A 15-minute video of a delightful jugalbandi performance caught the attention of social media users last week. The video that went viral with more than two million views showed mridangam maestro Karaikudi Mani and Senegal’s djembe artiste Pape Samory Seck in an enthralling percussion dialogue.
The performance had actually taken place on November 23, 2015 at Prashanti Nilayam, Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh on the occasion of Satya Sai Baba’s 90th birth anniversary, and was a part of Global Sai Symphony Orchestra’s performance, a composition of German composer Mike Herting. The group is having their European premeire at Historische Stadthalle Wuppertal, Germany on May 28, 2017. Sai Symphony was conceived as an intra-cultural work, an amalgamation of Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra and choir with Indian and African soloists. The special concert, apart from Karaikudi Mani and Pape Seck had tabla by Sai Shravanam, kanjira by Bangalore Amrit, vocals by Anjana Rajagopalan, flute by Shashank and saxophone by Heiner Wiberny.
The video clip with the caption ‘India vs African drums competition’ seemed a bit preposterous though. Sai Shravanam, the renowned musician and audio engineer and founder of music studio Resound India, was part of the symphony, playing the tabla at the concert. Pleasantly surprised at the video going viral , he says, “This is more than what Kabaali and Micheal Jackson’s songs achieved online.” Recollecting the time that this symphony took shape, Sai reveals that when Prashanti Nilayam management was planning to have a musical concert to celebrate Sai Baba’s 90th birthday, Mandolin Srinivas had connected them with German composer Mike Herting who was part of the WDR Radio, Germany. Mike conceptualised Sai Symphony based on the life and works of Sai Baba. Says Sai, “Karaikudi Mani, who’s the pillar of Indian rhythm readily accepted to be part of the symphony. Djembe player Pape Samory was roped in just two days before the event. Mike wanted a ‘battle’ between the African djembe and the Indian mridangam. African percussionists are natural artistes who do not go by any rules, whereas Indian mridangam has strict tala and laya structure. So we were apprehensive. Mani sir told Pape, ‘I’ll play my mridangam and you just follow me, and let’s see what comes out’. And what followed was simply stunning. Mani sir shed his inhibitions and led the dialogue and Pape followed him flawlessly.”
Oblivious to the sudden euphoria over the video, mridangam maestro Karaikudi Mani says, “Yes, I’ve heard about this, some of my students told me. I don’t understand this modern technology. All I know is one should have lakshanam and lakshyam (tradition and goal) while performing and not have any other distractions. But I’m proud of this achievement. I’m happy that percussion is getting such attention.” The humble artiste that he is, the maestro is full of praise for Pape Samory. “He is very intelligent. We did not have any rehearsals but he followed his soul to play the djembe. I’m looking forward to perform with him and other symphony members again in Germany next week.”