Wednesday, 30 June 2021

FROM THE EDITOR

 

“There is a time and place for everything, you just have to wait for the right moment. Once it comes it will be the most beautiful and perfect thing possible!” said Gloria Tesch. For several years we have been wanting to put together a feature on Madurai Somu. Every time we tried, there would be a   roadblock on the way! We launched our efforts in right earnest again during the vidwan’s centenary year in 2019, but what with the Covid scare and lockdown restrictions, it has  taken us a little more time to pay homage to the heavy-weight singer and composer, who cast a spell on the masses with his  emotion laced music.  Our diligent correspondent C. Ramakrishnan has come forward to put together an interesting account of the musician and his music for Sruti readers.

The National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) is an iconic cultural symbol in the financial capital of India. By spearheading well conceived and executed projects and programmes with a futuristic vision,  its leadership  has brought name and fame to the institution on the national and international level. Mumbai-based senior freelance writer Bhanu Kumar has written a comprehensive article about NCPA, but it is sad that she passed away before she could submit an update on NCPA’s digital activities during the pandemic. We offer this feature as a tribute to her memory.

Carnatic musician and teacher, Padma Narayanaswamy turned 80 this April, and we are happy to publish a small feature on her by a disciple. We wish her good health to carry on the good work. Another article with the personal touch is a recall by natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan, telling us how he came to compose the Ganesa sabdam.

Have you ever wondered about the science of Siva’s dance? Well, we bring to you a profound article penned by none other than Sudha Seshayyan who effortlessly bridges arts and science. It’s got lot’s for the mind and grey matter to ponder!

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to claim lives, and the arts field is no exception. This summer, during the second wave, not a day passed without messages informing us about the death of some performing artist, organiser, writer or patron succumbing to the  cruel illness. It was shocking to hear that veteran sitar  maestro Debu Chaudhuri and his son Prateek had both fought a losing battle with Covid in Delhi. So too the news about vainika P. Vasanth Kumar in Chennai. Sruti pays tribute to them and offers condolences to the family members. Vasanth Kumar was a good friend and ardent fan of Sruti magazine, right from its inception. His mother, Sulochana Pattabhiraman was associated with the magazine in various capacities. Vasanth, discerning and very knowledgeable, would be among the first to read the magazine and quick to point out any errors. He could not tolerate mannerisms and casual behaviour on stage on the part of artists and organisers. He used to write reviews for the Record Rack section from time to time. We will miss his insightful comments.

In the News & Notes section, there is an interesting variety of music and dance events. The first year of the pandemic saw artists indiscriminately posting their activities online in search of visibility in the absence of live programmes. Having come to terms with the situation, many renowned artists are now curating and presenting interesting and aesthetically produced programmes online. It is indeed a welcome change!

Equally welcome is the selection of versatile Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Tirunangai Narthaki Nataraj to be a part of the State Development and Policy Council (SDPC) constituted by the Tamil Nadu state government. We congratulate  Narthaki
and  hope she will be able to make a difference in the field of health and welfare of artists wherein she is presently involved.

S. JANAKI

 

Thursday, 3 June 2021

FROM THE EDITOR


The June issue of Sruti is a bouquet of profiles big and small, of personalities who have left their imprints on the artistic canvas. On the occasion of the late violin maestro M.S. Goplakrishnan’s birthday on 10 June, an old friend and rasika recalls the man and his extraordinary music in our Readers Write section.

The cover story focuses on the famous duo in Hindustani music—Rajan and Sajan Misra, who have been among the most popular singers in the past two decades. Representatives of the Banaras gharana and champions of khayal gayaki, they have earned a name for themselves for their  mature music embellished by bhava,  special thought  applied to lyrics and enunciation, their vast repertoire, as also for their religious music. I heard them often on the radio and television in the 1970s – 80s, but got an opportunity to listen to them live in 1980-81 at the RIMPA festival organised by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar in Varanasi. The brothers seemed to have an uncanny understanding of each other’s thought process and the way the cascading  alternate rounds of taans came in quick succession—Rajan’s sargam taan followed by Sajan’s akaar taan—was especially amazing. As a part-time music student of the Banaras Hindu University,
I even managed to get an autograph from Rajan Misra. Its now become a cherished memory with his succumbing to Covid in Delhi on 25 April 2021.  Writer Shailaja Khanna and eminent musicians have paid tribute to this versatile duo in this issue
of Sruti.

In continuation of our special feature on Lord Siva-Nataraja, veteran Bharatanatyam exponent and guru  Sudharani Raghupathy shares with us  her ‘vision of Nataraja’ gained over a lifetime dedicated to the arts. Scholar Sudha Seshayyan’s article on the ‘Sapta tandava’ provides rare insights into minute details.

