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Archive for August, 2012

CD review/ Shape Shifter – Santana

Shape Shifter/ Santana

Genre: Rock/ instrumental

Sony Music/ Rs 499

Rating: ****

THE instrumental numbers of guitar god Carlos Santana have their own magic. And over the past 43 years or so, there have been quite a few, even prompting the release of two volumes of ‘Best Instrumentals’ featuring his tunes.

While most fans would remember the classics ‘Samba Pa Ti’, ‘Soul Sacrifice’ and ‘Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile)’, some of Santana’s other instrumental  beauties include ‘I Love You Much Too Much’, ‘Oneness’, ‘Incident at Neshabur’, ‘Singing Winds, Crying Beasts’, ‘Flor d’Luna (Moonflower)’ and ‘Revelations’, besides ‘Trinity’, a wordless version of Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Tere Bin Nahin Lagda’, also featuring Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett and pedal steel wizard Robert Randolph.

Keeping this in mind, Santana’s latest album ‘Shape Shifter’ is targeted primarily at those who adore his instrumental tunes. Of the 13 tracks, only one is an out-and-out vocal number, and another has a short backing vocal passage. While Santana’s guitar plays the dominant role, there are effective contributions from keyboardists Chester Thomson and (son) Salvador Santana, bassist Benny Reitveid, drummer Dennis Chambers, conga player Raul Rekow and percussionist Karl Perazzo, most of whom have accompanied the maestro in recent years.

Dedicated to the spirit of the Native American Indian, ‘Shape Shifter’ draws influences from rock, jazz, Latin American and Cuban forms like bossa nova, rumba and salsa, and even European classical, Spanish flamenco and Hungarian folk melodies. And though some of the riffs and song structures remind one of older Santana tunes, there’s a fair amount of verve, variety and virtuosity here.

Of the tunes, the title track has a nylon guitar and back-up vocal intro, but shifts smoothly into spitfire guitars and keyboards. ‘Dom’ has a haunting orchestral start, and wonderfully constructed staccato guitar notes. ‘Nomad’ pumps up the tempo with its frenzied jazz-rock guitar-keyboard interaction, but is too typical Santana and will be liked by those wanting to play air guitar.

‘Never The Same Again’ starts off with a short flamenco stretch, before a moody guitar riff takes over. ‘Spark of the Divine’ is a charming minute-long filler. It’s a nice composition, but sounds more like an introduction to a longer piece, and thus incomplete.

Two tunes with Hungarian influences are truly impressive. ‘Macumba in Budapest’ blends an Afro-Brazlian percussion line with a peppy European melody. But the most distinct and striking piece of the album is ‘Mr Zsabo’, dedicated to Hungarian guitarist Gabor Zsabo. Using classical guitar lines and smart Latin American rhythms, it has a lilt which makes one want to listen repeatedly.

The other highlight is ‘Canela’, named after a Brazilian town. Though it starts off in typical Santana guitar fashion, it moves from one sphere to another, with Salvador Santana coming up with marvellous keyboard passages. In fact, Salvador plays a tight piano on the final song ‘Ah. Sweet Dancer’, and definitely shows enormous talent, which should carry the Santana legacy forward.

Among the songs with more familiar strains, ‘Metatron’ has a hangover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Is Your Love in Vain?’, and ‘In the Light of a New Day’ has an orchestral theme reminiscent of the Beatles’ ‘If I Fell’. ‘Angelica Faith’, dedicated to Santana’s daughter, has vague similarities to ‘Europa’, but what differentiates it is the innovative use of keyboard counter-melodies as a contrast to the wonderful guitar lines.

The only purely vocal piece, ‘Eres La Luz’, featuring singers Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay, may have been fine for a regular Santana album, but seems a bit out of place here. One doesn’t understand the need for placing this in the middle of all the instrumental beauties — if it had to be included, it should have been placed at the beginning or end.

Besides being a mostly-instrumental album, what’s welcome about ‘Shape Shifter’ is that for the first time in many years, Santana does not include high-profile guest artistes. His last four albums ‘Supernatural’, ‘Shaman’, ‘All That I Am’ and the cover version collection ‘Guitar Heaven’ were filled with guest appearances, and after the first effort, the concept was getting stale.

