaborate with superb American violinist Elmira Darvarova.
Interestingly, the three sarod players appear on separate tracks. That is, each track features only one sarod player so there are no sarod trio performances.
Most of the material is composed by Amjad Ali Khan, based on Indian ragas. Elmira Darvarova contributes one solo violin piece based on a Bulgarian folk song.
The quartet is joined by tabla maestro Anubrata Chatterjee.
The CD booklet contains reflections on the recording along with biographies of the musicians, photos and credits.
Peace Worshipers features masterfully-crafted virtuoso performances that showcase the beauty of Indian and western classical traditions as well as folk traditions.
Shivoham – The Quest is an impressive production by vocalist, composer and businesswoman Chandrika Tandon. The album is beautifully packaged and designed in a hard cover box that contains three discs and a booklet with song descriptions, photos and credits. Shivoham – The Quest is divided into three movements: Yearning, Searching and Connecting that reflects Chandrika Tandon’s musical and life journey.
Chandrika Tandon brings together two of the greatest musical traditions in the world: Indian classical music (Hindustani and Carnatic) and western classical music. The Indian influences dominate in some of the tracks, with Indian musical forms, Hindi lead vocals, percussion, bansuri flute, string instruments, mantras and other elements. Western classical appears in the form of classical and early music choirs and orchestras and lead vocals in English.
There is fusion as well, where Indian and western traditions are elegantly intertwined. Additionally, Chandrika Tandon incorporates other world traditions such as the Soweto Gospel Choir, flamenco and global percussion.
The list of musicians is extraordinary. In addition to Chandrika Tandon’s impeccable and mesmerizing vocals, Shivoham – The Quest includes the London Voices choir directed by Terry Edwards; Soul Chants Ensemble of New York; Soweto Gospel Choir; The King’s Singers; and soloists from Ajoy Chakrabarty School of Music of Kolkata.
Also featured is the London Metropolitan Orchestra, directed by Andy Brown and percussion ensembles from Kolkata and Mumbai in India.
The lists of solo instrumentalists includes a striking international cast of acclaimed musicians: Kenny Werner on piano; Martin Bejarano on piano; Sally Heath on piano; Romero Lubambo on guitar; Peter Calo on guitar; Pedro da Silva on Portuguese guitar; Jamey Haddad on percussion; Cyro Baptista on percussion; Thomas Kemp on violin; Gil Goldstein on accordion; Anthony Pike on clarinet; Pandit Ronu Majumdar on flute; Sandeep Mishra on sarangi; Pratik Shrivastava on sarod; Shubhayu Sen Majumdar on esraj.
Shivoham – The Quest is a masterfully-crafted production that seamlessly crosses various secular and sacred music traditions.
Mrs. Shubhangi Sakhalkar had an early early tutelage with Smt. Kunda Vaishampayan. She spent several years learning from acclaimed artists Dr. Prabha Atre and Smt. Padma Talwalkar.
In addition Shubhangi has brought her own ardent music practice and creative imagination to develop a vibrant yet thoughtful vocal style that remains rooted in tradition while being uniquely her own.
Shubhangi Sakhalkar has performed throughout India, including Mumbai and Pune.
After moving to the United States in 1992, Shubhangi has captivated music aficionados with numerous concerts from coast to coast. A gold medalist with an M.A. degree in Hindustani classical music, Shubhangi teaches Indian classical music in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Nikhil Patwardhan has released six albums of Indian classical music – and is also an electrical engineer. He shares his unusual story in this interview, covering his musical journey, inner spiritual calling, and message to the audience.
Nikhil has played across India and overseas, in the US, UK, Dubai, Japan, Kenya and Zambia. Born to Shri Kumar Shrimangalmurti Patwardhan and Srimathi Madhura Kumar Patwardhan, Nikhil started his musical journey at the tender age of four. His grandmother, Srimathi Sarojinidevi Patwardhan and his grandfather, Shri Shrimangalmurti Patwardhan were also deeply into Hindustani classical music.
Nikhil’s projects include the musical trio, ‘When Wood Sings,’ based on instruments such as sitar, flute and tabla. I caught two recent performances in Bangalore by Nikhil, along with tabla players Partho Banerjee (at Lahe Lahe) and Shailesh Shenoy (at Jus’ Trufs).
Tell us about your musical background, and how your family influenced your choice of music as a career.
Although sitar and Indian classical music have been in my family for three generations, I really took to the sitar after hearing a concert recording of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. To this day, my grandmother Mrs. Sarojinidevi Patwardhan, my parents and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee remain as the leading influences in my musical career. Inspiration is everywhere: even a bird singing in the morning can provide great music fuel to the soul.
I have a master’s in electrical engineering from Clemson University in the US and have worked for 12 years in semiconductors. I have been playing sitar and Indian classical music for over 30 years now.
At the age of eight, I gave my first public performance at Balgandharva, Pune. I became a Balodyaan AIR artiste at the age of nine. At the age of twelve, I won the prestigious Centre for Cultural Resources and Training scholarship from the government of India.
