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ragamala

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Had another great two weeks in Ahmedabad this year. My enjoyment of the Saptak festival goes from strength to strength. The Saptak people are so friendly, and the music is superb.
Here's a compendium of my comments on the performances there. Any small comments that can be read as niggles must be taken in the context of what I've already said above.

"Saptak

Day 1 1/1/2013
After the tributes to Ravi Shankar the festival kicked off with shenai.Ramakant Shant assisted by Mukund Sant. The Maru Behag started to be very hesitantly, and the alap was plagued by squeaks. It picked up in the ektal , and finished OK, but not the best shehnai I've heard.
Shaukat Khan, a Saptak tutor and regular, gave what I have come to regard as his usual full-voiced performance, a Jogkauns. This was seriously marred, in my view, by the addition of a supporting vocalist, a young boy with voice not yet broken, who sang hesitantly and out-of-tune. Fair enough to encourage youngsters, but not to the point of inflicting them on an audience and spoiling the performance.
I was wondering why the performances were short, I was told Jasraj, the main and last performer this evening, was not well and presumably wanted to go to bed early with a couple of aspirin. This was bad news as not only did it mean the first three artists short-changed us, but it didn't bode well for the Jasraj performance.

Manju Mehta played Charukauns. I didn't take too much to the alap, which was spiky rather than melodic, and I admit that when she launched into a long fast jhalla towards the end of her gats I was drifiting off to sleep. She certainly has strong stamina, but overall I had preferred her performance last year of Chandrakauns in the garden of the Indian Museum in Kolkata, which I enjoyed far more.

Jasraj sang a long and slow-paced ektaal in Darbari. There were no fireworks, maybe because of his health, but it was a very enjoyable performance that slowly presented the raga as more soulful than I usually find it. Hetal Mehta Joshi gave an attractive crisp tabla accompaniment, no frills and spot on for the nature of Jasraj's performance, I thought, even if he didn't, she played well. I was in need of a tea by the time the lighter item(s) started at midnight, and after my drink decided to leave.

2/1/2013
The evening started with a performance by Saptak sitar students, 6 of them. They played a Malkauns, in unison for most of the time. By which I mean they occasionally weren't supposed all to be playing in unison, not that some of them messed up. In fact they were strikingly together, and it made for a relaxing and enjoyable start to the programme.

Second was vocalist Vijar Amar Bhatt. Out of the Mishra brother stable, she made quite an awful start to the performance, whether through nervousness or because she couldn't find her voice I don't know. I feared the worst. She sang Bihagra. She managed to get into her stride and by the final tarana had me, and I suspect most of the audience, with her.

Fazal Qureshi gave a tabla solo (If you can consider having 4 students bashing away from time to time solo). I will say nothing about the performance. Only to pass on that my friend sitting next to me turned to me at the end and said "Thank goodness that's over."

Of course we were waiting for Hariprasad Chaurasia. I thought he looked in much better health in the face than the last couple of times I've seen him, although his hand tremor is worse and his legs wobble too. He started off with Behag, and very tuneful it was, especially as his assistant on flute, whose name I didn't catch, a young lady, played very well and gave excellent support on a very smooth-sounding flute. I'll try and find her name as she would be worth listening to again solo. As before, I'd have to remark that Hariji does not do the prolonged fast work like he used to, but his breath seemed fine, and some of his beautiful melodic lines drew much appreciation from the audience. After the Behag, which he said was in dhrupad time - I would have said rupak - and a faster teental, he moved on to a Vachaspati, and very good that was too. At the end of that he turned his tanpura down and looked at his watch. He gave in (I expect he was hoping for it) to requests for an encore, and launched into a light Pahadi which was a good end to his session.