Though ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Shaman’ had their musical highs, they seemed more like marketing gimmicks to cater to the younger crowd. For those who’ve grown up on Santana, the true magic lies in older albums like the self-titled debut, ‘Abraxas’ and ‘Zebop!’ The more refined ear would favour his jazz-rock experiments in ‘Caravanserai’ and his collaborations with jazz guitarist John McLaughlin in ‘Love Devotion Surrender’ and pianist-harpist Alice Coltrane in ‘Illuminations’.

For that category of old-time loyalists, ‘Shape Shifter’ seems to be the best album in 20 years, after the 1992 release ‘Milagro’. Yes, one can always nitpick and point out similarities with older tunes, and crib about Santana’s tendency to overuse his signature sound. But then, in the recent past, this is the closest one can come to vintage Santana. The fact that it’s mostly instrumental just adds to the charm.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic


Flashback 1976: A 12-year-old’s tribute to Mukesh

BACK in August 1976, when I was still a month away from officially becoming a teenager, I’d never dreamt I would eventually write articles on music for newspapers. My father was a journalist, but I never imagined I’d be one myself.

The term ‘blog’, of course, did not exist, and the only thing I wrote was a school essay, and that too, only when ordered to by our English teacher at Frank Anthony Public School, New Delhi. So when legendary singer Mukesh passed away on August 27, 1976, I never picked up my pen to write anything.

He and Kishore Kumar had been my favourite male playback singers those days — Mohammed Rafi, Talat Mahmood and Manna Dey entered my life later. For me, Mukesh’s death created a sense of loss even at that young age. I never translated my feelings into words, though I did admire an article in The Times of India, and learnt about the existence of the term ‘obituary’.

Today, on Mukesh’s 36th death anniversary, I wonder what I’d have written had I attempted an article on Mukesh for the school magazine, or just for myself. So here, I shall go back in time, imagine I’m a 12-yearold in the year 1976, and attempt to jot down what I might have written then. I am datelining this tribute August 31, 1976, so that I can describe a few experiences I had after his death. Here goes:

NEW DELHI, August 31, 1976: On Friday, August 27, singer Mukesh passed away in Detroit, US. I heard the news on Saturday when I was watching the Amitabh Bachchan-Jaya Bhaduri film ‘Zanjeer’ at Paras cinema hall in New Delhi’s Kalkaji area.

Though it was released some years ago, I hadn’t seen it before. I went alone to watch it as the hall was near my house in Greater Kailash. Rajesh Khanna was my childhood favourite, but now Amitabh was my favourite after watching ‘Deewaar’, Sholay’ and ‘Kabhi Kabhie’.

I enjoyed the film’s first half. Just after the interval, I read an announcement on the screen. It said: “Singer Mukesh dead. Request hall to stand up and observe two minutes’ silence.”

Most people got up from their seats, but some still kept chattering or sitting down. I didn’t know how many liked Mukesh. Maybe the hall’s manager liked him, and he wanted everyone else to pay their respects.

I had heard many Mukesh songs, and I felt sad to hear the news. Before that, the only musician’s death I knew was of Jaikishen five years ago. I was in Mumbai then, and knew that Shankar-Jaikishen did music for ‘Mera Naam Joker’ which I saw. I always thought Shankar-Jaikishen was one person, but my aunt told me they were two people.

The second half of ‘Zanjeer’ was wonderful too. But I was also thinking of Mukesh songs, specially his new songs ‘Ek din bik jaayega’, ‘Kabhi Kabhie mere dil mein khayal aata hai’ and ‘Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon’. As I walked back home, I thought of other songs. ‘Jaane kahan gaye woh din’, ‘Kehta hai joker’ and ‘Jeena yahan marna yahan’ from ‘Mera Naam Joker’. And ‘Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye’ and ‘Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne’ from ‘Anand’. Also ‘Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen’.

“Mukesh is dead,” I announced when I reached home. My mother didn’t think it was important, as she liked classical music, and took me to concerts of Pandit jasraj, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar and Parveen Sultana. But my father agreed Mukesh was the closest who came to his favourite K L Saigal, and that he was very popular.

