Thursday, 19 March 2020

Varied Hues of Accompaniment

By Meena Banerjee  

The Zakir-mania gripped Kolkata once again on the eve of the Valentine’s Day! After witnessing the mind-blowing solo recital of the tabla wizard in January, Nazrul Manch geared up again to welcome him; but this once as an accompanist to a solo concert by sarod maestro Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, the organizer-cum-participant of the 8th Swara Samrat Festival, day-four. Hoards of people stood in the aisles of this huge auditorium to get a few glimpses of the star-studded felicitation of Pandit Vijay Kichlu with a ‘Life-time Achievement Award’ and the act of music-making, reverently dedicated to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and also to Pandit Ravishankar on his birth centenary.
Majumdar approached Chhayanat like a man head over heels in love with his chosen raga. Stroking very softly, he seemed to appreciate the beautiful features of the raga in the alap segment before trying to arouse it from its dispassionate reverie. This melodious language of love was scripted with breezy oscillations and gently curving meends – all the way! Some meends spread wings across octaves and landed on the desired notes with pin-pointed accuracy.  The first soft and brief touch of komal nishad, followed by bold shuddh ni left the raga quivering with happiness. The jod arrived in slow tempo but with demanding gamaks that faded out in silence leaving a divine taste of melody before robust, powerful bolkaris, rose with refreshed quest, trailed by loving meends.
Frankly, the raga allows a lot of them at every bend, if, of course, its lover pays heed to it! This once Chhayanat was in good hands and evidently, Zakir sahib was touched by this contagious sensitivity. And that perhaps decided the style and mode of his art of accompaniment for the entire evening even though Majumdar opted to do gatkaris in Madhumalati, a raga invented by his guru, Ali Akbar Khan.

Art of Accompanimennt

As usual, from this point onwards, the evening was going to be totally under the spell of Ustad Zakir Hussain. With trepidation one also recalled another evening two years back at the same venue, of the same soiree, dedicated to the same legend known for his raga-worship by the same organisers but with a different artiste opposite Zakir sahib. He allowed himself to be showcased in the role of a hardcore entertainer; probably because the person in center wished to cater to amusement. To the utter disappointment of numerous music-addicts like this reporter, ‘sur’ (melody), offered by a heavy, evocative raga like Bageshri was mercilessly chopped off to coerce it into a cluster of lifeless, staccato ‘swaras’ (notes). Only the thrill of rhythm was served by both of them on that occasion.
In sheer, heartwarming contrast, this once he offered an exemplary art of tabla accompaniment which, much beyond the copybook techniques, spoke volumes about a sensitive musician’s emotional involvement with music – irrespective of the underlying demand for showmanship commensurate to his carefully crafted and jealously guarded image that has created a demand for ‘bouncers’ during music soirees!
Such was the impact of sur and the complex yet sweet raga, that after the brief aochar when the sarod began the slow teental gat, his tabla decided to tiptoe in quietly with the simple, straight theka – without the ornate fillers between the beats - apparently in deference to its pathos-ridden melodic pattern that sported both gandhars, madhyams and nishads. Like an unobtrusive tanpura, he allowed the composition to cling on to the tuneful, ringing beats and to unfurl its melodic beauty to the optimum.         
The first exhilarating repartee took a cue from the ekhara, stacatto phrase. Soon, different jati-based layakari began and the tabla reverted to play the role of an anchor with majestically impressive ‘simple’ theka. In reply to this longish passage, the tabla crafted identical designs. Next, when powerful bolkari based phrases created a crescendo and tapered down with a tihai, his jawabi sangat once again arrived as an example of his amazing melodic memory-based craftsmanship. A few dramatic pieces of saath-sangat displayed great anticipation on the part of table, almost like a mind reader. This was electric; and that is when the string snapped!
Without a blink, the following two-minute solo round of the tabla heightened the already warmed up mood with a rela interspersed with aesthetically studded bols of different aural effects. The following medium-paced jhaptal changed the texture with aad chhand interpolated by brisk four-stroke or five-stroke-patterns per beat. This opened up an interesting dialogue between the two maestros. After a few fast running taans, a quiet tihai very lovingly bowed the raga out.       
Yaman Manjh, as taught to Majumdar by Pandit Ravi Shankar during a project work, came as his homage to the legend. Lighter in character, the raga is a heady blend of Yaman and Khamaj. As expected the aochar was loaded with typical Ravi Shankar-nuances. The composition set to sitarkhani seemed to give a free license to Zakir to show his ornate, swaying and dancing style. During the mukam based saath-sangat, the tabla, interestingly, adopted the mukam-pattern and left the rest of the theka un-struck to give sarod a free space. This playful mood unleashed the entertainers in both; but both remained reverently loyal to the raga, playing technique and genre. 
In an era when solo concerts are fading out, such evenings, when one can witness several moods of the musicians, come as reassuring promise!   

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