Nirgun Naad saw the seamless blending of music from different States and genres, writes Akhila Krishnamurthy

From a form, content and performance perspective, Nirgun Naad — which marked Day 3 of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest 2013 — was an attempt to explore and extrapolate an array of intersections that are different in style but whose essence is similar — Sufi, for example, meets bhakti, folk meets classical, North meets South, Sanskrit meets Punjabi, Jaisalmer meets Triplicane. The concert’s centrepiece was Vidya Shah, a composer, singer and writer based in Delhi, who conceptualised the collaboration, attempting to piece together the many contrasts in a way that distinctness is preserved and differences are celebrated but at the same time, the underlying similarities fuse together in a way that the parts become a whole.

Varied collective

Thanks to a wide and varied collective — Ghulam Ali (sarangi), Chugge Khan Manganiyar (vocals and morchhang), Salim Khan Manganiyar (back-up vocals and khadtaal) and Amar Sangam (acoustic guitar and mandolin) on one side; and the legendary Vikku Vinayakaram (ghatam), S. Swaminathan (kanjira and konnakol), N. Rajaraman (gettu vadhyam) and Shanti Bhushan Jha (tabla) on the other — and each artiste’s individual potential, the experience was spiritual. Shah’s full-throated singing was a perfect foil to the exuberant renditions by the Manganiyars from Thar Desert in Rajasthan.

The collaboration — both in creation and execution — worked. The performance itself consisted of two sections — pre- and post-Vikku Vinayakaram. In the first half, Shah’s classical and Sufi renditions both alternated and fused with the music of the Manganiyars. Among the highlights was a soulful rendering of Sufi mystic Rabia al-Basri’s ‘Bas Tu Hi’. It opened with a superb acoustic guitar section that was taken up by the morchhang and the tabla, which set the repetitive and haunting rhythm for a song that celebrates the idea of complete surrender.

And then, the Ghatam maestro made his grand entry. Thereafter, the performance acquired a different kind of quality and the focus shifted entirely to Vikku, who displayed his brilliance with the ghatam. Paying homage to the idea of Guru Bhakthi, Shah presented a Sufi Kalam, which was innovatively juxtaposed with Vinayakaram’s own composition on Guru Bhakti, interspersed with Swaminathan’s fierce and forceful kanjira and konnakol. Swaminathan displayed his obvious comfort with the kanjira along with a conviction in his vocal percussion.

As a standalone percussive piece, the famous Ganapathi Talanam, masterminded by Vinayakaram and one that he has come to be recognised for, came next. From here, Shah transitioned to a poem on love by Nazeer Akbarabadi, a translation from Urdu, rendered in Hindi, and one that beckoned “you to find love in every relationship, every colour, and every strand”. Set in Ameer Kalyani, the song perhaps marked the beginning of the evening’s attempt at marrying mixed percussive instruments with powerful vocals.

Unfortunately, just when the sparks were beginning to fly, Shah announced the final piece, the iconic ‘Mast Kalandar’ that sparkled with all the possibilities that a collaboration of this sort can carry, straddling different States and genres.

From an audience’s point of view, it is perhaps too much to expect a creative collaboration that is as eclectic in nature as this to provide a thorough immersion. Fortunately, the evening provided many moments of divinity.