Till I went to sleep, I thought about how I got interested in Mukesh. Among my relatives, there were three fans. My uncle Kanta-mama and my cousin Ranga-dada loved his songs from Raj Kapoor’s films. Kanta-mama regularly played his hits on his portable record player, and Ranga-dada always hummed Mukesh and Rafi songs when played on Vividh Bharati or Radio Ceylon’s ‘Binaca Geet Mala’. Then there is my father’s brother Sonu-kaka who loves two Mukesh songs ‘Sajan re jhoot mat bolo’ and ‘Oh re taal mile’. I also liked Mukesh because I had read my favourite bowler Bhagwat Chandrasekhar was very fond of him.

Because of Rajesh Khanna, I like Kishore Kumar songs from ‘Aradhana’, ‘Kati Patang’, ‘Namak Haraam’, ‘Aap Ki Kasam’ and ‘Amar Prem’, which I have watched in the cinema hall. Because of Ranga-dada, I also like Rafi, but haven’t heard much by him. Among 8th standard friends, the favourite is Shailendra Singh, who sang in Rishi Kapoor films ‘Bobby’, ‘Rafoo Chakkar’ and ‘Khel Khel Mein’. Of the female singers, I like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Vani Jairam who had one popular song in ‘Bole re papihara’ from Guddi. I still don’t much know about music directors and lyric writers, though I hear names like SD Burman, Naushad, RD Burman, Shailendra, Anand Bakshi and Majrooh Sultanpuri on the radio.

Mukesh has something different in his voice. Two days after his death, I read the article in ‘The Times of India’, which described his voice as uniquely nasal. It said that it suited pain and romance. I am too young to understand these things, but I think his voice is superb.  After his death, Raj Kapoor said he had lost his voice. After reading that, I am suddenly interested in learning more about Mukesh.

The article also mentioned his most popular songs, some of which I have just heard for the first time on Vividh Bharati. The song that is being played the most number of times is ‘Dil jalta hai toh jalne de’ from ‘Pehli Nazar’. It was his first hit, and my father says he sounds like Saigal on this song.

I usually hear the radio late in the afternoon after coming back from school or at night. These days, Mukesh songs play all the time. Even on Doordarshan, there are half-hour specials dedicated to him. He has his own style. I have heard many songs before, but now, I like them even more. ‘Mera joota hai Japani’, ‘Sab kuch seekha hamne’, ‘Saawan ka mahina’, ‘ ‘Yeh mera deewanapan hai’, ‘Ek pyaar ka naghma hai’, ‘Jis desh mein Ganga behti hai’ and ‘Main na bhooloonga’. The ‘Kabhi Kabhie’ songs get a lot of requests.

The radio also plays ‘Suhana safar’, ‘Sajan re jhoot mat bolo’ and ‘Oh re taal’. I didn’t know earlier, but now find out they are from the films ‘Madhumati’, ‘Teesri Kasam’ and ‘Anokhi Raat’.  I am also hearing some songs for the first time, like ‘Chand aahen bharega’, ‘Chandan sa badan’, ‘Raat aur din diya jale’, ‘Jhoom jhoom ke nacho aaj’, ‘Chand ko kya maloom’, ‘Chal ri sajni’ and ‘Duniya banane waale’.

We have a tape recorder at home, and yesterday, my mother recorded some songs for me from the radio. The more I hear them, the more I enjoy. Over the next few weeks, I want to record as many songs as possible. Mukesh is now no more, but I am sure his voice will remain with me all the time. I wish he had lived much longer to sing many more beautiful songs.

India’s most versatile classical musician

ON August 22, some 150-odd music aficionados gathered at the Godrej Dance Academy Theatre at Mumbai’s National Centre for Performing Arts complex, for a listening session of the works of legendary multi-instrumentalist and teacher Baba Allauddin Khan. For two hours, musicians, musicologists, connoisseurs and music students absorbed and celebrated the genius of the Maihar gharana maestro, as flautist Nityanand Haldipur guided them through rare and priceless recordings.

It was an evening filled with magic and nostalgia. After all, there haven’t been too many commercially-released recordings of Baba, who passed away in 1972. Though many enthusiasts would have heard his work on the Saregama HMV compilation Chairman’s Choice — Great Gharanas: Maihar, it covered only a minuscule percentage of his actual repertoire.  As such, this session was an ‘ear’-opener.