3rd jan
The programme started with a singer of Mewati gharana, Shivani Patel, I think a student of Saptak, she sang Din ki Puriya. There was nothing particularly memorable about either the raga or the performance. I was sorry to hear later she was performing only the day after the loss of her father.
Then Rahul Sharma played Kaushik Dwani on santoor. If anything he played even better than when I saw him at Pune, he really is impressive now, and this probably rated as the most enjoyable performance of the festival so far. I think what struck me about his performance particularly was that I never quite knew what he was going to do next. Some instrumentalists you can predict always what is coming. Not with Rahul. And this meant I was listening not only with an appreciation of what he'd just played, but in expectation of some little delight to come.
Ulhas Kashalkar sang Kedar, Jogi Rawala, in good voice and ending the raga with one of his rapid fire taranas. Excellent. He finished with a very enjoyable Basant Bahar, Aaee basant bahar.
Next on the menu was Birju Maharaj. I have to admit that I left. There would be endless wait for the stage to be cleared for dance, there would be felicitations, there would be a long introductory piece by his disciple before he started dancing, and I really didn't feel interested enough in Katahak to wait. I saw him last year and while it is amazing for someone his age to appear transformed into a young person when he dances I've never really got into Kathak.

P.S.
Just a note to say the female flute assistant to HPC on the 2nd was Debopriya Chatterjee. Also the newspaper reported that on the 2nd Viraj Amar sang in Bihagada Pyaari pyaare ko milan chari and Rain bin kaise katey. (The slow ektaal composition was also sung by the Mishra brothers at Tansen festival in December btw.) The paper described her rendition as a masterwork, and her tarana as triumphant, but my opinion was shared by the friends I sit by at Saptak. It reminds me how Ulhas Kashalkar's tarana was indeed masterly in comparison.

4th Jan
This promised an excellent night. Rupak Kulkarni on flute, Shubha Mudgal, then Shahid Parvez and Rashid Khan. Quite a line-up. But I ended the evening a bit disappointed somehow. Maybe it's because I was tired, I was yawning before the start, I didn't have an afternoon nap, as I usually do. Or maybe it's because I am on the way towards finishing my current novel, and my mind is too tied up in writing that. In that case I'd better get it written and finished pdq.

The evening started with a pleasant alap/j/j on flute by Rupak Kulkarni in Durga. But then for me his performance was ruined by the tabla player Kalinath Misra. He had a flamboyant and boastful style which was more silence followed by big slaps from on high than delicate fingerwork. He was given so many solo opportunities I thought I was listening to a tabla solo. At one point he actually took the microphone and started talking, I don't know about what, and I forgot to ask my neighbours later. Awful.

Shubha Mudgal sang Hem Kalyan. The slow ektaal bandish was Daiyaa ri main kaise jaye pukaroon. It seemed a bit meandering and without direction in the first half, although my enjoyment perked up later. The next section was lagan laagi re sundar shyam salone piyaa sang. Apparently. (I am delaying sending the reports to try and glean song details from teh press). Next she sang a Tilak Kamod (Neer bharan kaise jaaoon sakhi ri ab) which was fine, and a closing Mishra Pilu (Lachakat aave ri naveli panihaaariyan). There just was no wow factor for me. Her voice tonight also sounded a bit weak in the upper octave.

Shahid Parvez drew the biggest crowd of the evening. Fortunately I get there early and my friends, who get there even earlier than me, keep space for me against the only small line of bolsters available beyond the artist's line. With a bit of luck, as long as I stay in place the whole evening I can repel attempts to invade my space, so I can stretch a bit from time to time.

SP played Charukeshi. He began with an alap drawing a rather soulful aspect of it, and although I think sometimes the audience's appreciation of his meends is a bit over the top, indeed he played delicately and melodically. He did not lay on thick the techincal fast work in the jhala, and so this rated as a good performance for me. The slow gat (a very simple one) was not so much a melodic flow as an exploration of how many ways there are to use silence and fragments of melody to approach the sam. A similar approach characterised the faster gat. Again, although he demonstrated some of his fast skills, it remained restrained and I did not end up over-thonked. I don't know why at the end of this I didn't feel totally satisfied. It was maybe as though I'd been shown lots of beautiful pieces of a jigsaw puzzle but they'd never been put together to show me the whole. SP continued with a tuneful Khamaj, which was fine. Sadly, this came to an abrupt end when his main playing string snapped. He looked at his watch and shrugged, there was not time to restring and complete the performance. He got a standing ovation, unusual here.

