MUSICSCAN: Aruna Sairam’s multi-lingual concert for a cause deserves to be repeated in various cities and also at other venues in Chennai.
The task of reviewing Aruna Sairam’s unusual concert in the superb auditorium at the Seva Sadan's Harrington Road premises is a very intricate one, because the context of the event as well as the performance had many different dimensions, mainly social, cultural, national and spiritual.
The highly-priced concert was organised by a couple of institutions concerned with a pension fund meant for providing a lifeline to languishing musicians -- viz., the Interface (described as ‘social investment managers’), and Global Adjustment Services (‘a relocation, realty and cross-cultural services company’).
The event was organised on a grand scale, with special stage settings and coloured lighting effects, and a commentary in English provided by Ranjini Manian, the social service entrepreneur who runs Global Adjustments. Unity in cultural, national and spiritual terms was the theme of the show, and songs in a dozen different languages were featured.
Of course, all Carnatic music vocalists are usually familiar with songs in six languages -- the four Southern ones (Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam) as well as Sanskrit and Hindi (the last one usually involving ‘bhajans’). Aruna has also consistently rendered abhangs in Marathi in her Carnatic music recitals, and occasionally taken up devotional songs in other Indian languages such as Bengali.
All the languages mentioned above naturally figured in the concert. The singer had only to add the immensely popular national song ‘Vaishnava Janato’ in Gujarati, a Sikh hymn in Punjabi, a traditional musical prayer in Oriya, and an ode to the Virgin Mary in Italian, and presto! The score was a dozen! Among the factors which ensured the authentic tenor of the whole performance were Aruna's perfect pronunciation of all the selected languages and her earnest and intimate association with various musical cultures and traditions of India, as well as the Gregorian chants of medieval Italy.
Another notable feature of the event was that four Northern musicians, playing the harmonium, tabla, pakhawaj, and a set of minor percussion instruments (such as folk drums, cymbals, bells and jingles, with names like chimta, ghungru and manjira) had been brought over from Mumbai to supplement standard Carnatic instruments, viz., the violin, mridangam and ghatam. This further enhanced the authentic sound of the music drawn from such wide-ranging sources. (There was the Carnatic flute also).
It is difficult to identify any particular song as the highlight of the recital, because all of them were rendered with equal measure of élan and exuberance. However, given the central theme of the concert and the prevailing communal tensions all over the world, one must say that the most moving song was Bharatiyar's 'Allah! Allah! Allah!', said to have been composed by the immortal Tamil poet standing in front of a mosque not far from where he lived, in Chennai.
The spellbinding impact the music seemed to have had on the gathering was an eloquent tribute to Aruna Sairam as a Carnatic musician with universal appeal.
But what about thousands of Aruna’s admirers who turn up regularly at her Carnatic music recitals, and who couldn’t afford this performance? Surely it will be a great idea for the organisers to let some leading Sabhas in Chennai and elsewhere re-enact the show. Of course, that would perhaps mean that the expensive Northern instrumental support cannot be imported. But even with the usual Carnatic instruments -- with the addition of just a morsing or kinnaaram -- this diva is quite capable of moving the spirit of the listeners. For ultimately it's a question of the integrity of the music, and not its packaging.