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Common cause

In Tandem:Dhanashree Pandit-Rai (left) is a noted thumri and light classical vocalist. Merlin D’Souza is an ace pianist.

In Tandem:Dhanashree Pandit-Rai (left) is a noted thumri and light classical vocalist. Merlin D’Souza is an ace pianist.  


Two musicians from diverse backgrounds plan to unsettle the purists by jamming it up later this week

Their roots lie in different, contrasting musical worlds. Merlin D’Souza is an ace pianist and composer, specialising in western styles like jazz, blues, rock and pop. Dhanashree Pandit-Rai has made her mark as a noted thumri and light classical vocalist. A few years ago, they decided to merge ideas and music. After doing a few shows together, they will perform tomorrow at Let's Merge, a fusion crossover concert by Inner Courtyard in association with the Y.B. Chavan Pratisthan.

On the agenda: a mix of Indo-jazz fusion. Composer Antonio Vivaldi’s classical favourite ‘The Four Seasons’ will blend with a traditional Indian piece based on the festival of Holi. Mozart’s 40th Symphony will go with Salil Chowdhury's adaptation ‘ Itna Sa Na Tu Mujhse Pyaar Badhaa ’. The Beatles hit ‘Norwegian Wood’ will be accompanied by Indian-style harmonies.

Naturally, both musicians love the idea of the experiment. They also have complete admiration for each other. Says D’Souza: “Dhanashree is an authority on Indian classical music. She is also very articulate, and shares a lot of information about her art.” And Pandit-Rai says: “Merlin is brilliant in her musicianship. She's also very open to new ideas. Our personalities merge in a way.”

Despite their diverse roots, the artistes have been exposed to other cultures. Pandit-Rai, for instance, was involved with the late impresario Niranjhan Jhaveri’s Jazz India Vocal Institute, where she trained international singers Leni Stern, Roseanna Vitro, Katharine Cartwright, Susanne Abbuehl and Luisa Cottifogli. She says: “Though I taught them Indian music techniques, my interactions helped me learn more about the western vocal style.”

As a composer and producer, D’Souza has been involved with Bollywood, theatre, Indipop, fusion and advertising jingles. Some years ago, she had done a similar project with vocalist Shubha Mudgal. She says: “I keep meeting many Hindustani classical musicians. When I met Dhanashree, the idea of doing such a project came to our minds.”

How do they compose the tunes? Merlin says: “It has to be a joint effort. What we do is take well-known compositions and see where the meeting point can be. I may start with a jazz tune, and then Dhanashree will see which bandish or taal goes best with it. Or she may sing a popular thumri, and I add the western elements.”

Dhanashree points out that raags Jog and Madhukauns blend very well with the blues. “Likewise, Kirwani and Bhairavi go along with western scales. So I see what raag works best with specific tunes, and choose the actual piece depending on that. Merlin does all the colouring and choreography.”

At the concert, Merlin will play the grand piano, besides synthesisers. The plan is to play 12 or 13 pieces. Apart from the tunes mentioned, they shall do a gospel version of the bhajan ‘Prabhuji’ created by sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and ex-Beatle George Harrison. Accompanying them will be Bertie D’Silva on bass, I.D. Rao on saxophone and Aniruddha Shirke on percussion.

The pianist also talks of their plan to release an album of five or six such pieces, along with an audio workshop on how these tunes have been put together.

“The best thing is that though we have composed the tunes and blended them in a certain format, we shall also be improvising a lot on stage,” D’Souza points out. Pandit-Rai adds, “We shall also give small talks explaining the compositions, so that the audience knows what to expect.” That should make the concert all the more interactive.

Let’s Merge: 7 p.m., Friday, June 17, Y.B. Chavan Auditorium. Complimentary passes available at Somani Academy of Art, Music & Culture, Fort; Maharashtra Watch & Gramophone Co, Dadar (W), and the venue.

The author is a freelance music writer

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 11:14:49 AM |

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