Rashid Khan looked fit. A friend said he looked as though he'd had some facial treatment. His voice was in good smooth rounded form, and he started with Malkauns. Maybe, as I said earlier, it was tiredness, but as with Shubha Mudgal I couldn't really follow where the development was going. And again my interest perked up when the tempo speeded up. I decided to call it a day before the next item, which turned out to be a Desh. I stood at the back of the hall listening for a while. It was good. But I wanted a cup of tea and bed so didn't stay until the end.

5th Jan
Atul Upadhya started the evening playing Kirwani on violin. The performance was generally OK, but I disliked his plucking of the top string in jhalla, I felt it totally unnecessary and it detracted from the performance. In his opening announcement he said he had learned under Yehudi Menuhin. Afterwards I said to my next-door neighbour he almost played like a westerner and my friend agreed. After I heard so many violin performances in Chennai this one, which concentrated more on the lower rather than higher range of the instrument, sounded very ponderous, especially in alap. I was more enthusiastic about the dhub he played to end his set.

Next on was dhrupad trio Prem Kumar, Prashant and Nishant Mallik. They gave us Behag. After seeing them in varanasi last year I knew what to expect, and wasn't disappointed.The three of them, all with different voices, work together well. As one followed another, echoing or slightly modifying the previous singer's line, it brought to mind waves rolling in from the sea, one following another with a slightly different outcome, relaxing but with the little excitement as each wave breaks. They followed with a Jog. Towards the end of this the organisers were desperate to get them to wind up and stop as they were exceeding their time. I could have heard more.

This is the first time, apparently, Amjad Ali Khan and his two sons have appeared each playing solos at a festival. First out of the gate tonight was Amaan. He played a fair alap in Kaunsi Kanada, and subjected us to some of his technical stuff in thegats. The first was in 11 beats and there was more concentration on cleaverly arriving at sam rather than melody. We had some of his rapid fire stuff, naturally. Although he showed he can play gently, he obviously prefers the heavier-handed stuff. I was put off his performance slightly by his fussiness about monitors. After having the monitors speacially arranged for him (everyone else has stuck to the standard line of three in front - he insisted on one in front, one behind and one to the side) he must have complained about the sounds levels or gain or inadequate bass at least a dozen times. I thought it was either arrogant or unprofessional or both. Fair comment, the sound system here is now very good. It is too loud for a start 0 there is a big battery of big speakers littering the place, and the sound has echo and boon so you rwonder what the instruments really sound like. But unless an artists finds it impossible to play he should focus more on maintaining the audience's interest in the flow of the performance than nitpicking about his own concerns.
After Kaunsi Kanada we had a bit of a medley, with Kalawati and Durga. The Durga gats have also been played by his father for many years at the end of a recital. His father also plays them a lot better.

The disappointment of the evening was that Ajoy Chakraborty was ill and unable to sing. He was replaced by sitarist and close student of Ravi Shankar (as they never tired of telling us) Kartik Sheshadri. I saw him here a couple of years ago and my note from that tells me I found him rather forgettable.

This evening he played Parameshwari. I changed my opinion of him, I was going to leave but he drew me back, playing a very good alap with great work on the kharaj string. I listened through to the jhalla, and when his tuning started falling apart a bit I thought it time to leave so I'd remember the good part.

6th Jan
I skipped the morning session. two devotional music sets sandwiching violin. I was told later the violinist's performance was better than Atul Upadhya's the day before, but I had nothing to regret.

The evening started with a vocal performance by Nirak Parikh. I wasn't expecting a lot and passed a pleasant 3/4 hour listening to Desh.

