Wednesday, 23 August 2017

And then there was Kambhoji

A beautiful aural experience

By Priyanka C Prakash

As the sound of the tambura wafts through the air, a majestic Sankarabharanam sets the tone for what would be a truly memorable concert, and a cathartic listening experience. Vidushi Neela Ramgopal endows Swati Tirunal’s Ata tala varnam with playful touches (particularly in the third muktayi swaram, where every 4th beat is the swaram ‘pa’). How many times do we hear that a musician’s art is a mirror to her personality? On deeper listening to the artistry of our great musicians, I find this to be extremely accurate. Neela Ramgopal’s music reflects who she is as a person: open, deep and positive. Her music reflects this: it is honest, free, uncompromising in its classicism and true to the aesthetics that she holds dear to her heart.
I always miss listening to concerts live, particularly like this one organised by Naada Inbam in memory of Sri MK Jagannathan, an ardent connoisseur of art. However, due to innovations by streaming organizations such as Parivadini, I get to hear such treasures, while sitting in a different part of the world, in a different time zone.
After the grand Sankarabharanam comes ‘Tappagane’ in Suddha Bangala. Neela Mami’s Suddha Bangala is outstandingthe way she articulates the gamakas in the “dsddp” phrase, and adds an oscillation to the madhyama encapsulates the raga, and reminds me of the class where she taught me Rama bhakti samrajya. In that instance, she sings the “rGr” phrase extensively in her alapana. She offers a different interpretation from that of Madurai Mani Iyer’s (another stalwart who extensively sang Suddha Bangala), but both communicate a happy mood that I often associate with this raga. Violinist R Raghul provides impeccable repartees and Poongulam Subramaniam (mridangam) and KV Gopalakrishnan (khnajira) play with the core classical gait that this composition deserves.
What follows next is an exploration of Chakravakam, a raga I wish we got to hear more often. Mami’s rendition is succinct, and completewhich, as a student and listener, I often find the hardest to achieve. The raga alapana is full of music, even in the pauses. Mami often remarks that the pauses must be electric with the raga. To me, the key phrases of the raga are where she sings a phrase and breaks off at either the ‘Ri’ or the ‘Dha’. A particularly poignant portion is when she stands at the tara stayi gandhara, and then rests ever-so-softly at the shadjam for a few seconds. Etulabrotuvu-teliya is steeped in what seems indicative of old-world Carnatic charm, evoking the imagery of concerts at temples in the early 20th century.
A devotional trip via Panchashat peetha roopini, is followed by a grand Jayantasena. Neela Mami contrasts the restive, plain “Ma” against the aggressive gait of the “Ga”. Rahul responds with a short, vibrant rendition that is reflective of the inherently madhyama-kala gait of this raga, including a lovely point where he plays a flat gandharam for just a brief second, adding an additional nuance. What follows is Padasanidhi naaku, an emotive outcry by Mysore Sadasiva Rao, who mentions in one point of the composition – “Mataladu ma, inta kopama?” (why won’t you talk to me, are you so angry?). Mami makes this line her own, pleading and imploring. and showing the curiosity of a child who wants to know what she did wrong. Mami truly brings the range of emotions in her niraval. Raghul and Poongulam Subramaniam share a few ‘aha’ moments in the swara essay that follows.
And then, there was Kambhoji.
In Neela Mami’s Kambhoji, there is just the core essence. There isn’t one clichéd note, not one that seems laboured. There isn’t one phrase that seems hurried. In a perfect balance that only the great artistes seem to achieve, she rests at each vantage point, particularly in the tara sthayi. The crème de la crème is the niraval in Syama Sastri’s seldom-heard Devi nee pada. In Mami’s trademark approach, she sings the first speed in leisurely repose and with arithmetic nuances in the second speed.
Poongulam Subramaniam and KV Gopalakrishnan uplift and embellish the mini-korvai’s in the swara passages, playing with a sense of anticipation that is indicative of their deep experience in the field.
Following the mood of the kriti, the tani avartanam has majesty and grandeur.
Neela Mami ends the concert with a touching viruttam and a kriti in Jonpuri, and Lalgudi Jayaraman’s Karnaranjini tillana. Neela Mami sings Karnaranjini embodying it with a distinctive feel that must be heard and contrasted to experience.
The joy of listening to a concert live is a blessing, and an unparalleled experience to cherish. In the absence of that, a second best option is to embrace the technological connectivity that modern times have given us, and to experience art virtually – and surrender to the aural experience.
This concert is a memorable musical experience to relive and cherish for its depth, meditative quality and the blissful ‘escape’ that it provides.

1 comment:

  1. The concert Ms. Priyanka Prakash has written about here is still available on Youtube and makes very interesting listening alongside this article.