The music season was a traumatic one after the loss of maestro M Balamuralikrishna, the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa and the devastation caused by cyclone Vardah. Miraculously , the city was quickly back on its feet. Music indeed proved a soothing balm for all those intrepid souls who left their worries at home, and somehow managed to pay for concerts, coffee and tiffin post-demonetisation.The artists were slow to start, but warmed up as the December festival progressed.
Keen followers of Carnatic music will easily recognise the word rakti. Rakti ragas are those commonly considered ragas that offer a musician ample scope to paint them in all their colours on a wide canvas. But the word also invokes an image of emotion or bhava. It really refers to melody and the emphasis of melody rather than the more intellectual aspects of music. Some of the wise old men and women of Carnatic music have been heard saying that all our ragas are rakti ragas, and it is up to the musician to invest any raga with that magical quality. The exceptions are the so-called scalar ragas which gave birth to the scales identified by man, while rakti ragas may owe their origin to the melody already inherent in music.
I must explain this long preamble. In recent years, old fashioned critics and rasikas like me have been complaining about the increasing accent in Carnatic music on technical brilliance at the expense of soulful rendering of ragas in all their expansive beauty. In short, we were bemoaning the loss of rakti. I for one was finding this trend evident in a number of musicians who had captivated many of us with the great emotional quotient of their music less than a decade ago, when they arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air. Not only were they slowly turning into automatons that could thrill audiences with briga fireworks and swara-tala wizardry, they were influencing a whole new generation of musicians, who were bent upon impressing the world with their vocal sorcery or instrumental sleight of hand.
I went into this season with much trepidation, expecting more of the same from today's established stars who had dazzled us two decades ago. I was not wrong, for many of them gave the impression of having plateaued in their pursuit of frenetic applause for their speed and virtuosity. Gone apparently was their ability to immerse themselves in the joys of “raganess“, as eminent writer Deepak Raja calls it. The whole experience was depressing.
But the tide turned. Young musicians, who had only last year embraced the philosophy of Speed thrills, had evidently listened to their own inner voices or advice from caring mentors. They seem to have realised that speed can also kill creativity and damage your voice beyond repair. Young voice after young voice thrilled us with their return to nature with a vengeance, so to speak, proving that timely course correction can save them from premature decline in their musical ability. Many young musicians, both male and female, gave weighty performances in which raga was king. They have not neglected the more complex segments of our music either, it seems. Some of their ragam-tanam-pallavi renderings would have passed the sternest tests of experts in the field. Yet they have succeeded in redefining rakti in a way only young voices and hands and fingers can. They give us hope for tomorrow.
(First published in the Times of India, Chennai)