Event Shakti Foundation’s Mayurika was a celebration of the many sounds of East and West

The double bass met the banjo, then they engaged with the tabla and finally the triumvirate converged to connect with the mandolin. And what a convincing amalgam it was! One that defied categorisation yet never once bordered on cacophony. It was Mayurika in the true sense. The imagery of the multiple hues and the wide spread of the peacock’s feathers were created at the Shakti Foundation’s annual fundraising musical evening last weekend. Diverse instruments, differing styles and distinctive traditions coalesced as the mercurial Zakir Hussain, banjo superstar Bela Fleck, esteemed bassist Edgar Meyer and the versatile genius U. Shrinivas entered into a harmonic dialogue non-stop for a little more than 120 minutes at The Music Academy.

‘Bubbles’, the opening track from Melody of Rhythm (the triple concerto was first recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra), the globally talked about album by Bela, Edgar and Zakir, set the tone for the concert with effervescent exchanges.

Almost a foot taller than Edgar, the bass standing majestically in the centre of the stage appeared like a grand patriarch. Sometimes with his fingers and at other times with a bow Edgar came up with deep, plaintive bass lines moving gradually to the higher register and exploring the full range of the bass.

Bela’s winks and smiles added to his banjo-picking flourishes making the Appalachian dance-band instrument exude classical, folk, blues, bluegrass, jazz and some improvised music. Especially during his interaction with Edgar, he made the banjo even sound like a sitar bringing out the Indian character of the concert. Bela and Edgar have been collaborating for over 25 years.

‘Bahar’, the second offering of the evening, a composition that also features in Melody of Rhythm once again reiterated why Zakir is an Ustad, ambassador of Indian music in the West and the most sought after rhythmic anchor. With his fingering flying over the tabla, Zakir’s rapid improvisations were marked by his sensitivity to the melodic passages. His characteristic humour created a joyful ambience on and off the stage. Much of the success of such bizarre experiments that bring together totally unconnected instruments lies with the listeners. And the Chennai audience that evening stood out for its open-minded approach to good musical coalitions with its appreciative cheers.

The guest artiste for the evening, mandolin U. Shrinivas, took to the stage amid thunderous applause and not without reason. It was hard to believe that he is not a part of this on-the-move band. Playing on last minute cues, the delicate and dynamic textures and tempos he came up with made the 11-time Grammy winner Bela acknowledge the maestro’s command over the strings. His powerful, matured inflections made the musical give and take appear pre-planned and provided it a novel edge.

The evening peaked on energy when the artistes came into their own in the solo sections. Edgar’s ‘Canon’ and Bela’s ‘Happy Drum Drum Monkey Girl’ and Zakir’s percussive frenzy proved they are as much independent stars as they are a collective force.

The programme began with cricketing ace Sachin Tendulkar’s message of support: “My association with the Shakti Foundation has been for a long time and I commend the work they do. I hope that this year everyone will support the cause to give medical support for the rural underprivileged. My best wishes for Mayurika 2013.”