Chennai's master flautist S. Shashank, sitar artiste Shubhendra Rao, and the Manganiyars -- folk artistes from Rajasthan -- celebrate the magic of Krishna

Date: November 16

Venue: Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall

Time: 7.15 p.m.

Jugalbandis are nothing new you shrug, until you look at this one: a wind, string and voice trio spiced with drums of differing tones. Chennai's master flautist S. Shashank joins accomplished Shubhendra Rao on the sitar and a team of much-applauded, world-travelled folk artistes from Rajasthan — the Manganiyars.

What a medley of instruments! Along with the flute, sitar, tabla (Chandrajit), and mridangam (Parupalli Phalgun), we have the dholak (Feroz Khan Manganiyar) and kamaicha (Ghewar Khan Manganiyar) — a kind of plaintive sarangi, and Anwar Khan Manganiyar's earthy voice.

So, the stage is set, the performers ready, but what are they going to play? Why, about the most versatile god ever, an artiste with dancing rhythms of his own, Krishna the flute player. Perhaps no other theme has inspired such a pageantry of poetry and music, through many centuries, across every region in India.

 At the November Fest, this cross-regional exchange showcases Krishna the supreme trickster and teacher, from his playful childhood to runaway marriage with princess Rukmini. The contrastive tones — reposeful Carnatic, resonant Hindustani, rustic Manganiyar — evoke the myriad nuances of Krishna magic in a jubilant crossweave of styles.

Trained by father Subramanyam, and veterans R.K. Srikantan and K.V. Narayanaswami, and now learning Hindustani music from Pandit Jasraj, child prodigy Shashank is a mature artiste today, with exposure to every kind of audience across the world, in solo as well as ensemble performances with legendary musicians. His ‘multi-flute-transposed fingering technique' and ‘dual octave production' have won him world acclaim.

Guest sitar artiste Shubhendra Rao is — like his father — an ardent disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar. His guru is well known for his love and understanding of Carnatic music and respect for folk traditions, a lineage that makes Rao a fine partner in this collaborative venture.

An exclusive community of Rajput folk musicians, the Manganiyars make music that is eclectic, free, transcending barriers of language and religion, reflecting the same reverence for Krishna and Allah, using the dholak and kamaicha with unique vibrancy. Anwar Khan Manganiyar's deep-throated delivery refracts folk radiance as well as a strong base in classical music. Sought-after dholak player Feroz Khan has collaborated with percussionists of stature such as Zakir Husain. On his kamaicha (the Manganiyar sarangi counterpart) the unrivalled Ghewar Khan plays long, sustained notes to contrast with the brisk pace of folk strains. These musicians come together on the stage for the first time at the November Festival.

Q and A

In this triple stream confluence, will Manganiyar folk music be overshadowed by the two classical traditions?

This is not about dominating or competing, but about integrating melodies. I've played with the Manganiyars. This trio has been acclaimed in performances with leading Hindustani and Western artistes. They have composed and presented music for circuses, races and horse shows in Europe. Besides, their music doesn't conform to any structure, it overflows with verve and energy. This is my first time with Shubhendra Rao, but I know he is a wonderful musician. And, I will link the whole by playing both Carnatic and Hindustani, as learning from Jasrajji has enabled me to be versatile, not rigid, with a lot of give and take.

Why the tested-and-tried Krishna theme?

What else has its universal, irresistible appeal? Besides, I've been waiting to make an album on Krishna with music from every part of the country. Recitals featuring the Manganiyars, especially in Portugal and at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Janmashtami, strengthened my desire.

Of course, vocal music is indispensable to bring out the beauty of the extraordinary lyrics of great Indian poets. At the November Fest, we do have Anwar Khan's dynamic voice, and I will sing some of it — the South Indian songs, for sure.

What kind of music are you going to present? How much have you rehearsed it?                  

We will definitely showcase a wide variety of compositions. Actually, I am trying not to say what others should do, but match them with equivalents in the Carnatic style.

We will go for common ragas, keep alap-jod-jhala as the centrepiece, and emphasise manodharma with mutual respect. The mathematical complexity of Carnatic music is matched by the sitar. The Manganiyars have a classical vocabulary too, and virtuosity in tones, alaap and beats.

I believe that with sensitive artistes, there is no need to rehearse too much, spontaneous jamming is better.                                      

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