We shall discuss more about the session later. But before that, a little bit about the maestro. Three aspects of his musical personality clearly stand out: his sheer versatility, his role as a teacher and his contribution as an innovator. While diehard classical music followers would know many of the things mentioned below, not-too-familiar listeners would be fascinated to read about his achievements.

In every sense of the word, Baba Allauddin Khan was a unique musician. Though his specialities were the fretless stringed instrument sarod, the violin and the sursingar, a bass and larger kind of sarod, he could play some 30 musical instruments. From his generation, he and Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan played a major role in popularising sarod. But going by the sheer number of instruments Baba played, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he has been India’s most versatile classical musician ever.

The world, of course, generally knows him as the person who taught sarod great Ali Akbar Khan (his son), sitar maestros Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee, flautist Pannalal Ghosh, surbahar exponent Annapurna Devi (his daughter) and violinist VG Jog. While Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar played a huge role in popularising and teaching Indian classical music in the West, the others were masters of their instruments, immensely popular among audiences.

Those in the music field also know the fact that Baba taught numerous others. Besides the Maharaja of the erstwhile princely state of Maihar in what is now Madhya Pradesh, others under his tutelage include sarod players Bahadur Khan, Sharan Rani, Shyam Ganguly and Jyotin Bhattacharya, and sitar player Indranil Bhattacharya. Baba’s grandsons Aashish Khan, Dhyanesh Khan and Shubho Shankar (son of Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi) also benefited from his guidance.

Apart from pure classical musicians, Baba taught composers and music directors like Timir Baran, Vishnudas Shirali and Robin Ghosh, and was known to have been a guide to SD Burman, Roshan and Jaidev. As such, he played a pioneering role in musical education, he himself having learnt from many musicians.

His contribution can also be measured in the number of raags he composed, his creation or improvisation on instruments and even the initiation of the concept of an orchestra, thitherto unknown in Indian classical music.

A huge number of raags have been credited to him, some of which were later played by Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Annapurna Devi and their disciples. These include, among many others, Hemant, Hem-Bihag, Maanj Khamaj, Bhuvaneshwari, Gandhi, Prabhakali, Shubhavati and Madanmanjari, dedicated to his wife.

As a multi-instrumentalist, he not only improvised on the tonalities and techniques of many popular instruments, but also developed the sitar-banjo, which as the name suggests is a combination of sitar and banjo, and the nal tarang, made of steel gun pipes.

The orchestra he formed was called the Maihar Vadya Vrind, or commonly, the Maihar Band. Mostly comprising orphans whom Baba had discovered after a famine, and then trained musically, it followed the western classical concept of having many instruments played simultaneously, but the difference was that it used Indian raags.

Naturally, his story made for very interesting listening among those who attended the session, part of the Nad Ninad series. Besides highlighting his musical greatness, Haldipur — a disciple of Annapurna Devi —talked about his personal life, his running away from home as a child in order to learn music and his religious beliefs. Though he was a devout Muslim, Baba was also a devotee of Saraswati, Hindu goddess of knowledge and music.

Starting with raag Devagiri Bilawal on sarod, the audience was taken on a voyage that included rare compositions in Malgunji, Sindhura, Hem, Charjuki Malhar, Kaushi Bhairav, Komal Bhimpalasi and Shubhavati, besides more popular raags like Asavari, Tilak Kamod, Shuddha Kalyan and Shuddha Nat. A majority of pieces were played on sarod, but one also heard a few recordings on violin and sursingar.

Among the highlights was the playing of two versions of raag Bihag, one on violin and another on sarod, and the rendition of Tribandh, which blended elements of kedar, Khamaj and Kaafi. There were also a couple of recordings by the Maihar Band.

Many of the pieces played were recorded when Baba was in his 80s, and yet sounded as though a youngster was playing them. Such was his mastery.

In terms of government recognition, Baba was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, which is India’s second highest civilian honour. But for Indian music connoisseurs, he is no less than a Bharat Ratna, the highest honour. We are sure many present at the listening session would think on similar lines.

Rock ‘n’ reel: The growing popularity of music biopics

LIGHTS, camera, action, music. Over the past few weeks, three music biopics have been announced, based on three of the most popular female vocalists of their generation.

