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Hi everyone!! This is Charulatha Mani. I have taken up blogging to interact with my rasikas worldwide. I would like to thank all of you for your support and appreciation for my Isai Payanam show on Jaya TV, "Isai Cafe" on Raj TV and live concerts. I am here to blog on my concerts, latest film songs, and updates on Isai Payanam and Sahitya Payanam. Happy reading :-)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Performing an Indo-Jazz fusion concert - 5th March , 2016.

After stationing myself in Australia starting 2015, I have been looking at its multicultural diversity with great awe and respect.On March 5th, Saturday 2016 I had the unique opportunity to perform alongside some very talented musicians from Brisbane at The BEMAC, Queensland Multicultural Centre, Kangaroo Point. The cause was a good one too, raising funds for the Fiji cyclone. 

Ragas and Jazz

My doctoral thesis happens to be on Ragas and how they can be used with their aesthetics upheld, in World music structures, with particular reference to Jazz and Western Art music. To this end I found this collaboration immensely helpful. The Jazz guitarist for the evening was Bart Stenhouse, a reputed name in the circles here. My first meeting with him was at the venue, hours before the performance. I learned that he is an avid learner of Hindustani Classical music and has collaborated with some brilliant artistes from India. I was happy to note that he understands ragas, and the grammar and syntax associated with them. He said to me that he tries to be as true to the raga as possible, considering the many differences Jazz as from Classical music, I thought this was a solid outlook to Raga based fusion. Upon conversation I learnt from him that one of the basic differences between Indian Classical music and Jazz is that, while Indian music uses a drone, (tanpura) and sticks to a single tonic throughout the piece, Jazz structures itself based on harmonic progressions, dictated by the dynamically changing chord progressions, with the tonic shifting sometimes even as frequently as a few bars! In these cases, the mode changes, so we Indian artistes hear a different raga due to the modal shift of tonic as we perceive it. How do we strike a balance while performing with these different conditions? Artistes have done it before, including the great Shakti group with John Mc Laughlin jiving to heady raga blends, guitarist Prasanna, Toby Wren and many others. The difference with my approach to the “fusion” is that my composition rely heavily on the Raga, its personality, nuances, aesthetics and subtle movements between notes. I am absolutely aware that rhythm forms the foundation for music and rhythmic aspects would certainly compliment the texture of my pieces, but never dominate the melodic aspects. I am a vocal artiste, and I think that would play an important part in the improvisations that I envisage, resulting in “pitch continuum” (Battey, 2004, p. 2), gamakas, microtonal illuminations and movements being a vital ingredient of my creations.  

Case study- 1

We played an awesome line up of pieces that day, including one of my recent compositions.  This was in 4/4, a simple piece in Raga Suddha Dhanyasi “Hari Om Tat Sat”. Raga Suddha Dhanyasi is a pentatonic scale. In  C. We got through the compositional structure without transgressing the raga boundaries, but I was looking forward to the Jazz music kicking in to make sense of why we are all calling it fusion. And then it came! When I started improvising with solfa passages “kalpanaswaras” within the raga, Bart came in with his Jazz playing. His progressions were heavy on harmonies, but he stuck to the raga’s framework. He brought in “gamakas” as well. “Ornamentation ( gamaka) is essential in Karnatak raga performance. In the broadest sense, gamaka encompasses controlled shaking, articulating, sliding, glottal stops, and other vocal or instrumental manipulation”.(Alexander Street, 1999).  In Suddha Dhanyasi the gamaka occurs in the third note, the E and at seventh note B flat. We played around with the rhythm and I extemporised my swara patterns to fall into a 16 beat cycle, so did he. I came up with korvai-s – patterns for the finishing touch, often repeating thrice. He played patterns too, based on Jazz rhythmic grooves, often starting off-beat and then returning on the beat. Trent on the drums brought in polyrhythm, a feature of Jazz music. It was a dynamically changing musical hybrid. We then decided to move to an allied raga, Jog. We brought in the D# as well conjunct the existing E natural , and the A conjunct the existing B flat. Now that the blues notes had been added the piece gained more texture, this little change broadened the scope for improvisation from both our perspectives. What followed was an exchange, me in “Jog” raga and Bart sounding more “jazzy” due to the newly acquired notes, adding to his palette. Bart is a Jazz guitarist who as he said stayed in the Raga mood when performing fusion attempts and consciously avoided digressions. This was evident to me in this piece.

Case study- 2

Another piece that stood out was in raga Vachaspati, composed by Bart. I was pleasantly surprised to note that this was in pure Vachaspati.
About Vachaspati, this is what I wrote in my Raga column in The Hindu(2013) http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/positively-tranquil/article5429675.ece.
I presented an “alapana”( freestyled vocalisation of the raga that is non-metered ) while Bart and Trent played rhythmic grooves well within the raga. I noted that Vachaspati lends itself to great harmonies and as Ravikiran (2014) has expressed harmonies within ragas, I was able to appreciate the possibilities across the two systems.
I rounded off with a tihai , also tried konakkol (jathi-s that have a meter to them, that are fit into the tala framework)  as rhythmic combinations throughout the pieces.

Fig 1. The score I wrote for “Hari Om Tat Sat”- Raga Suddha Dhanyasi

The learning curve

The good news was that I had started writing music in western notation as part of this evolutionary process that I am going through. From being a singer who is told what to sing to being a composer who envisages the output a certain way and writes it down with complete integrity to be followed by others with the same care and attention to detail. I identify with Becker(1986) and realise this way of notating and vertical compositional structure was never part of my musical cultural upbringing. But I am learning, and growing with every new opportunity.