We are delighted to bring to you small profiles of artists who have helped to popularise Indian culture abroad. Chatur Lal was a progressive tabla player who toured with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar in the mid 1950s and 60s and was among the first to participate in talavadya ensembles and successful percussion fusion experiments. Myrta Barvie was a ballet dancer who studied in Kalakshetra and returned to her homeland to become a pioneer in performing and propagating  Indian classical dances in South America. Famous natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan has paid an endearing tribute to a collaborator Jacques D’ Amboise – a ballet dancer and master choreographer who, through his mammoth collaborations, taught and shared the joy of dancing with children belonging to underprivileged communities across the world.

The list of those snatched by the cruel hands of Fate grows longer by the day. Veteran sitar maestro and academician Debu Chaudhuri (85) and his son Prateek Chaudhuri (49) succumbed to the deadly Covid  within a week of each other. The demise of octogenarian writer Laxminarayan Garg, Editor of the long-running Hindi monthly Sangeet, on 30 April is a loss to arts journalism in Hindi. The passing away of the much respected veteran composer and musician Tanjavur Sankara Iyer has left a void in Carnatic music. The field of Bharatanatyam has lost a fine exponent, teacher and choreographer in the death of  B. Bhanumathi in Bengaluru on 24 May. She was a disciple of greats like natyacharya K.N. Dandayudhapani Pillai, Kadur Venkatalakshamma and Kalanidhi Narayanan. Sruti
fondly recalls her participation as a representative of the ‘Dandayudhapani school’  in the National Seminar on Bharatanatyam Traditions held in Chennai in December 1989.

To end on a positive note, the pandemic has seen several musicians and dancers rising  to the occasion and coming forward in traditional and innovative ways to contribute towards the welfare of artists and society. May the spirit of
caring and giving grow.

S. JANAKI

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Music video spills out powerful message on water resources

Priya Subramanian

Rivers of India - Music Video Launch (ICCW)

The symbolism of rivers has been used abundantly in poetry, music and story-telling. Rivers depict the entire circle of life and are revered as nature’s wonders. In the Indian context, they are worshipped and humanised to tell moving stories of civilizations. However, through the generations,  excessive use of these water bodies has led to their erosion and contamination. Today, we are faced with the colossal task of restoring them and sustaining them for future generations. This is the quintessential and compelling message of the recently released music video, Rivers of India.

Premiered on Earth Day, 22 April 2021, Rivers of India was conceptualised and composed by Kanniks Kannikeswaran, famous Indian-American music composer, in collaboration with The Center for Clean Water (ICCW), an initiative of IIT Madras, of which he is a distinguished alumnus (2019 awardee). The 6.5 minute-long video is a breathtaking salutation to India’s rivers, with a prayer to preserve them. Not only is the video a feast for the eyes, but also pools in leading Indian classical musicians Bombay Jayashri and Kaushiki Chakraborty and their sons, who are emerging artists.

To those familiar with his work, Kanniks is a firm believer in the sovereignty of ragas to bring people and causes together. His efforts in building global choirs and musical communities have brought him a flood of accolades. As a member of one his regional choirs in the US and also a miniscule part of the choral arrangement in the Rivers of India video, I feel privileged to share the story behind this musical video, which includes the names of 51 rivers from all over India.

In February 2020, a little before the global pandemic hit, Kanniks visited The Woodlands, TX (the choir chapter I am part of) and College Station, TX. It was while working with a group of 30 amateur singers in College Station, singing his composition Gange from his flagship production, Shanti, that the idea of creating something simple, featuring the names of rivers such as Ganga and Yamuna struck him. “I immediately found myself singing the first line of the composition, finding joy just in the names of the rivers. The manner in which they fit into a seven-beat Misra chapu tala and the addition of the prefix Sri to the river Saraswati, was something that naturally fell in place”, recalls Kanniks. He completed this inspiring piece of work on his way back to his home in Cincinnati.

When Kanniks resumed online lessons with us, we were indeed delighted to be amongst the first of all his choral groups to learn the Rivers of India composition from him on Zoom soon after lockdowns were imposed. During one of our sessions, he expressed his vision to see this song performed by prominent singers in India, along the lines of the iconic Mile sur mera tumhara. Little did we know then that some of our voices would trickle into this meaningful presentation a year later alongside celebrity musicians.

Moving along with his drift of thoughts, Kanniks reached out to his 1984 batchmate E. Nandakumar (CEO – International Center for Clean Water IIT Madras), with whom he discussed the idea of a music video. This was in continuation of a conversation they had in January 2020 during the  35th reunion of IIT Madras, where Kanniks had proposed creating a large-scale stage performance on campus, with the goal of promoting awareness about water resources. Given the changed circumstances around Covid-19, Nandakumar and Professor T. Pradeep, Director of ICCW, readily agreed to support an online production with the same theme.

