Refreshing at every stroke

Zakir Hussain on the tabla and Niladri Kumar on the sitar at The Music Academy organised by The Sakthi Foundation in Chennai.

Zakir Hussain on the tabla and Niladri Kumar on the sitar at The Music Academy organised by The Sakthi Foundation in Chennai.   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

Sparks of imagination flew at Gurudeva featuring Ustad Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar

The Shakti Foundation presented sitarist Niladri Kumar and maestro Zakir Husain at the Music Academy to a full house. It was a delightful evening of music.

Sitar and tabla have evolved a presentation method over the last several decades and today we have well-tested formulae that many artists use. What we heard in this concert ‘Gurudeva’ was a refreshing approach to music making, avoiding blind adherence to these formulae. Tihais, jhalas, sawaal jawaabs, frenzied strumming at high pitches, predictable ascents and descents were not all absent; but when they did surface, it was in a refreshing manner. It was a relief to be spared clichés of instrumental presentation.

Creating interesting texture and tension are among the main challenges before the performer . Niladri Kumar drew from the formulae intelligently, imaginatively. With Ustad Zakir Husain anticipating, and cajoling the music that emanated from the sitar, the evening provided many engaging moments and some soul-stirring ones too.

Raga Yaman, that great boundless raga was offered first. Niladri Kumar played a brief alaap, and eschewing the normal jod, jhala, got down to a gat (composition) in vilambit teentaal. Jod and jhala are the most audience friendly, easily impactful parts of a sitar presentation. It is, for most part, only technically demanding with rapid strumming of staccato notes and performers revel in it as do audiences. And when these were avoided, the promise of something different was in the air.

Zakir Husain entered with a quiet, resonant theka (cycle of specific strokes) of teentaal. It has been remarked many times about him that though a musician of phenomenal stature, with an untameable flamboyance and energy, he is able to slip into the role of the accompanist with quiet restraint when demanded. And yet, in this concert, he was constantly redefining the ‘accompanist-main artist’ divide. And it worked beautifully. His theka was not just a theka — constantly mirrored the melody with small, delightful variations, suddenly broke into short bits of improvisation and sometimes just relished the theka.

When he did foray into lengthier improvisational spells, we saw his mastery over the instrument as he explored the various regions of the tabla – the maidan, the chati, throwing in some unconventional strokes. In one such segment, he started with playing just the stroke ‘na’, and with controlled mastery brought in a multitude of other strokes until there was a kaleidoscope of tabla sounds which he built up with increasing volume, to resolve it all into the ‘sam’ (the first beat of the cycle).

Niladri Kumar rose to the challenge of performing with a musician of such stature with aplomb. He is a thinking musician with considerable technical skills and artistry and one who is not afraid to bring in contemporary sensibilities into a classical music presentation. He contained his exploration of Yaman to the middle ranges, sparing the audience desultory engagements with higher pitches. Staccato notes with the cascade of sympathetic strings of the sitar are pleasurable and he used plenty of these, often breaking into fast passages with increasing decibel levels finishing off with a flourish that at times bordered on the harsh. When he played a phrase on the lingering sustain of the plucked string, the raga came alive, astonishing in its beauty, touching deeper, quieter recesses of the listener.

In the next two pieces of Mishra Kafi and Bhairavi, we saw the contemporary flirting with the traditional. Mishra Kafi was a tribute to Velan, the founder of Shakti Foundation, who inspired the foundation’s work towards making the world friendlier for people with disabilities.

The evening ended with the theme song of the foundation and the national anthem.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 8:48:52 AM |

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