Next up was Salil Bhatt playing Satvik Veena.
Here's what I said about his performance in 2011
" In other words another hawaian guitar hybrid, with guitar body and Indian neck with tarafs and head with surbahar-type head. In the right hands I suppose this could sound quite pleasant.
He played a raga I only identified as within the Kanada/Malkauns fold. I later found it was his own concoction, Vishwa Kanada, a birthday preent for his father, apparently. He attacked it with vigour. And patted himself on the back with flamboyant gestures every now and then at the end of an outburst when he did a long slide and managed to hit the right resting place. The alap seemed an unavoidable brief prelude to the main business of bashing away at jhala. The gats were played with equal disregard of the music and produced what to my ear was a tedious loud and repetitive din."
Which is good because no change there then. Except that the raga he massacred tonight was Jogeshwari.

Next up - Kaushiki. Kaushiki Chakraborti has her detractors (pace Mo) who think she is too enxious to show her technical skills. But I don't think that accusation could be levelled at her tonight. She had less than an hour to present Bihag, but she used half of that in a wonderful exposition of the raga's beauty in an alap followed by very slow ektaal that moved gently forward all the time. (Totally different to my ear from what I described as meaningless meanderings in Shubha Mudgal and Rashid Khan's performance). Each step seemed to follow on naturally from the previous. Her sargam was not only incredibly impressive but musically beautiful. Her fast techical stuff was there - and drew frequent applause from the audience - but was never imposed on the raga, it was part of it. Her presence on stage was charming, and she gave frequent appreciation to her accompanists - Yogesh Samsi on tabla, the wonderful lady harmonium player Paromita Mukherjee on harmonium, perhaps the only harmonium player I look forward to hearing, and Alla Rakha Kalavant, the sarangi player who got his compensation for losing last night's scheduled accompaniment of Kaushiki's father, who she assured us was getting better, Alla Rakha certainly enjoyed the concert, and his expression told us how much he admires Kaushiki.

In short, highlight of the festival so far. She ended with a bhajan.

Shujaat Khan gave a performance of Vachespati. The alap seemed rather without structure, and a sequence of small segments, but that didn't matter as his playing was delicate and musical, and rather lovely. He didn't go OTT in jhalla. The gat was a different matter. It was reduced to a 4 note riff, and the exposition was not of melody but of various ways to hit sam. There was no fast gat as such, just building of pace that ended up with a wall of sound and a technical speed display. Loads of sound, little music.

The format of the performance was surprisingly like Shaheed Parvez's. I wondered if Shujaat sees Shaheed's popularity and is taking him on at his own game.

Day 7
Shahana Banerjee was first up on sitar. She belongs to Rampur Senia Gharana, I find. Her performance (Shyam Kalyan) took me back to a time when I thought all sitar playing sounded like this. I'm not putting it down, I really enjoyed her playing.
Sanjeev Abhyankar sang a Bageshree/Chandrakauns blend. I couldn't hear much Bageshree, but he sings very well, his voice is smooth, and the only criticism I can think of is that he lacks a bit of attack, meaning there was no point of the performance where it really grabbed you.
Ayaat Ali Khan was the second of the Bangash brothers to play at Saptak, he gave us Darbari, followed by a Kamod/Gawoti medley. No arrogance, no perpetual whining about monitor levels, he got on with the job of giving us a performance which reminded me more of his father's style, and he had good accompaniment from Tanmoy Bose. Enjoyable.
But not as enjoyable as Ashwini Bhide. She really is brilliant, with a voice that would put her age many years younger if she wasn't in front of your eyes. She gave us a long beautiful Jhinjhoti, effortlessly flowing, Mahadeva Shnkara followed by Shiva Shankara Parvati. Another highlight of the festival to chalk up alongside Kaushiki's performance yesterday.