At the age of fifteen, I started receiving training from Pandit Parthapratim Chatterjee, who is an exponent of the Maihar Gharana from Kolkata and a disciple of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and Ustad Ali Akbar Khansahib.
I am balancing both worlds, the world of a techie and the world of a musician!
How does your composition process work – individually, or along with other musicians? Do you also compose while on the road?
It works through both ways – primarily through individual creation and then a lot of continuous listening and collaboration with other great musicians.
I very much compose on the road as well. In my day job, I have to drive for a couple of hours every day – so my car always turns into a music studio where I listen to and also record some compositions I think of.
Currently I am not into music full-time and doing both a day job and music. I feel that the day job and music complement each other extremely well.
What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?
Like yoga, our music is intense, complete and with a lot of depth, as it has evolved through so many thousands of years. So it becomes difficult for the general public to understand and extract the goodness that this music has to offer. Hence, the challenge I face is to get more people interested in our oldest form of Indian classical music. However, over the years I am seeing a very positive comeback of people, especially the younger generation, wanting more of this pure and divine music.
What have been some audience reactions you get at your performances?
I feel I am really blessed to have some amazing and appreciative audiences across India and all over the globe. My biggest highlights have been when people from the audience have come up to me after the concert in tears, and told me that the music really went to their hearts and they did not want me to stop playing.
Do you also teach workshops for students/musicians?
Yes, I have several students. I have taught workshops both overseas and in India. I make it a point to give a short lecture demonstration before every concert so people can understand what they should listen to in this music.
How has the music industry changed over the years in terms of tech trends, and how has it affected you?
The virtual and real worlds have been swapped. We all live in the virtual world and the real world is only to meet our physical needs. I think this is an incredible evolution as this allows someone sitting with an online connection in the remotest corner of the world to listen to Indian classical music. Sound technology has also helped immensely in bringing out the finest and subtlest of the sounds of the sitar.
How would you describe your musical journey so far?
It has been a fantastic journey so far and every second of it has taught me to respect my music and reap the joy out of it. Juggling between two lives (techie and musician) definitely is very difficult to manage but music to me is the very oasis that powers my life. I think a music-centric life is very rich, and it not only gives happiness to you but also brings so many people together.
I think my albums show the degree of growth and maturity in my music over the years. I have slowly learned how to explore the depth of a raaga and the rhythm and not only the breadth. I think learning is a continuous process and all you have to see is if you as a whole are growing with respect to your own past.
Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today? What are some ‘dream projects’ or visions you are working towards?
I see myself as a performer and a teacher in the next 15 years or so. In today’s life where everything is supposed to happen in the blink of an eye, Indian classical music can always bring peace and harmony to our mind and bodies and slow us down. One of my dream projects is to work on a music therapy album which I would consider my ‘magnum opus.’
What are your thoughts on the rise of ‘fusion’ music, and how to bring about ‘fusion without confusion?’
I think it is a great idea to blend different genres so that people who like both genres can enjoy both aspects of the music. Fusion is an excellent way to bring the musically uninitiated to start liking music.
However, it should not sound like ‘con’-fusion. A good musician always knows when and where to put the right notes in the listener’s ear, just like a good cook knows how to put the right ingredients in the right dish. However, I think if one stays true to oneself, only then will the real colour of his or her music come out, so trying to imitate without understanding the depth of the music will lead to a dilution of both genres of music.
What is your vision of what music can bring to our troubled world?
My vision is to use this music to bring peace all over the globe just as the yoga movement is trying to bring good health to all. All this turmoil for power is totally unnecessary and music can definitely pave the way to a peaceful, happy world.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?
Stay true to yourself. If you like rock, play and perform rock, if you like jazz, play and perform jazz. Feel each note, feel each vibration. Each one of us has a beautiful and unique way of expressing ourselves, if it comes straight from the heart. I also advise aspiring musicians to get a good education that will give a means of livelihood and also do music. This will prevent them from compromising with their music and stay true to their music.
As a Chinese proverb goes, ‘If you have two coins, with one coin buy food to eat and with the other coin buy a rose.’ The food will give you life and the rose will give you a purpose to live that life.
Ustad Nishat Khan, one of India’s finest sitar players, is set to perform on Sunday, October 8, 2017 at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City. He will be joined by Nitin Mitta on tabla.
Nishat is the son and disciple of Ustad Imrat Khan, and nephew of the late Ustad Vilayat Khan and a member of one of the oldest and most prestigious musical families and schools in India – the Imdadkani Ganara of Etawah.
Nitin Mitta is one of the most sought after tabla players in the music world and has quickly established a reputation as an artist with technical virtuosity. He is an acclaimed accompanist who has performed with some of India’s most celebrated musicians including Pandit Jasraj, Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ustad Nishat Khan, Ustad Shahid Parvez and Pandit Nayan Ghosh.
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Music Center
129 West 67 Street, New York, New York 10023
Box office: (212) 501-3330
Tickets at www.worldmusicinstitute.org
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion