Ragas Of The Valley


Show:Ragas Of The Valley
Artists:Santosh Sant – Flute
Sandip Chatterjee – Santoor
Pt. Bhawani Shankar – Pakhawaj
Subhankar Banerjee – Tabla
When:11th November 2018
Where:Johannesburg, Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City


The warmth of the November sun shone brightly on this spectacular summer Sunday; as if a prelude to extend to Ragas of The Valley, on my way to concert we enjoy clear skies, the radio playing some golden oldies. I have my cd’s in-hand ready to get signatures from the musical geniuses that we are about to witness. Inner Circle Entertainment and Nisaar Bhai, a big thank you for making this possible for us music lovers that are starved for this kind of music that appeals to the soul. Last year we were treated to Niladri Kumar and Vijay Ghate, they enthralled us with yet another amazing show of Sitarkhani and Tabla. This year we had four artistes showcasing their amazing talents. Santosh Sant on the Bansuri, Sandip Chatterjee on the Santoor, Pt. Bhawani Shankar on the Pakhawaj and Subhankar Banerjee on the Tabla. I admittingly proclaim my love for the Pakhawaj, and having previously seen and met Pt. Bhawani Shankar, my expectations sky rocket. Which Ragas will they play? The excitement mounts!

Santosh Sant is a leading flautist this generation, he is a disciple of the great Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, is also carrying the legacy, as he was born in a musician’s family of Gwalior (a place in Central India). His father Late Pt. Vasantrao Sant was well known vocalist from the ancient Gwalior Gharana. He took musical impressions from his father, and then from Pt. Shriram Umedkar, a representative sitar artist of Gwalior. He is a musician, who in a sense represents an interesting meeting point between tradition and modernity. Being disciple of Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Santosh Sant follows his guru in many ways – in his attempt to master the complex world of Raagdari music and the training with discipline he has undergone and observed. It is his keen and enthusiastic approach to using technology to become an independent self-publishing artiste, on par with artistes anywhere in the world, that makes him a delight to listen to. Equally enthusiastic at attempting cross cultural collaborations, Santosh Sant is very much a 21st century Indian musician.

Sandip Chatterjee, a disciple of Pt. Tarun Bhattacharya and vocal maestro Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty, is a rich and accomplished Santoor player of our time. He has been heralded as the torch bearer of two Gharanas at the same time – Maihar and Patiala . With his magical strokes over strings, He makes his unique melody speak. A deep rooted explorer in himself has helped him give a dynamic approach to his playing style with one hand. Where he uses his left hand to lift the strings (Plucking Chikari) to play the Alap, Jod Jhalla, part of bandish( Gat) there by creating an ineffable resonance . Embroidering the silk with stitches , Sandip’s music has also thickly embroidered innumerable ears by reaching out to a greater world. Sandip has been extensively performing in many music festivals and concerts all around the globe. And, he has also collaborated with many overseas musicians across genres such as Jazz, Rock, Contemporary and Fusion.

Pt. Bhawani Shankar was born into a musical family, beginning his study of pakhawaj and tabla at the age of eight. His father Babulalji was a renowned Kathak performer, a style of Indian classical dance. He has played with many Indian artists including bansuri player Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, santoor player Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma and tabla players Ustad Zakir Hussain and Anindo Chatterjee. In the last years he has made his mark as a composer for films and experimental fusion projects. The man who is credited with virtually giving a second lease of life to the pakhawaj (also known as the mridang), Pt. Bhawani Shankar, is a renowned percussionist, who can play 12 instruments, believes there’s a need to bring the pakhawaj to the forefront and prevent it from languishing as merely an accompanying instrument. One of the oldest instruments, the pakhawaj finds mention in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. 
Pt. Bhawani Shankar, who has successfully experimented with fusion music has had his name registered in the Guinness and Limca Book Of Records. His skill and craft also earned him a Grammy nomination in 2002, and it is this constant innovation and experiment, Pt. Bhawani Shankar says, which has helped him keep his craft alive. “It is the duty of the musician to preserve the purity of the classical and yet appeal to the soul of listeners.

Subhankar Banerjee, A classical Tabla virtuoso, has been considered as a torch bearer and thunderously applauded by the greats of Tabla and stalwarts of Indian music for his scintillating and versatile way of playing. His consistently brilliant performances and masterful improvisational dexterity created a constant demand in India and gained him a worldwide fame. One of the most favorite accompanists of many of India’s greatest musicians and dancers, Subhankar has constantly been flying dotting the map of the world presenting his music in famous venues since last twenty eight years. His formidable command over the instrument and unique style of playing has set a trend amongst music lovers and connoisseurs all around the world. At the age of four the musical wonder kid was placed to learn from Benaras Gharana for a few years from Pt. Manik Das and then from Pt. Swapan Shiva of Farukhabad gharana for twenty five years. Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, Pt. Birju Maharaj, Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Balmuralikrishnan, Vidushi Girija Devi and many of the greatest stalwarts consider him as one of the brilliant tabla players of the country today for his accompaniment with them for many years.

As we enter the Lyric theater, we see the stage laid out for its prestigious presentation; the excitement surges even higher. 

We are ready to delve deep into the Valleys Of Kashmir and explore through music, their intricacies. The theatre bells ring, ushering the excited audience into the Lyric Theatre. A few minutes in, we hear  introductions of the artists by Nisaar Bhai, detailing the Gharanas and musical lineage of each of the artists. The artists make their way onstage, with the audience applauding in appreciation. Soulful music is upon us in the form of Strings, Wind and Percussion.

The concert comprised of two parts, with a duration of two hours.

A soft spoken Santosh Sant pulls the mic closer and greets the audience, he explains that the musicians will try and do full justice to the title of the concert. He goes on to reveal that Raga Jhinjhoti will be fully realised in the first half, and then in the second half, we will have Raga Pahadi together with a tribute to the Film music of Shiv-Hari (Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia).  

Santosh explains that Raga Jhinjhoti will be introduced, first in Alaap with Bansuri and Santoor, then proceed to the Jor in two parts with accompaniment by Pakhawaj first, then Tabla.

Raga Jhinjhoti is regarded as a light raga. Nevertheless it is practiced in both dhrupad and khayal tradition by vocalists as well instrumentalists. 
Raga Jhinjhoti is a Shadav – Sampoorna Raga which means that is has six notes in its ascent scales (Aarohana: S R m P D S’) and seven notes in its descent scales (Avarohana: S’ n D P m G R G S). This raga is generally performed between 10.00 p.m. and mid-night .

We are entering the Valley at the foothills of the Himalayas and the Alaap begins, so soothing in its ektaal rendition. The flute begins its enticement with the introductory notes in the ascent scales, the sound is beautifully enchanting, the santoor joins in, ever so slightly, like the beginning of a water running from the mountains into the river beds, the santoor harmoniously creates this aura of wonder once its strings are impressed upon. The purpose of the Alaap is to express the range of the instruments and their versatility. Santoshji and Sandipji quite capably takes turns in creating delightful sounds showcasing the Alaap. Sandipji giving the Ektaal santoor recital great depth and range. He plays with one Mezrab (sticks used to play the santoor) and uses his hand on the other side; this creates a majestic resonance.  It’s when the Santoor and Flute confluence that the Alaap becomes this majestic river, flowing with strength and vigour; whats even more remarkable is how the Flute and Santoor complement each other; when the musicians play together the Aroha and Avaroha, its not just the sound that’s emanating from the instrument, it is the lineage, the gharana and the entire knowledge being presented to us. The beauty of generations passed!

The flute signals the taal change, the Jor has begun in Jhaptaal. Jhaptaal consists of a 10-beat pattern used in raga exposition. Pt. Bhawani Shankar joins in the duet, and slowly begins introducing the percussion whilst the flute and santoor continue to serenade us. When the momentum has gained, and Pt. Bhawani starts using the bass side of the Pakhawaj, the crowd is awakened by thunder from the storm in the valley. The hall reverberates with the spectacular sound! Sighs of Wah Wah are shouted in unison. The addition of the Pakhawaj presents a great depth to he Raga and Pt. Bhawani Shankar gives us a rousing introduction.

The Pakhawaj Jor is given in two parts, with the second part delivering a mesmerising performance, each musician fully involved in the Raga rendition, bellowing Jhinjhoti’s notes superbly. Interestingly Pt. Bhawani is very animated whilst playing and is sheer pleasure to watch. The magnificent artistry culminates in pure magic, with the Santoor, Flute and Pakhawaj in full force; rousing the audience with it’s storm. It’s that moment where the rainbow shines after a storm. A particular mention to Sandipji & Santoshji for rendering the audience wild with emotion especially towards the latter half of this Jor. They play in unison with gratuitous expansion of Jhinjhoti.

About 40 minutes in, the third portion of the Jor begins with Subhankarda on the tabla, also in Jhaptaal. He immediately impresses; giving the Raga a fluid mellifluous sound. We watch in awe as his hands strikes the instrument; this is class! Subhankarda brings out the sun with his range. We are truly fortunate to be apart of this mehfil. As the Raga continues, note by note, the musicians provide such an electric atmosphere; the audience expresses their appreciation; thunderous applause, whistles and Wahs. Subhankarda is truly a master on the tabla, what great versatility!

The final portion of the Jor begins with all the musicians playing together. It is so amazing to watch all four musicians pour theirs hearts out on stage. Even more interesting is the Tabla and Pakhawaj together, their distinct sounds and the manner in which they are played, even the way in which they play the taal. My eyes have stars in them watching this, we are at this stage scaling the mountains of Himalayas, enjoying a glorious, heavenly Jhinjhoti. The interaction between the four musicians are magnetic; they draw the audience in even further. I cannot begin to even describe what the atmosphere felt like, charged with life and zest emanating from within. This culminated the Raga Jhinjhoti rendition with a thunderous applause.

Part II had begun after a 15 minute sojourn; quite energetically the audience drew a brisk silence and the musicians returned to the stage. Santoshji addressed the audience, relayed that the second half would consist of two parts; Firstly, the essence of Raga Pahadi and lastly a tribute to Shiv-Hari by playing their film songs based on Raga Pahadi. Pahadi has been mentioned quite a few times in my reviews, and what’s interesting to note, is that whilst we have heard many iterations of Pahadi live on stage, this one will feature the two percussionists together as well.

From my previous concert review, this is how I described Raga Pahadi:
The Pahadi dhun relays peace, power, pathos and poignancy; it is played during the early evening time. The raga is like a lover, unruffled in union, serene in separation, powerful enough to achieve eternal union, but resigned to the painful parting ordained by destiny. Pahadi, a Kashimiri folk melody in its origin, is a simple raga – one may think of it as a ‘dhun‘. On the other hand, however, proper and dignified treatment elevates it to the rightful, lofty and esteemed stature of an exquisite raga -beautiful, intense, elegant and delicate. Its aesthetic atmosphere is radically distinctive and without equal. 

Santoshji delivers an enviable Alaap with the Bansuri, enveloped in emotion and terrific sharpness and depth; its like the notes are materialising as he is playing them. The audience immediately appreciates; whistles and applause ensue. The santoor joins in this beautiful melody, and we have a magical marriage of the two instruments as they exchange sweet subtle vows under the shade of the mountains. The Santoor creates a beautiful motif around the bansuri. In the meanwhile Pt. Bhawani Shankar further extenuates the fantasy by the use of multiple percussion instruments, he uses slight ghungroo intonations to enhance the alaap. He then proceeds to use the pakhawaj, slight touches create a heavenly sound, whilst the flute and santoor serenade the audience. From the alaap itself it is is easy to gauge the number of film songs composed in Pahadi.

The Jor begins in ektaal with Subhankarda joining in, peprtuating the serene atmosphere with the bansuri playing the notes of the Aarohana and Avarohana, the slight touches of the santoor in the beginning somewhat create the feeling of the sun overhead the meadows of the valley surrounded by the mountains.

The Jor proceeds into Madhyalaya Taal with the santoor taking precedence and the flute giving slight touches. Subhankarda and Bhawaniji creating a perfect blend of percussion between the tabla and pakawaj, crumpled paper, ghungroo and the Punjabi Dayan. Serenity can be felt throughout the hall, i look around and everyone is slightly moving their hands, legs and heads in appreciation. Watching all four musicians interact with each other, is a wonder. It still dawns upon me again and again, that this music is improvised and not noted down. Wah! The audience applause is rapturous after the Jor.

True to the hoardings of the concert, this was a stunning display of the duet between Flute and Santoor. The hoardings also stated ‘Celebrating The Legacy Of Shiv Hari‘, is what we get to witness at this juncture.

Shiv-Hari, a commendable duo gave Bollywood many great hits; mainly in the Yash Raj Film production house; these films songs remain beloved to all because they were based on Ragas and lived through the times to become resplendent evergreen gems.

The quartet continue their Raga Pahadi renditions through Shiv-Hari’s rich film compositions, their initial celebration begins with ‘Neela Aasman So Gaya’ from the film Silsila rendered by Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachchan in separate solos. We witness a beautiful instrumental rendition that gives us goosebumps. They flow through the song with exact precision. The audience is mesmerised and slight hums can be heard throughout the hall. The pace picks up and the quartet play ‘Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum’ from the same film, playing even Lata Mangeshkar’s non musical piece in the beginning adding to the nostalgia. The audience wants more, joining in applause; we get to hear ‘Dekha Ek Khwab’ also from Silsila brilliantly played by the quartet. In what can be said to also be a tribute to the late Sridevi the quartet begin playing ‘Chandni O Meri Chandni’ from the film Chandni, it casts a spell on the audience. Staying in the same mode, we hear refrains of the bansuri playing ‘Tere Mere Hothon Pe’ also from Chandni, the audience sings as the quartet play their hearts out. In a final display of the Raga Pahadi composed songs, we stay with the Film Chandni, and it is turn of ‘Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Chudiyan’; again with precision and distinct marvel. With this, we have the final piece, but the audience wants more. The Quartet oblige and play the Theme from the 1984 Film Hero composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal. The evergreen theme that made it to the hallmark of the greats. They play with great enthusiasm and smiles. It is so wonderful to realise how many songs were composed out of this one great raga.

More Pictures from the Concert Coutesy Of Inner Circle Entertainment

In an effort to preserve classical music, one has to appreciate the efforts undertaken by Nisaar Bhai to bring these concerts to our shores. It is with great pleasure and immense appreciation that i thank you for allowing us these pleasures that has become such a rarity. Darshna, no concert can go by without a mention, and to enjoy these concerts with someone that has a such a love for shasti sangeet is something that i cannot be appreciative enough for. Thank you. Kash, it was such a pleasant atmosphere to have you join us, let’s endeavour to enjoying more of these concerts together! We leave the concert feeling energised and soulful thanks to these masters of music!

Videos Courtesy of Inner Circle Entertainment:

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