Raga Ecstasy


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Show: Raga Ecstasy
Artists: Niladri Kumar on Sitar
Vijay Ghate on Tabla
When: 30th July 2017
Where: Johannesburg, Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City

The sitar has always been my choice of Instrument, the way it is played, and the sound that emanates from it is heavenly. Innercircle Entertainment has continuously brought us such virtuosos on the instrument with a range of different styles and learning houses (Gharanas); they had previously brought Ustad Shujaat Khan (Imdadkhani Gharana) and Purbayan Chatterjee (Maihar gharana). Innercircle’s latest show announced that Niladri Kumar and Vijay Ghate would be playing on our shores next; this announcement was made in February, and since then the anticipation was monumental.

Hailing from the Maihar Gharana, Niladri Kumar also needs no introduction. He is the son of the legendary Pandit Karthik Kumar, who in turn was a disciple of the sitar maverick Pandit Ravi Shankar. He is blessed with the knowledge of five generations of sitar players and that lineage proudly played out at the Lyric theatre on the evening of the 30th July 2017.

Accomplished percussionist Vijay Ghate accompanied Niladri on his South African tour; and with what splendour and gleam! He started playing Tabla at the impressionable age of three; at age sixteen he was already famous for his brilliant tabla solos. He moved to Mumbai and trained for twelve years under the tutelage of Pandit Suresh Talwalkar. With all this heritage descending on South Africa shores, it was surely to be a magnificent performance.

The warm winter’s afternoon got me revved up for the evening performance, I had been listening to Niladri’s fusion albums for weeks before the concert. In anticipation, I listened to most of the performances that were available online, one that stood out was this Raga Miyan Ki Todi recital by both these amazing artists (link to the video at the end of the review). The excitement mounted! Seated and raring to go… the lights dimmed.

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Nisar bhai announced the start of the show; Niladri and Vijay approached the stage from behind the curtains. I stared in awe, mentally preparing myself for what I was about to hear. As Niladri and Vijay readied themselves near their musical instruments, my anticipation reached a new high.

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The audience drew a brisk silence, the slight touch of the sitar reverberated through the auditorium, tuning and then immediately progressed to playing something I couldn’t wrap my mind around. I continued analysing the tantalising sound being strummed by Niladri. I closed my eyes, and took it all in. I could not figure this one out. I surrendered to the sound and felt its exuberance through the auditorium. The sighs of the audience at this initial stage was astounding; it set the tone for the rest of evening. It was only till after this initial recital that my speculations were put to rest. Niladri announced that he had played Ragam Simhendramadhyamam, my first ever live tryst with this Ragam. Simhendramadhyamam is a rāgam in Carnatic music (musical scale of South Indian classical music). It is the 57th melakarta rāgam in the 72 rāgam system of Carnatic music.  It is said to be borrowed into Hindustani music from Carnatic music; echoed by Niladri after this recital. What was really special to behold was the style of the Maihar Gharana fused into Carnatic music; and Niladri’s ability to prolong the sargams onto the higher octave scales. At times, the Sitar sounded like a Surbahar, and gave the recital a resounding, beautiful comprehensive pronounced peaceful sound.

