Event Aruna Sairam’s thematic concert had Western music instruments accompanying her along with the traditional violin, mridangam and kanjira. Ranee Kumar
She has the élan to carry the audience with her, whatever she chooses to present. There lies Aruna Sairam’s USP. This time around, she had a thematic concert ‘Lalitha’ to present, a fusion of sorts where a number of Western music instruments accompanied her along with the traditional violin, mridangam and kanjira. The stage opened to a striking backdrop where lights played hide and seek in colour sequence and more than that, a subtle display of the divine mother goddess picture outlined the screen in the background. The musician was seated on an imposing pedestal while the rest were arrayed on individual platforms and made for an impressive ensemble. One very engaging thing about Aruna which she must have imbibed due to her exposure to foreign audience, is her readiness to strike an instant rapport with her audience by briefing them on every piece she renders as also pep up with interesting anecdotes of her personal experiences in music, which makes for a wonderful experience and appreciation. Very few south Indian musicians are gifted with this demeanour.
Aruna Sairam began the chanting of Devi Lalitha Sahasranama in her deep sonorous voice creating a serene ambience in the auditorium. The genesis for this concert, she recounted began in Germany on her visit to the church which somehow inspired her to chant the Lalitha nama . A few namarchana she took to rendering the beautiful Dikshitar kriti in Lalitha ragam prefacing it with a sloka on goddess Lakshmi. Hiranmayeem Lakshmi … was markedly exquisite piece which got wrapped up again with part of Lalitha Sahasranama .
We were told how open Dikshitar was to fusion when he adopted a Hindustani raga Lalith to this composition! She went on to regale us with her fusion where she took a folky piece Shakti aum from Bharatiyar which had a toe-tapping rhythm about it and hence the guitar, synthesizer and drums fell into place.
The vocalist’s adaptive capabilities came to the fore when she actually rendered a melodic song in Latin /archaic Italian ( aave Vergene maadre , a Dominique Vellard song) alternating it with the Sanskrit sloka-song Shabda brahma mayi … to Kalyani raga. We tuned in with rapt attention.
Then we had another traditional number, Ma mavathu Sri Saraswathi … (Mysore Vasudevachar) in Hindolam, which seemed a tad hurried, spiced with swara and konakkal by the percussionist which gave an impetus to the rendition and what more, a taniavarthanam that was stupendous (Sai Giridhar on mridangam). This customary conclusion was extended with input from the others-the drums, guitar, etc. where the sync in sruti was a little jarred towards the closing. The Hindolam finally turned out to be a scintillating piece.
There was overdrive to sync with the western instruments (played by Indians of course) and fall in line with the ‘groove’. And it had to be something related to mother goddess! This very moving Patnam Subramania Iyer’s Naan oru vilayattu bommaya … in Navarasa Kannada began on yearning tones as it rightly should going by the content of the song, but it moved over halfway to Jagajjanani Shukapaani … (Ratipatipriya) and back to the first refrain of Lalitha Sahasranama ! It made an impact on her fans no doubt.
Her trademark Abhangi could not be missed out. So, we were treated to Namdev’s Bhaktajana vatsale … with an akaar taan that spiraled into a crescendo with the Vittala refrain igniting it. The Bengali awakening song for goddess Durga jaago tumi jaago … was a lovely one with Aruna Sairam’s impeccable Bengali diction. Her forte lies in rendering her songs in an accent that comes as close to the original language as possible, be it Marathi, Bengali, Hindi or even Italian.
The Gregorian chant Rosa Das Rosa … in Mode (raga) was juxtaposed with a Hindu chant to reiterate the underlying spirit of Goddess the mother and creative force which is fundamentally the same in any faith. To this extent, Aruna Sairam is doing a wonderful job, bonding and binding through music the fissures that are developing in the name of religious, regional, cross-border differences by reaching out to each section in their own parlance.
Dub it as fusion or publicity stunt, the fact remains that she emerges a real cultural ambassador.
The show was organised under the aegis of Cancare Foundation at Ravindra Bharathi.