Indian Classical Forum in collaboration with Coimbatore-based Rajyalakhsmi Arts recently held its 3rd edition of its annual Classical Music Festival in Dubai’s DUTAC Centrepoint Theatre. The 700-seater hall was packed; despite this being a ticketed event. The aim, the organizer Dr Sathish Kumar said was to offer mixed fare, ghazals and Hindustani music, not just Carnatic music to the listeners. Last year, they had organised an unusual Carnatic Hindustani vocal jugalbandi in Dubai, featuring Bombay Jayashri and Shubha Mudgal. Getting permissions, and the expenses involved are difficult, he said, which is why perhaps there are fewer players venturing into this. “The concept of paying to hear classical music needs to be established; just as one would never expect to see a free movie, one should not expect to hear free music” he asserted.
The arts need to be sustained; the artists and promoters should not alone be expected bear this burden, the listeners or “rasikas” are equally responsible. It is a wrong attitude to want to hear music free at a temple maybe, and avoid paying to hear the same artist in a hall. Ticket sales do not cover the costs involved in hosting a festival, he lamented.
The first day started with Hariharan. This velvet voiced iconic face of ghazals today has constantly reinvented himself musically; after his initial avatar as a pop singer with his band Colonial Cousins he traversed with ease to being a prolific background singer for all types of films. In his words “I feel ghazals are easy to relate to, the lyrics appeal, there is drama. As Mehdi Hasan sahib used to say “suron ke maadhyam se hum log ek tasvir banaate hain. It was my pleasure to perform in Dubai as the concert was really well attended. I love the Dubai audience, Dubai listeners are very open and they love to hear all kinds of music – Bollywood, classical, ghazals. I am looking forward to my forthcoming concerts here, where I will bring my troupe as well. Soul India is a concert I do, where I sing all kinds of genres, with my son Akshay Hariharan”.
The next morning featured the ever popular, Bombay Jayashri. Singing a full 3 hours, the diva held her audience completely enthralled, despite not being accompanied by live tambooras. Expectedly, she started her recital with an invocation to Lord Ganesh in Hansadhwani, Varanamukha. The second piece was in Raga Dwijawanti, (Hindustani Jaijaiwanti) that apparently was imported into the Carnatic pantheon of music by Shri Muthuswami Dikhshitar during his sojourn in Banaras.
This was an invocation to the Goddess Akhilandeshwari; Jayashri handled the Raga like the master she is; her singing is always heartfelt, and without gimmicks, so has “asar”, a nebulous quality without which any music is dry. Sakala Graha in Atana was next; a powerful prayer listing all the 9 planets, and linking their power with the Lord of the Universe, composed by Purandara Dasa. The awe inspiring lyrics of Carnatic music never fail to exalt one.
The next two pieces were the more detailed ragam thanam pallavi in Bilahari, followed by ragam thanam pallavi in two Ragas presented jointly – Brindavana Saranga, and Aberi. This is a concept that the ear trained to hear Hindustani music finds unusual, as the mood created by one Raga is changed by bringing in different notes of a different Raga and a different mood. Impossibly difficult to execute, intellectually a feat indeed, demanding perfect control, this has been done by most of the greats in Carnatic music, even though apparently the purists frown upon it.
Jayashri’s music is much loved and very familiar to her expectant audience, even in distant Dubai, who hummed along to most of the short pieces. In Jayashri’s words “I found the audience listening intently, with an attitude of warm embrace”. The audience was left somewhat stunned by the magnificence of her recital; there was a prolonged standing ovation.
The evening’s concert featured Sanjay Subrahmanyam, who as always, presented a scintillating and thoroughly satisfying recital. His visible enjoyment of his and his accompanists music is infectious; an absorbing ambience is created where his music flows easily. The suavely delivered concert could not fail to appeal, nor his complete expertise as a musician be denied.
The next morning featured vocalist P Unnikrishnan, followed in the evening by the sister duo of violinists, now vocalists, Ranjani Gayatri. The two sisters are deservedly making waves in Carnatic music forums; their deft presentations speak of long hours of training and absorption of the nuances of music. Their detailed exposition of Raga Hameeri Kalyan (Kedar in the Hindustani pantheon) was truly fine; after the ragam thanam, they embarked on graha bhedam or changing the tonic (“sa”) to another note, thus bringing in another Raga, which they expanded on at length, before reverting again to the original Hameeri Kalyan.
Truly, the intellect is stimulated by the extraordinary command required to execute this scale change with finesse, as exhibited by Gayatri, who brought in 2 new Ragas.
Indeed a fitting finale to a most enjoyable 3 day festival.
Several patrons revealed that they wait through the year for this festival, as the experience of hearing concerts by masters consecutively for 2 or 3 days cannot be matched by a standalone concert.
The excellent sound system of the DUCTAC hall also cannot be duplicated in a 5 star hotel or other make shift venue, some said.