Day 8
The remarkable thing about Shadaj Iyer's performance (Rageshwari) was his age. My friend tol me he saw him perfroming a couple of years ago when he was seven. So now he must have matured to the reip age of nine. I was quite staggered that a nine-year-old could put on such a performance. If there is such a thing as a child prodigy he certainly is one.

Bishwajit Roy Chaudhuri gave us Chayanat on sarod. Although from the Amjad Ali Khan stable (no Ali Akbar Khan sarod style this year) his playing was poles apart from the Bangash bash-the-ear approach, it was delicate and seemed almost hesitant in comparison. Chayanat is a beautiful raga and he had good support from Puran Maharaj, who was less noisy than I have heard him play before.

The Ritesh and Rajnish duo sang in front of their fathers Rajan and Sajan, and got a good response to their Jog, followed, If I am right, by a shorter Jaunpuri.

Shivkumar Sharma chose to play Jogkauns. I admit that although I sat through the alap, during the gat I dozed off. His performance was good, but not exciting, and if it were a choice now between seeing him and his son, I would choose the son now every time. Shiv Sharma did play to a pretty full house, though, as expected for someone his status.

Day 9

The evening started with over 20 young tabla students playing a piece in unison. Impressive, but this year's composition sounded a bit wooden and I enjoyed last year's more (it's an annual event, like the inclusion of the sitar student ensemble). Maybe it was because this year's were only just above beginner level.

Kalapini Komkali took the stage to sing Nand. "Govind been bajayee". I forget what she sang next, but she ended with a spirited bhajan which was the high spot of the performance. Although I enjoyed her singing, it was good rather than grabbing.

Nishat Khan played Puriya. And it wan't until the end of Puriya, after one and a half hours, when he started retuning his sitar, that I realised, along with many of the rest of the audience, that Girija Devi was not coming. A disappointment, and I fail to understand why this wasn't announced at the start of the evening - the news that she wasn't performing appeared (reading between the lines) on the Saptak facebook page in the afternoon, as I found, checking the next day.

However, this had, as I said, given Nishat the opportunity to play a "full" raga. And he made the most of it. I really don't know why he isn't thought of more on a par with Shahid Parvez and Shujaat. I can only think maybe because he is foreign0based?

Day 10

I didn't know the name Mala Ramadorai. She sang Abhogi, and it was agreeable.

I'd not taken much to Krishna Mohan Bhatt's sitar playing before, but I revised my opinion tonight. He played a raga, no doubt out of the Ravi Shankar fold, Kameshri. He gave a performance which reminded me of what I found lacking in some of the other sitar performances these days. A development through the gat which seemed logical, always forward-moving, and well structured. Looking back at what I said before this is the opposite of what I meant by the others' jigsaw approach - a structure simply built of fragments each designed to show off a different aspect of technical mastery. I can't deny that a more traditional approach isn't a little predictable - although in this instance KMB's performance didn't make me feel that - but I do like to enjoy a complete performance, not one that has me mix and matching individual pieces and ending up with the feeling it was good in parts.

I don't know what to say about the Gundechas. They were singing with the carnatic duo the Malladi brothers (with Mrdingam and violin). Fusion. Last year the Gundechas sang with a western flautist and a sax player. The result was, as one friend put it last night "Like Bollywood." I see I myself walked out of the performance grumbling about digging dhrupad's grave. This year it was another dhrupad-lite fusion attempt.

Surprisingly, it wasn't bad on the ear. But it wasn't carnatic, and it wasn't dhrupad. A Marwa and its carnatic equivalent led off. Then supposedly a "RTP" - Kirwani -
carnatic lite meets dhrupad lite with mrdingam and pakhawaj invading the "T" to provide audience pleaser. I wonder what the Gundechas will come up with next. But they have lost a fan.

Amjad Ali Khan ended the evening. He made me realise how good he is and how far his sons still have to go. He played Jhinjhoti, followed by Durga. The Durga was slight, short and almost peremptory (the two gats he has played for ages). But his playing is so effortless it almost makes you forget that. He was tuning up again for something like Darbari, but I didn't fancy Darbari-lite and as I found when I got back to my hotel, it was already about one thirty.
(Apparently it was Gaud Sarang!)