First, we heard that the role of the gorgeous Debbie Harry, lead singer of the band Blondie, would be played by the pretty Malin Akerman, who has starred in ‘The Proposal’ and played Tom Cruise’s fling in ‘Rock of Ages’. Then came reports that rock empress Janis Joplin would be played by theatre starlet Nina Arianda. More recently, we got the news that a film on the legendary Nina Simone would feature ‘Avatar’ actress Zoe Saldana.

The trend covers male icons too. Earlier this year, we heard actor Sacha Baron Cohen would play charismatic Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in an upcoming biopic, and Andre 3000 aka Dre has been cast as guitar god Jimi Hendrix in ‘All Is By My Side’, which strangely won’t use any of his compositions. Also in the offing are movies on jazz pioneer Miles Davis (to be played by Don Cheadle) and Nirvana rock star Kurt Cobain. (Later reports say Cohen has backed out of the Mercury project, and that Ben Whishaw is being considered for the role).

Clearly, music biopics are gaining in popularity. Slowly and steadily, more and more legends are being featured. And obviously, we are not talking of documentary-styled movies like recent releases ‘Marley’ (on reggae superstar Bob Marley) and ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ (on lesser-known folk-rock singer Rodriguez), or rock-based fictional sagas like ‘ ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘Almost Famous’.

The fad is to have famous, almost famous or not-so-famous actors playing coveted roles of popular musicians. Besides the ones mentioned above, films on Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin are in the broad conceptualisation stage, and there have been talks of beginning an Amy Winehouse biopic. There were rumours of Whitney being played by Rihanna, which she denied.

In cinema, the genre isn’t new, of course. Let’s take five films that have won mass acclaim:

Amadeus (1984) — Based on classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Milos Forman’s movie had Tom Hulce in the lead, and F Murray Abraham playing his rival Antonio Salieri. The soundtrack used Mozart’s most popular tunes.

The Doors (1991) — Directed by Oliver Stone, it had Val Kilmer playing the immortal Jim Morrison, and an ensemble cast appearing as the popular band’s members Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore. The film used original Doors classics.

Ray (2004) — Jamie Foxx (see picture) won an Oscar for playing the great blind rhythm n’ blues singer Ray Charles, who sadly died a few months before its release.

Walk The Line (2005) — Based on country star Johnny Cash, it featured a masterly performance by Joaquin Phoenix, who unfortunately didn’t win an Oscar though his co-star Reese Witherspoon got one. In this movie, the actors sung the songs.

I’m Not There (2007) — Six actors depict various vignettes from Bob Dylan’s career. Those portraying different facets are Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger and even actress Cate Blanchett, who delivered a stunning performance.

Even older films include ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ (a 1945 movie where Robert Alda acts as master-composer George Gershwin), ‘Lady Sings The Blues’ (a 1972 biopic with Diana Ross playing jazz diva Billie Holiday) and ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ (which got Sissy Spacek an Oscar in 1981 for playing country singer Loretta Lynn).

Besides these, we’ve had ‘Immortal Beloved’ (Gary Oldman playing Beethoven), ‘Bird’ (Forest Whittaker as jazzman Charlie Parker), ‘Bound for Glory’ (David Carradine as folk guru Woody Guthrie), ‘Great Balls of Fire’ (Dennis Quaid as rock ‘n’ roller Jerry Lee Lewis), ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ (Angela Bassett as Tina Turner), ‘Control’ (Sam Riley as Joy Division’s Ian Curtis), ‘Nowhere Boy’ (Aaron Jackson in a film about the young John Lennon), ‘Stoned’ (Leo Gregory as Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones) and ‘La Vie En Rose’ (Marillon Cotillard as French singer Edith Piaf).

There are love stories like ‘Sid and Nancy’, which talks of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious and his girlfriend, and last year’s French movie ‘Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky’, on the romance between the French designer and path-breaking Russian composer. ‘Cadillac Records’ is actually about the music label Chess Records, but has various actors representing blues masters Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Willie Dixon, Little Walter and Etta James (played by Beyonce Knowles). ‘The Pianist’ is an adaptation of ‘Death of a City’, a World War II memoir by Jewish-Polish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman.

