The ingredients might have been drawn from different sources but together they produced spellbinding music.
Jwaalaa, “effulgence,” conceived and conceptualised by Padma Vibushan awardee, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, can be described as an amalgam of music of different genres. It was music that extended beyond national and continental boundaries. It sought to present music as an art form in its many hues. The sheer variety held the huge crowd captive: a spell seemed to have been cast.
Sivaraman welcomed the gathering and introduced the highly talented participants: Stephen Devassey on the piano and keyboard, Bangalore Arjunkumar on the dholak and Padmasri awardee Mattanoor Sankaran Kutty on the chenda. Two youngsters strengthened the troupe by providing vocal support - Ravishankar (who was also on the keyboard) and Aishwarya Kasinathan. Attukkal Balasubramaniam, who played the violin in the standing posture, made a great impact. Umayalpuram Sivaraman himself occupied centre-stage with the mridangam.
This programme was being presented for the first time in Chennai and Sivaraman thanked Sri Krishna Gana Sabha for giving the artists a platform to make this presentation during the Season.
‘Jwaalaa’ made a thumping beginning with a classy uruppadi on the mridangam by Sivaraman. The thrilling event comprised many “movements.” The starting number offered its salutation to Jwaalaa and was followed by Ganapati Sthuti, ‘Gajananayutham.’ The next item was “Beautiful Blues.” This was colourful music on the piano and the keyboard presented by Stephen, the laya pundits chipping in with fine fillers and signing off in a crescendo.
What followed in sequence was a mixture drawn from Rajasthani folk music, Marathi abhangs and Tamizh Isai with fluid support from the violinist Balasubramaniam. A tribute to composer Patnam Subramania Iyer, in the form of a galloping and clinching ‘Raghuvamsasudha,’ was the next song. The divine chanting of the Sama Veda led to Kharaharapriya and a pallavi in praise of Jwaalaa. The alapana had some stunning phrases from the vocalists and the violinist, one equalling the other.
The thani avarthanam saw the glorious laya team of Sivaraman, Sankaran Kutty and Arjunkumar in its element. The gathi changes coupled with the playing of all kalams by the trio won ovation from the audience that consisted of many laya experts.
The finest was yet to come. This was a mesmerising effort by Stephen on the piano and keyboard creating a classical symphony with a passion so complete and so profound. It was an experience of sorts as the cameraman did wonders by some imaginatively capturing the moments on the screens placed on either side of the stage.
One could see Sivaraman’s and right-head usages simultaneously. Truly a rare sight! The individual instruments became the point of sharp focus, zoomed when necessary. The sound engineers rose to the occasion. No glitches anywhere. Exemplary acoustic control led to a blissful experience for the listeners.
This wholesome event came to a close with the rendering of ‘Jagadodharana,’ ‘Vaishnava Janatho,’ and Mangalam. The competent compere Nivedita, in her introduction had posed the question: “Jwaalaa - Is it Jazz or Pop, or Folk or Classical?” And told us that Sivaraman had only one answer to that question – ‘It is just music and music all the way.’ He was right.