The lockdowns of 2020 eroded a good part of the year, however Kanniks was determined to tide over them and make the video a reality. He reached out to Sai Shravanam, music producer/ace audio engineer in Chennai, with whom he had worked together on other projects. The two plunged into the project and came up with a deluge of ideas, from reaching out to artists, to recording and producing the music. It was an epiphany on Sai’s front that led the team to pursue the mother-son duos of Bombay Jayashri and Amruth Ramnath (Chennai), and Kaushiki Chakraborty and Rishith Desikan (Kolkata). Supporting singers Mayur Davay and Savitha Sai were added, much like the many tributaries featured in the video. The song was arranged and produced by Sai Shravanam with several layers of percussion and special effects.

Kanniks says he was excited at the prospect of working with leading artists as well as uniting the Carnatic and Hindustani streams together in one video. According to him, both Jayashri and Kaushiki perceived and internalised the central emotion of the song in its entirety - the flow and swathe of the rivers.

To be featured in the same video as such stalwarts was a thrilling prospect for all of us. Although spread out in different parts of the world, the 50 of us became uniformly immersed in the tune. We each sang the lone choral line, dressed in shades of blue, and shared our individual audio and video tracks with Kanniks, who programmed them into the video. Concluding recordings and edits were done by Bharat Vikram (a successful producer of several musical videos), and a trailer was released 22 March of this year. The final video was released formally on 22 April in a virtual ceremony hosted by IIT Madras.

If one were to dive deep into the composition, it can be best described as a “song that just flows”, as Kanniks states. Written in the beautiful raga Yamuna Kalyani, the piece is complete with a pallavi, anupallavi and a chorus, with the curves in the melody representing the flow of the rivers. The seven-beat cycle stands for the sapta-sindhavah (seven bodies of water revered in the Rig Veda). Yamuna Kalyani vibes with the name Yamuna that appears in the very first line. The tribute also indirectly salutes Muthuswami Dikshitar whose kriti, Jambupate in the same raga, reveres Siva’s manifestation in the form of ‘water’. The anupallavi is rich in swaraksharas; the lines rhyme with each other with alliterative alankaras such as antyakshara prasam. The Sanskrit equivalent names of rivers such as Sutlej easily glide with the tune, as do names such as Vaigai and Hooghly!

This music is not just about adulating the rivers of India. After the introductory celebration, the song makes a distinct transition into the raga Keeravani, with intense alaaps and percussive layers. At this juncture, the camera moves away from the singers and vistas of pristine waterscapes to scenes of human-induced pollution and the resultant devastation of water resources. Kanniks reiterates that he did not want the song to end in this gloom and therefore introduced a momentary pause, after which a surge of hope gushes in, with the well-known Tamil phrase from the Silappadikaram - nadanthai vazhi, juxtaposed with the Sanskrit phrase Jale asmin sannidim kuru. (You walked this land; may you be blessed; O rivers, please emerge in the water in front of me).  There is an immediate change in key and a dramatic emergence of the virtual global chorus of singers, splashes across the screen. The song comes to a climactic conclusion with images of the Center for Clean Water, the work done by them and an invitation to be part of the Clean Water initiative.

The video is nearing one lakh views within a month, and makes a statement that, the online audio-visual medium of expression is here to stay. The end result is as captivating as it is influential, in spurting out an indomitable message to preserve these invaluable resources. Lastly, intergenerational projects have a large impact. “These rivers are ours and this story needs to be told”, Kanniks pours his heart out passionately, “This is an attempt to call the rivers out by name. Knowing of their existence is a first step in creating awareness about water resources”, he expresses.

The entire project brings back for him, the memories of The Blue Jewel, a production from 1996 which he collaborated with the University of Cincinnati. “I am blown away by the relevance of the shocker images used then;  masked humans are now walking the globe – while at that time, we projected the reality of our disregard for the environment resulting in patients being treated with masks in hospitals”, he observes.  “Surely, what the world is going through is largely a result of our own callousness towards our precious resources”, he adds. The Blue Jewel touched only a few thousand people in Cincinnati, but in today’s digital world, Rivers of India is garnering a fast-growing viewership. Kanniks is soaked with gratitude for social media and complements online platforms for providing much-needed respite and sanity to music lovers in today’s turbulent times.

Talking to Kanniks is always an invigorating experience. Just like the lush waterfalls portrayed in the Rivers of India video, his mind is always overflowing with creative ideas and message-oriented themes waiting to be produced. He is particularly overjoyed to have been able to include the names of all hostels on the IIT Madras campus in this song (they are named after Indian rivers), transporting him back to his student days there. While for us, the members of his global choir, this mesmerising production has been instrumental in delivering a spate of important lessons - from water conservation, to adapting to online presentations, and finally, the names of Indian rivers.

(The author is a freelance writer and also a member of the Rivers of India choir)