Some weeks ago, Ashish Khokar drew attention to the general absence of strong content in dance festivals, suggesting that curators need to persevere and ensure interesting content. This applies equally to music.
Our classical arts — Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam — are ‘traditional’ forms; great value is placed upon tradition. The repertoire of raga-s and compositions, for instance, has come down a few centuries and most musicians seek to be perceived as carrying forward that tradition. Celebrating tradition is therefore an important aspect of the performer’s life. The recent festival hosted by the Brinda Repertory was one such.
A Sunday morning promised interest with ‘Music Beyond Music — an Audio Visual presentation on the Dhanammal Bani.’ It turned out to be a presentation with a voice-over that traced the Dhanam family through photos, audio and video clips — and was entirely hagiographical. If we seek to understand and carry forward a legacy, hagiography has limited use. We heard descriptions like ‘pure’ music, ‘pristine’ music, ‘uncompromising classicism’ and so on. An analysis of the music would have had some value. What sets the Dhanam Bani apart? And what does it mean — ‘music beyond music’ — beyond evoking a sense of mystique?
Chitraveena Ravikiran’s recital with Akkarai Subhalakshmi and B.S. Purushottam that morning was evocative with a Yadukula Khambodi varnam, Dhanyasi, Sankarabharanam, Begada, etc. Interest was piqued when he remarked that if one tried to approach the sangati-s of Brinda through technique, one will forever remain an outsider — it is a way of music, of life itself he said.
It is a music defined throughout by, what veteran violinist VVS calls, kuzhaivu — curves, rather than straight lines. Kuzhaivu — it pervaded her music. The beauty of the kuzhaivu, unfortunately, is hard to find among today’s performers. Its total disappearance would be a serious loss.
Kuzhaivu poses an alternative to the mridangam dominated music that is norm in Carnatic Music. The norm, it is arguable, is that the mridangam sets the tone — so near total is the surrender of the music to the demands of laya. Our fascination for the korvai and kuraippu are symptomatic of this. Korvai is, after all, translating into melody rhythmic complexities, of the kind mridangam players revel in. Brinda Amma’s music sets out another equation between melody and rhythm, one in which melody reigns.
As T.M. Krishna has observed elsewhere, that is also the reason her music is perceived as being vilamba kalam. Actually, her renditions of many compositions are not any more chowkam than most other musicians.
Coming back to content in our theme-based events, is it fair to expect frontline performers, who are usually featured in them, to display depth of research? Where are our scholars who surely must also be heard in such events? An important consideration for organisers in inviting resource persons to such events is ‘crowd pulling’ ability. A serious scholar would not exactly fit that bill. If there is indeed genuine interest in matters of history, technique and aesthetics, it might be a good idea to produce, nurture and value researchers.