Day 11
Skipped. I hadn't the bravery to face up to mohan veena folloed by tabla solo.

Day 12
Josh Bennett, an Australian sitarist who's the pupil of Manju Mehta, started Saturday's session. He played Chandrakauns, and was very competent. In my view he played more confidently and better than he did at Saptak a couple of years ago. He was received quite well by the audience, and the only criticism I heard was that he was unadventurous, and probably sticking to a performance he'd rehearsed well.
Jahnavi Phansalikar is a young female vocalist - she sang Puriya Kalyan followed by a bhajan. Her PK was good, and I particularly noted her accuracy in timing and note during her fast work. And a pleasant voice. One to watch?
Satish Vyas played Rageshri, well, but not to drag him up into my favourites list.
To finish the evening the Mishra brothers came on and gave a very good Nand. They followed that with a shorter Charukeshi.
All in all a good evening.


Day 13
I'm attending morning session only today. But as a Sikh group (Mohansinh and party) were swapped over to a morning slot to replace a sarod player who didn't turn up as billed I had some of the planned evening programme. And very enjoyable it was too, some dhrupad-like singing, with an enthusiastic performance from the tabla (or Punjabi pakhawaj, as they called it). I was glad I heard that.
Parveen Sultana came on and her Gujri Todi was excellent, She shot up into mi highlights list. She followed that with a Ambika Saram?? and a couple of shorties, including a bhajan which was my friend Ambarish's request.
She hasn't really been a favourite of mine until now for some reason. I'm still not 100% in her fan club. She makes her singing seem effortless. She has a pleasing stage presence, and regaled the audience with (obviously) well-received comments on the state of music (stressing melody over rhythm and noise), and with a couple of anecdotes. I just can't help wondering if someone who smiles all the time (and it never leaves her face throughout her singing, even in the fast stuff) is a real person or a stage performer. I saw her smile start, as soon as she approached front-of-audience from the side bachstage, and it was a light switch effect.

Still, it was a great end to my Saptak experience. After a month of concerts, I'm ambling down towards Daman, where I hope they have a beer with my name on it."
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martin spaink

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Hi mr. Ragamala,

Seems you're out to enjoy life, and I wish you the most of it!
Thanks a lot for your extensive report!!!
re: Gundecha and Malladi Bros: I was never too fond of Gundecha's they have consistently failed to encharm me and I find them lacking in refinement. The Malladi Bros I have no good memories of. In nov. 2006 they were booked for a tour here in NL and BE and I was to accompany them on my bautiful tanpura, which I had restrung and serviced especially to suit their pitch of Sa.
I was to stick with them for 7,8 concerts, but walked out on them after the second. Me being there as a tanpura expert was wasted on them, as their singing was on me.
I really can't imagine what it must be like to attend one of this 4-some Bros, each ellbowing the others to have a go at it?
I wonder as to what degree any real tanpuras were evident, and whether they did anything to create the appropriate raga-atmosphere?
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ragamala

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re that particular gundecha/malladi concert i don;t remember about the tanpuras. What I can say is that the electonic tanpura invades every performance these days it seems, carnastic or hindustani. I often feel that the additional real tanpura/s are just there for visual effect. Few artists fine tune tanpuras on-stage.

As far as my experience of the Gundechas is concerned, and having heard them over several years recently, the talk of tuning for raga and variability of sa etc is all hogwash. The reality is they are now purveying dhrupad-lite. The 2011 Saptak performance, with two wetern amateurs, was excruciating. I walked out pdq. I only stayed through the gundecha/malladi performance because i was with friends at the front and it would have been embarrassing to leave. Also I was vaguely hoping they would sing the shiva shiva shiva in adana at the end, which is funky.
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