Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Oli Chamber Concert 13

By Vivadi

Ranjani Hebbar: Master of her voice

Ranjani Hebbar comes from the musical backwaters of Udupi, a place more associated with a kind of fast food. She isn’t alone though -- violinists Vittal Ramamurthy and the young K.J. Dileep, ghatam artistes Giridhar Udupa and Udupi Sreedhar, vocalist Kuldeep Pai, to name a few are from those parts. Despite its relatively minor status as a Carnatic music kshetra, music is a way of life in Udupi. Its proximity to the royal palace of Mysore meant music regularly trickled down from there.

South Canara was under the Madras Presidency, and many musicians in the area learnt from teachers in the presidency. Amongst the Haridasas, Kanakadasa and Vadiraja have an intimate connection with the area, and Udupi holds a rich heritage of compositions of these dasas. The temples in the area are supporters and patrons of music (one of its high priests even left priestdom to become a full-time musician!) Hindustani music, travelling from the northern districts of Dharwad and Belgaum, is more popular in Udupi than its South Indian counterpart. Even Yakshagana music is based on the Hindustani system.

These influences have combined in Ranjani Hebbar’s case with inputs from stalwarts such as Chingleput Ranganathan and S. Sowmya to produce a style that is entirely fresh. It showed in a Ranjani alapana that was both original and traditional at once. Unafraid to tread new waters by bending swaras in unfamiliar ways or holding long karvais at odd swaras, and doing this from within the broad boundaries of the raga, either gliding around the rishabham and nishadham omitting the shadjam, or holding a plain, almost weightless madhyamam, using jumps, drifts and curves, she cajoled a spectacular variety of sangatis.

The theme for Ranjani’s concert was, fittingly, “Mysore Darbar”, a cultural melting pot, if ever there was one. Ranjani chose her pieces for the concert to showcase these influences. Kanakadasa’s Kannada poetry, which definitely rang through the halls of the Mysore palace were represented by a royal Kedaragowla kriti, Tanu ninnadu (Kanakadasa) and the sprightly Idu bhagya (Purandaradasa) in Bilahari.

Ranjani’s voice is her greatest asset. Traversing two and a half octaves with ease, power and perfection, she showed no sign of stress or strain in her voice. It is smooth, but never light. Despite its high-pitch, it is not overly loud or screechy, and at the same time it isn’t crooning or light.

The central Saveri, Sri Kamakoti (Mysore Sadashiva Rao), was a serious affair. The mood of the raga alapana was pensive, even pondering. While there were brigas, and Ranjani’s pliable voice lends itself to that style, they were interspersed with rest. V.V. Srinivasa Rao responded with the poise and √©lan of a veteran. The mark of Ranjani’s maturity is how much time she has to present her music. Even in a torrential niraval and swaraprastaram in Saveri, she never seemed hurried. Her music has a clarity of expression beyond her years.

Ganapathyraman, whom the Oli Team has started to describe as its “staff artiste”, as usual provided heart-warming mridangam support. It was restful or restive as the mood of the kriti demanded. It was breathtaking in its vision and breathless in its execution.

One of the high points of the concert oddly came in the post-tani phase. It was a three to four minute masterly exploration of Maru Behag -- a tricky raga defined by its quirky pakad-s -- that would have done her North Indian counterparts proud. While the audience responded with repeated “Bhales”, one felt “Kya baat hai!” was the apter response!

Shri Jalandharam - Gambhira Natai - Adi - Mysore Jayachamarajendra Odeyar
Sada Saranga Nayane - Ranjani - Adi - Yoga Narasimha
Idu Bhagya - Bilahari - Khandachapu - Purandara dasa
Thanu Ninnadu - Kedaragowla - Mishra Chapu - Kanaka dasa
Shri Kamakoti - Saveri - Adi - Mysore Sadashiva rao
Nudidare Muttina Hara - Maru Bihag - Adi - Basavanna Vachana
Pranatharthi Hara - Janjutti - Kanda Triputa - Mysore Vasudeva Acharya
Baro Krishnayya - Ragamalika - Adi - Purandaradasa
Thillana - Janjutti - Adi - Veene Sheshanna

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