The bhava and geeta of Ashwath

M.D. Pallavi along with fellow musicians who worked with the composer.  

When you stand to remember C. Ashwath, what do you remember? His extraordinary songs, his creative restlessness, his characteristic impatience, or as one of the last of the legendary composers of Kannada Sugama Sangeeta? Ashwath is iconic for the way in which he brought sugama sangeeta back to the centre of the Kannada experience, when one believed it was the age of rock music. Gone were the days of Kalinga Rao and Ananthaswamy when life was uncomplicated without the television and thousands gathered to listen to their concerts. Ashwath, not so much the proverbial quiet Kannadiga, vowed that ‘Kannada’ was ‘satya’ and pulled off mega sugama sangeeta concerts in the early 2000s with audiences swarming huge outdoor venues.

Ashwath was a man of scale. Whether it was his orchestra, his voice or hospitality – he believed in soaring heights. At the recent tribute to Ashwath’s songs organized by Bhoomija, one got a glimpse of some of these characteristic traits. It’s hard to capture the life and works of a composer of such immense variety in about 90 minutes, nevertheless, for the time-tested Sugama Sangeeta listener, it was a fairly well-packaged re-visitation and for the uninitiated, a good introduction.

It was a celebration of C. Ashwath’s songs; it was also a celebration of the absence of the ubiquitous keyboard and the reassuring presence of the harmonium. The 12-member strong live orchestra team of sitar, mandolin, flute, guitar and the percussion set, along with the singer M.D. Pallavi put together an evening of memorable songs from Ashwath’s repertoire. The opening plaintive flute strains for “Deepavu Ninnade” created a dramatic environment, with Pallavi’s rendition of this song from the film Mysooru Mallige being intense. It was evident that Pallavi’s engagement with the song was a continued one – it had evolved from her earlier renditions as it was evident from those nuanced embellishments. Pallavi, who has worked with Ashwath extensively and even sang on one of his last albums, Devaveene, is someone who knows the Ashwath idiom. In fact, this talented musician comfortably switches between the Mysore Ananthaswamy and Ashwath schools of thought, groomed as she was in the former. She rendered G.S. Shivarudrappa’s poem “Kaanada Kadalige” with felicity and Praveen D. Rao’s opening passages with overtones of Charukeshi were brilliant. “Anandamaya Ee Jaga Hrudaya” set to Darbari has more spectacle in its elaborate background score than in the main melody itself. A fairly simple song, which seems to work more because of the raga it is set in. The loud orchestration overpowered the singing voice. “Nesara Nodu” works as a composition in contrast. In this brilliant melody-centric composition, Ashwath writes such a stunning rhythm score that it creates the illusion of melody itself. Observe the opening lines of the song for instance, Ashwath sets the composition against a percussion arrangement that is soft and rich in tonal variations, almost seeming like an extension of the melody itself. Pallavi rendered the song with aplomb with rich orchestral support. When the group embarked on “Namma Tipparalli Balu Doora”, it almost seemed like they had included an Ananthaswamy composition. One may have heard this song a few hundred times, but each time it feels the tune is more Ananthaswamy than Ashwath. The concert also featured Ashwath’s score for television and film. “Mayada Manada Bhaara” from Nagamandala opens with a brilliant mandolin-sitar interlude, reminiscent of R.D. Burman. Pallavi sang the super hit Shishunala Sharif’s song “Sorutihudu Maneya Maalige” with conviction. But the song is composed for Ashwath’s own voice and articulation, that even the best rendition will sound plain.

Vasanthi Hariprakash’s narrative (by Mohit Takalkar) for the evening was engaging, though at times a tad over the top. She weaved in interesting stories from Ashwath’s life -- about his quirkiness, his love for food, his generosity among other things.

In many ways, Ashwath and his songs came alive, yet again.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 7:39:01 AM |

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