Carnatic musicians are increasingly employing Hindustani modes in their concerts

Charukeshi, Kirvani, Hansdhwani… (note the spellings). We heard them all this season or in the weeks leading up to it. So did we listen to Sohni, (Hindustani) Todi, Hindol, even Shudh Sohni. In case you are wondering if a constellation of Hindustani musicians crashlanded in Chennai, we heard them all in Carnatic music concerts.

The north Indian avatars of some of these raga-s have been masquerading as Carnatic ragas in kutcheri-s of recent vintage — as Charukesi, Keeravani, Hamsadhwani, Hamsanandi or Vasanta. Not to mention Kafi, Patdeep, Behag, Bairagi, Brindavani Sarang, Madhmat Sarang and Shudh Sarang, besides the notoriously popular Ahir Bhairav, Kedar, Madhuvanti and Bhairavi, with or without Carnatic monikers.

The crowning glory was achieved by Yaman, that staple fare of Hindustani musicians visiting Chennai, when one of our young stars made it the piece-de-resistance of an epic journey of winding, gliding twists and turns through three octaves. Kalyani was however the raga announced.

Vowels and consonants of undoubtedly north-Indian origin sometimes replace the standard ‘tadarina, cooing or exploding forth from the vocal chords of our futuristic tyros accoutred in flashy kurta-s and splendid saris with blazing earware to match. Some even adopt the typical Hindustani opening sally in deep mandra sthayi tones, as well as ultra fast taan-s during raga alapana.

Jugalbandis and fusion concerts are popular among a certain section of our audiences, but there are others relatively hidebound in their approach who find that many of these are ill-rehearsed, and offer no new music.

That can only emerge from the collaboration of masters of their genres who have also worked hard at learning another. The usual tired joke is that fusion concerts produce more confusion than fusion. Some versatile Carnatic musicians seem to have solved the problem by purveying Hindustani raga-s in their Carnatic concerts, as we saw above. I do not refer to the bhajans, thumri-s and abhang-s that dot the tukkada section of the concert, but main or “sub-main” raga-s being presented in typically Hindustani style, deficient in, even shorn of, the gamaka-s and circular movements typical of their orthodox delineation.

On their way out are stern countenances or unseemly gesticulations on stage, demonstrating the next aspect of the makeover kutcheri-s seem to be undergoing. In their place are bright smiles to ostentatiously demonstrate the extent of the musicians’ enjoyment of one another’s music on stage, and carefully choreographed mudra-s and arm stretches to pinpoint the note struck or emotion emoted, just in case you missed it in the listening.

Phrases of praise

Beatific smiles and bhesh-es, sabhash-es and bale-s (a friend swears he actually heard the exclamation ‘kya baat hai!’ on the stage in a recent concert) in praise are not just reserved for accompanists but also bestowed on your singing or instrumental partner, sometimes in mid-phrase or sangati, thereby creating new sounds for the rasika to mull over.

The whole effect is one of bonhomie, a convivial jam session among friends, calculated to win applause every three minutes, standing ovations after every two kriti-s and a thunderous mega-ovation at the end of the concert. Fortunately, the habit among rock musicians and fusion bands of demanding applause from the audience (“Don’t be shy, give us a big hand!”) has so far not caught on in Carnatic music.

One welcome development has been that the audience has generally refrained from bursting into applause when the vocalist touches a dramatic high note, showing remarkable restraint in this respect. I remember a Hindustani pair of vocalists a few years ago pleading with listeners to defer applause to the end of an item, as during a piece it interfered with their manodharma.

In a similar circumstance, a visibly disturbed Carnatic vocalist did a silent namaste to his listeners in a recent concert. The audience immediately acceded to his request, even sportingly laughing at itself. Polite courtesy seems to work better than a show of annoyance.

Returning to the original theme, recent Chennai audiences have also had to suffer Hindustani musicians trying their hand at Carnatic compositions. The popular cry is — “Give us Hindustani raga-s in Carnatic concerts any day!”

(V. Ramnarayan is the Editor-in-Chief of Sruti magazine and former cricketer, the author writes/blogs on music and cricket.)