Shryaahva, the Shakti Foundation’s annual fundraising concert was a musical summit of styles

Cross-over concerts are a huge challenge as they try to cross usually unbridgeable chasms. There’s always the risk of a stampede of ideas and trampling of individual styles.   

At the Shakti Foundation’s fundraiser recently, the Shryaahva (a rare Sanskrit name for lotus) quartet initiated a collaborative conversation with ease and immediacy. It was led by the reticent mandolin ace U. Shrinivas, whose rich and long engagement with multi-genre experiments aided the show to throw up flashes of brilliance. Besides the maverick Sivamani who, as is the norm, journeyed into unchartered terrains of rhythm with his space shuttle-like percussion kit, Shryaahva also comprised the young and exuberant keyboardist Stephen Devassy and bassist Sheldon D’Silva.

The concert, however, had a not-so-eventful start with the artistes taking time to warm up to the vision of oneness by frantically searching for a harmonious meeting point. But the music gained momentum as their conserved creative energy gradually found vent.

Shrinivas’s delicately melodic passages were often followed by riffs, notes and beats that twisted, rolled, swelled, ebbed, chased and finally, ended in thrilling crescendos. ‘Save One’, specially composed by Shrinivas in memory of Velan Raghuvir, founder of the Shakti Foundation, was followed by ‘Maya’, a piece with flourishes of diverse ragas such as Bahudari, Kalyana Vasantham, Bahar and Dharmavathi. 

With his fine sense of balance, Shrinivas knew exactly when to swoop in and when to withdraw and let the others have their way. During one such moment, Stephen swiftly slung a keyboard around his neck, moved to the front of the stage and went over the keys with brute, unbridled energy in a display of felicity and confidence.

Then came the turn of the boy of the band, Sheldon. One could hear the roaring riffs of his guitar as he moved closer to the audience, but it was hard to see the expression on his face that was almost covered by his long, silky hair. Sheldon made dramatic moves across the strings to create diversity of tone and timbre.

Sivamani went a step further. He walked down the stage and made those seated in row one, including his mother, repeat the beat he played on his duff. And when he went back on stage, his fast and furious sound show incorporated every beat — from folksy to fantastical.

There may not have been method in this musical progression that was marked more by spontaneity and improvisation. So as Shrinivas played the gentle ‘Lotus Feet’, renowned jazz guitarist John McLaughlin’s composition, others too went into an understated mode. After two bhajans on Shiva, Shrinivas rounded off the concert with the soulful ‘Raghupati Raghava’; transforming Shryaahva into a sangam of styles.