How Pt. Venkatesh Kumar builds a musical experience

Pt. Venkatesh Kumar performing at Barkha Ritu concert in Bengaluru   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Someone once told a veteran Carnatic musician of a lecture demonstration in music. “You mean these days they talk about music!” he asked in surprise. Pt. M.Venkatesh Kumar, though displaced in time and space by over five decades from this remark, is also a musician who only sings his music. It is a unique trait at a time when most musicians talk music — in a concert and otherwise too.

At best, Pt. Venkatesh Kumar will put his Ramdasi Malhar bandish on pause for a few seconds to say, “When guruji taught me this raga I didn’t even have the courage to ask him its name!” His body language when saying this is similar to when he’s passionately delivering a gamak taan, his entire body capturing the vibrations of music.

This extraordinary musician from Dharwad, from the Kirana-Gwalior traditions, sang an expansive Gaud Malhar and Ramdasi Malhar at the Barkha Ritu concert series organised by Banyan Tree in Bengaluru recently. He was at his evocative best singing the ancient raag Gaud Malhar, which is older than Miya Ki Malhar. The raag is a combination of Gaud, Shuddha Malhar, and packs in shades of Bilawal as well.

With characteristics as complex as this, the raag has the most interesting manoeuvres — for instance, as the musicologist Rajan Parrikar writes, in the Poorvanga activity you find clusters of Gaud before it launches into the Uttaranga either with a phrase from Shuddha Malhar or Bilawal.

Committed artistry

Pt. Venkatesh Kumar created the huge expanse of the raga with a detailed delineation in the aarohi scale gradually moving towards the avarohi, giving you an experience of the beautiful madhyama. The constellation of swaras and movements wasa striking, each time highlighting this central note.

In his music one sees the desire to plumb the depths of the raag and how he employs every tool and technique towards this. To categorise his music into ‘emotions’ such as wistful, sombre etc is hard because exploration of the raag forms the core of his concert. Building a ‘musical experience’ is his pursuit, hence contemplation is intrinsic to him, and not the appearance of his music. His progress from vilambit to drut is neither a showcase of technique nor virtuosity, but you could well read it that way. The framework is that of committed artistry, and change in pace or change of bandish are operational concerns. ‘Kahe Vo’ is a beautiful bandish and Venkatesh Kumar renders it memorably. (It is worth listening to the great masters sing this bandish; more recently, Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar.) Whether it is the vilambit or drut bandish, there is a certain celebration in Venkatesh Kumar’s music and I equate it to a sense of awe that comes from the endless possibilities of creativity.

He rendered the popular bandish ‘Prabho mana re’ in Ramdasi Malhar. The lakshanas of the raag came through in the most eloquent manner. Both Ramdasi Malhar and Gaud Malhar are difficult raags, but he embraced and expanded them with great relish and energy. The immaculate taans, the lalithya, and lucidity of expression makes his music special. His singing is clearly informed by all the musical phenomena of the region; you see their shades in his rendering. He ended the concert with a vachana and a devaranama.

He trained under the great saint-teacher, Pt. Puttaraj Gawai, and the region he belongs to has the formidable influence of many great masters, yet Pt. Venkatesh Kumar has more than held his own.

The Bengaluru-based journalist writes on art and culture.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 7:58:54 PM |

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