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It rained rhythm

THE FANTASTIC FOUR Conjuring up riveting rhythms at the November Fest

THE FANTASTIC FOUR Conjuring up riveting rhythms at the November Fest   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: R. SHIVAJI RAO

More than challenging complexities, the four artistes who performed on the last day of the November Fest relied on pace and power play

The final day of the November Fest drew record crowds to see conjurors at work. They used sticks for wands, and deft fingers, to produce tireless rhythms. Vikku Vinayakram (ghatam), Trilok Gurtu (a host of drums) and Selvaganesh (kanjira) decided to prove that laya is not intricate hocus pocus for connoisseurs, but well within lay grasp and participatory enjoyment. You didn’t have to know misra (7 beats) and tisra (3 beats), or when the artistes slid from chatusra (4 beat) to khanda (5 beat) cycle. All you had to do was to listen, and you involuntarily vibrated to the beat shifts. It was popular entertainment all the way, without any of the sophistication of a home grown tala vadya kutcheri.

Of course, to do this they had to play something essentially undemanding. They relied less on challenging arabesques and more on speed, and power play. It was pace that mattered. The accelerated tempo exhilarated the audience. So it was from the opening interaction between Gurtu and Selvaganesh in sankirna nadai, Gurtu’s misra essay, or in Triputa and Adi talam that came later.

Spiced with surprise

Modulation was crucial. In his long solo, Selvaganesh brought out sounds rarely used in Carnatic concerts, spiced with surprise, transforming the kanjira into something else. Vinayakram’s brilliance in the Carnatic field is a byword. But, at the November Fest, he mesmerised listeners outside the pale of Carnatic music. His use of the entire surface of the pot — from rim to base — stroked out tonal variations of swaras in different octaves. Listeners heard a different Vikku that day no constraints, free to do his own thing. He did. By a process of simplification. Father and son teamed up too, underlining their presentation with Sivatandavam, prayers to Subrahmanya and the Kanchi Paramacharya as sollukattus.

Trilok Gurtu appeared with his back to the audience, and first coaxed out an orchestra of soughing winds, rustles, babbles, tinkles, birdcalls, waterfalls and falling pebbles. Then he swerved, swivelled and spun around in a circle of drums, making each sing its own song, high and low.

Gurtu has to be seen as much as heard. All drummers need to be ambidextrous, but Gurtu is a true savyasachi, amazingly deft with both hands. He handles one drum with the left hand and another with the right, skips to other drums around him without losing a single beat. This is so effortless as to suggest sleight of hand feats. His strength inheres not just in physical dexterity, nor in the impressive array of percussion instruments from Asia, Africa and Latin America — but in his eclectic mind and easy showmanship. But why use pre-recorded beats for an unvarying background? They deaden the appeal of the live, besides robbing them of meaningful pauses.

Prasanna was dissatisfied with the quality of sound. This might have thrown him off gear somewhat. But it was difficult to know what integral role his guitar had in this medley. However, the November Fest audience had a chance to hear him airing his own compositions. They plunged into ragas like Kalavati, Mohanam or Sankarabharanam, swam in and out of other raga territories, and floated on jazz-twined Carnatic gamakams. One of those essays was coloured with Gurtu’s tinkles and strokes — soft, arrhythmic. For some essays he created a melody base for the percussionists, and wove his strings into their cross rhythms.

What had the audience riveted was the camaraderie. Vinayakram had the listeners filling in the pauses with their claps. Selvaganesh and Gurtu walked downstage to get the hall singing an African refrain, and reciting simple mnemonics. Their humour was infectious. Since tala talk was essential to the show, Selvaganesh and Gurtu traded a sawal-jawab with English sentences between the mnemonics. Even “Vada sambar”, “idli-idli” and “curd rice” became part of the sollukattus.

Drama at the end had percussionist Sivamani garlanding the artistes, and joining in an encore by popular demand.

The best thing about the recital was that it warmed the stage and hall with affability, and avoided clamour. The worst was that each team member did his own seemingly ad hoc - thing. And if you looked for complexities, intriguing challenges — sorry, not in this show.

GOWRI RAMNARAYAN

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