In the words of Robert Morris(2006)
“Carnatic music is one of the most colourful, complete, and highly evolved melodic systems of the world. It has four basic characteristics: it focuses on melody (permutations of successive notes) as opposed to harmony (simultaneous combinations of notes such as chords); it gives equal importance to melody, rhythm, and lyrics; it places equal emphasis on composition and improvisation; and it combines grace and force in adequate proportions.”(Morris, 2006, p. 255)
To access highlights of this concert
The team consisted of Kush Sami (tabla), Parth Raval (keys), and  Darshil (flute) apart from Bart, Trent and myself. A joyful encounter.


Alexander Street, P. (1999). Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Volume 5: South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent: Routledge U6 - ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:book&rft.genre=book&rft.title=Garland+Encyclopedia+of+World+Music+Volume+5&rft.date=1999-01-01&rft.pub=Routledge&rft.externalDocID=b21026865&paramdict=en-US U7 - eBook.
Battey, B. (2004). Bézier Spline Modeling of Pitch-Continuous Melodic Expression and Ornamentation. Computer Music Journal, 28(4), 25-39. doi:10.1162/0148926042728377
Becker, J. (1986). Is Western art music superior? The Musical Quarterly, 72(3), 341-359.
Morris, R. (2006). Ravikiran's Concept of Melharmony: An Inquiry into Harmony in South Indian Ragas. Music Theory Spectrum - The Journal of the Society for Music Theory, 28(2), 255-276. doi:10.1525/mts.2006.28.2.255
Ravikiran, C. N. (2014). ROBERT MORRIS AND THE CONCEPT OF MELHARMONY. Perspectives of New Music, 52(2), 153-160. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I have to identify it!!!!

Dear Rasika,
The wonderful thing about Ragas in the Indian Classical music system is that they are unique, and each one of them have something that is typically only associated with them, that which is irreplaceable. It is easy to fool an average listener in a little game of "Identify the raga" in a post-dinner Carnatic music party, and chuckle as he identifies a Sri raga as a Madhyamavati or a Pharas as a Mayamalavagowla..but how many of us self-confessed aficionados of this great system really have a fool-proof method of unambiguously identifying, each time, every time, the raga correctly? I doubt very many of us do, and this includes the smug critic or the know-it-all mama-mami duo next door.
Lets face it - there are many factors that go into identifying a raga - the musical intelligence of the person who is playing or singing in the specimen recording, the level of sophistication of the music system, the extent of deafness of the listener or the lack of it, peer pressure, the presence of an intrusive well-meaning relative who eggs you on to make the wrong choice, and the like. If any of these factors are compromised, the result will be incorrect in most cases. Let's take the case of an innocent music lover, goaded into one of these matches, misidentifying a Mohanakalyani as a Bilahari. The poor devil didn't get the chance to tune into the prati-madhyama, or worse still the delicate fibrils of his inner ear couldn't sense the prati-madhyama frequency..or maybe it was the yelp of that dog? or the noisy two year old?
Anyway, let not be too harsh on ourselves if we fail to identify a raga correctly. It will surprise you, the number of frustrated rasikas who mail me saying they are unable to identify ragas correctly even after twenty thirty odd years of listening (and who did you listen to that long, that has made you so despondent my friend, I am often tempted to ask..). There's only one thing I tell them - it doesn't matter!!!
Do you care what ingredients in what proportion go into that favourite chutney of yours your mum used to make all those years ago? You just sat back, enjoyed it, and licked your fingers didn't you?
Do the same with music, my loved ones...do not try to analyse, music is like love, too much analysis kills it.
I am there to help with the analysis bit, so don't worry your pretty little heads with it.
Go on out there, listen to more great stuff, enjoy the strains that drift through the air, and give those weary grey cells a rest, RELAX.
Of course, go on and have some fun with the parlour tricks, too much raga never killed anyone..

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Passing of a Legend

The passing away of Carlo Bergonzi recently, marks the end of an era in Opera. One of the foremost Verdian tenors of the 20th century, Bergonzi will always be remembered and admired for his velvety timbre, impeccable taste, unsurpassed lyricism. Bergonzi's musicianship was exemplary, a master of technique and taste. Listening to Bergonzi sing, is like attending a masterclass in voice production, breath control, legato, colouring, one could go on and on...

While Bergonzi's interpretation of lyrical roles was the gold standard for many, including Edgardo (Lucia), Riccardo (Un Ballo), both Rodolfos (Boheme and Luisa Miller), Alfredo (Traviata), Pinkerton (Butterfly) and others, he still had the heft for successfully essaying heavier roles like Radames (Aida), Manrico (Trovatore).

Bergonzi was an exponent of the old-school "stand-and-deliver" style, with minimal emphasis on acting, preferring to act through his voice, with finely chiseled detail in his interpretations. We attended a performance of L'Elisir d'Amore at Munich this summer, where the very fit tenor actually climbed a lampost on set and delivered "Una furtiva lagrima" perched at the top! Bergonzi's performances were in contrast low on stage antics and maximal in musicality.

His career, spanning half a century, is a shining example to all singers, his last major public performance being at the age of 75! 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sri Varalakshmi - Kriti for Varalakshmi Vratha

Sri Varalaksmi is a brilliant Kriti of Dikshitar that describes the importance of Varalakshmi Puja that happens on the Full moon day of Shraavan month, on. Friday to usher in the grace of the goddess of fortune Varalakshmi.
I have rendered the piece in Sri raga with a video.
Do listen, watch, enjoy and share the joy.

- love, Charulatha Mani