Anoushka Shankar's recent sitar concert in Chennai triggered several thoughts about the Indo-Flamenco style mixed in music.
There’s something fascinating about the pose a sitar-player strikes, holding the instrument across the chest with a raised moving hand, just as Goddess Saraswathi holds the veena in Ravi Varma’s immortal painting. The visual image created by the dynamic pose is as graceful as it is majestic, particularly if the musician happens to be a beautiful woman. And if her accomplishment matches her appearance, she naturally tends to be adored by the audience.
No wonder Anoushka Shankar, daughter and worthy disciple of the legendary sitar maestro Ravi Shankar seems to be making indelible impressions in the minds of music lovers everywhere. Right now she’s on a whirlwind tour across the continents, performing in concert halls. Many of the tracks, which figure in her latest album, ‘Traveller,’ explore the intriguing similarities between the classical music of North India and the traditional gypsy music of Spain (Hindustani music and Flamenco). This past week she presented a forceful recital at the Kamaraj Arangam, in front of a very enthusiastic audience.
About the album
Performing with her in the album produced by Deutsche Grammaphon of Germany are some leading exponents of Flamenco and allied musical modes -- vocalists Concha Buika, Sandra Carrasco and Duquende, guitarists Javier Limon and Pepe Habichuela, percussionists El Pirana and Juan Ruiz playing the cajon (pronounced ‘cahone’), and pianist Pedro Ricardo Mino.
On the Indian side are Shubha Mudgal and Sanjeev Chimmalgi (vocal), Tanmoy Bose (tabla), Pirashanna Thevaraja (mridangam, ghatam, ganjira, morsing), Sanjeev Shankar (shehnai), and Ajay Prasanna (flute). Sandra, Pirana, Bose, Thevaraja, and Sanjeev Shankar turned up at the Chennai concert, where the guitar was played by Melon Jimenez from Spain.
Flamenco music is is an integral part of the Spanish gypsy dance tradition, which has very deep and long roots stretching back, across time and space, to certain modes of ancient North Indian folk dances, especially Rajasthani. That’s why there’s a striking resemblance between certain elements of Flamenco and Kathak dance styles, as between Flamenco music and Hindustani music (which governs Kathak).
But what actually make Indo-Flamenco music and dance such a mysterious and fascinating phenomenon are not these similarities but the contrasting elements, which reflect the fundamental characters of the different social and national cultures.
In the case of dance, the basic difference is between the stiff movements of Flamenco (reflecting the graceful but aggressive movements of matadors and bulls in the arena) and the fluent movements of Kathak (reflecting the elegant postures natural in romantic settings). And in the case of music, the contrast is essentially between the staccato sounds which suit the aggressive Flamenco dance, and the glissando effects which are so characteristic of Hindustani music (as they are of Carnatic music).
How do gifted and versatile dancers and musicians let staccatos and glissandos co-exist creating beautifully blended patterns of vision and sounds? Music lovers in Chennai had a wonderful demonstration of this magic in Anoushka Shankar’s live concert under review.
(to be continued)