Niladri addressed the crowd and was overjoyed to be playing at around near-sunset time; and announced that his next piece would be Raag Bhimpalasi. Bhimpalasi is a late afternoon Raag, belonging to the Kafi Thaat associated with bringing listener peace and comfort. It is known an Odhav-Sampoorna raga, implying that it has five notes in the Arohana and seven in the Avarohana. Niladri strums, Vijay hits the Tabla; they begin with the Drut Gat in Madhyalaya. About two minutes into the performance, I am already relaxed, eyes fixated on the performers, they are mesmerising. Vijay Ghate gives an remarkable sound to the tabla, striking it with precision. They perform the Raag with very animated facial expression which delights the audience, As Niladri strums the latter sargams of the Arohana, he once again prolongs the sound, showing his dexterity. The Maihar Gharana in full force. As they proceed to the Jhala in teentaal, there is an astonishing dynamism between the artists, they smile and as if they can they read each other’s minds, we are treated to mini-jugalbadi’s between them. It was at this junction that Vijay creates a remarkable accompaniment, striking the tabla, which almost sounded as if two streams of music are being played out. The audience reacts, Wah Wah and sighs of enjoyment are heard throughout the auditorium. Niladri goes all out on Bhimpalasi – giving the audience complete enjoyment including fraction of song ‘If You Ever Loved’ from the Album ‘If’ based on the same Raag. As I watched the artists play out their instruments in compete harmony, it strikes me over and over again, am I really listening to this live! I cannot begin to explain the fulfilment. The concluding segment to this Raag Bhimpalasi was simply astounding; the mastery we got to see on the Tabla and Sitar had to be experienced.

Niladri took to the mic and asked if there were any farmaish’s (requests) from the audience, a plethora of Raag names were shouted out, Shree! Tilak Kamod! and then Niladri proceeded to play one of his fusion pieces from his album ‘Chillout Forever’ – ‘Sitar Gaze’ in Raag Tilak Kamod. Though here, in this live rendition, it was played out classical style with Niladri focussing on all the flourishes of Tilak Kamod. The raag is of Shadava-Sampoorna nature, i.e., it has six notes in the Arohana and seven in the Avarohana. Tilak Kamod is usually attributed to Khammaj Thaat and is played out during the second portion of the night. Listening to the Raag played out by Niladri and Vijay in hypnotic style, it evokes excitement and energy in me. There was a piece within the performance where Niladri plays the Arohana repeatedly and consciously increases the taal; Vijay matches the taal and what comes out of this is pure bliss. The enthralled crowd whistles and scream out in appreciation. It was a sight to behold, visually and aurally. They once again concluded this segment with high energy, Niladri strumming the Tilak Kamod Arohana sargams in Taar Saptak, Vijay drubbing the tabla with such vigour, until they reach the Avarohana and end the Tilak Kamod performance. The audience reciprocate with a thunderous standing ovation.

The musicians stand up and conclude the evenings performance, but the energised audience will not hear it. They scream more, more! Niladri speaks to the audience and is clearly overwhelmed; he says thank you for all the support and that it is this support that musicians so cherish. Vijay and Niladri comply with the audiences cries and get back onto stage.  Niladri begins playing the track ‘Evergreen’ from his album ‘Sitar Gaze’, it has a Ghazalesque sound based on Raag Bhairavi. In most live concerts Bhairavi is played in the concluding segment because of its melodious nature. We were grateful for this fulfilled farmaish. Bhairavi is a sampoorna raag which means that it has all seven notes in both the Arohana and Avarohana. We are treated to a short alaap, which moves into the Jhod – Jhala in Madhayala – Vijay giving us an admirable performance on the tabla. This then concludes the show, again with a thunderous applause and whistles by the audience.

The experience had been overwhelming, energetic and fulfilling; i can only thank Nisaar Bhai for bringing such talent to South Africa and for keeping the interest of Shastri Sangeet alive. Here too, the artists came out after the show for a meet and greet where i got my autographs, something i honestly look forward to. They were humble to engage with in conversation as we got our autographs, enhancing the experience. Thanks to Nisaar bhai and Innercircle Entertainment for providing us with this once-in-a-lifetime-experience. As always, my experience can never be the same with out my wonderful friend Darshna – sharing this musical extravaganza with you is a something i amaways appreciative of!

Pictures are courtesy of Inner Circle Entertainment (https://www.facebook.com/innercircleentertainment/) and Darshna Nana

Niladri and Vijay performing Raag Miyan Ki Todi at the Idea Jalsa

Videos of the Show (Coutesy of Inner Circle Entertainment):

 

 

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