From this list, it’s obvious that there has always been a demand for music biopics. But then, creation of such films has been more or less sporadic. There was a release every two or three years, or maybe at longer intervals, but nothing like the sudden flood of announcements we’ve heard this year.

Over the years, there have been films starring and featuring the music of the Beatles and Elvis Presley, and even the hip-hop drama ‘8 Mile’ with Eminem. But in the past decade or so, with the rising popularity of concert DVDs, there have been a large number of documentaries using real-life footage. Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It’ earned huge accolades.

Renowned director Martin Scorsese, himself a music connoisseur, has used both the cinema hall and home theatre media effectively to spread awareness about blues and rock, through a seven-part documentary on the blues, and films on Bob Dylan (‘No Direction Home’), the Rolling Stones (‘Shine A Light’) and George Harrison (‘Living in the Material World’).

While documentaries have their own following among music enthusiasts, and also contain actual footage of the musicians, music biopics of the kind mentioned require a special treatment in order to re-create the artiste’s character perfectly. As such, they have challenges of their own. The filmmaker has to be careful in choosing and totally passionate about the subject, ensuring the musician is not only popular among the masses, but has also led a life which will make for a good film script.

The actors should look as authentic as possible, and their performance involves plenty of research done through books, video footage and interviews with associates in order to pick up even the slightest of mannerisms of the idols they are enacting. For instance, when Joaquin Phoenix lit up the screen in ‘Walk The Line’, one actually thought the real Johnny Cash had arrived. So flawless were the actor’s body language and dialogue delivery, and even the way he held his guitar. Ditto with the way Jamie Foxx played a Ray Charles piano line in ‘Ray’.

If produced well, a music biopic can not only attract hardcore fans of an artiste, but also help create more awareness even among those who’ve not followed the artiste’s career. The release of ‘The Doors’ led to a Morrison wave of sorts, and ‘Ray’ and ‘Walk The Line’ made more people more closely acquainted with Ray Charles and rhythm ‘n blues, and Johnny Cash and country music.

Though one may argue that only a small section of the musical galaxy has been covered so far, the great news is the sudden interest filmmakers are showing in the genre. Over the next few years, quite a few musicians should be back in the news, and even reach out to audiences who’ve never really grown up on them. It’ll be music to the ears if Nina Simone, Janis Joplin and Debbie Harry find an ardent following in the next generation too, thanks mainly to Hollywood.

A case for more Carnatic music in Mumbai

On August 15, the Sivaswamy auditorium of the Fine Arts Society in Chembur, Mumbai, was almost packed to capacity. The occasion was a Carnatic music concert held to mark 65 years of India’s independence and 50 years since the society’s formation. Around 75 per cent of the audience might have been over 60 years of age. And while many men turned up in casual cross-striped T-shirts worn over formal trousers, a large number of ladies were attired in silk sarees.

The star attraction was 76-year-old Umayalpuram Sivaraman, one of the most prolific and respected exponents of the south Indian drum mridangam. But a large section had also come to hear 30-year-old Sikkil Gurucharan, a Chennai-based vocalist who’s shown plenty of promise and who’s being labelled as a future great in Carnatic music. With accompaniment from Sivaraman, brilliant violinist S Varadarajan and Giridhar Udupa on the percussion instrument ghatam, Sikkil captivated the audience for nearly four hours with a diverse range of varnams, kritis, bhajans and thillanas.

Being a public holiday and a free concert, one obviously expected a packed house. But even otherwise, on weekdays and in ticketed concerts, Carnatic music attracts a fairly large audience in Mumbai, whenever concerts are held.

While that may make things seem rosy as far as the Mumbai scene is concerned, the truth is that they are not. What are the problems? Three things, actually. One, Mumbai, unlike the major south Indian cities, hosts only a few Carnatic concerts as compared to the north Indian form of Hindustani music. Two, the majority of those who attend these concerts comprises Tamilians who have grown up on the genre. Except for a handful of diehard music lovers, other communities are not adequately represented. And three, musicians performing pure, traditional Carnatic music don’t get as much recognition in Mumbai as those who are involved in fusion or experimental projects.

Let’s take each issue separately. To begin with, the number of shows. In comparison to Chennai or even Bangalore or Kochi, Mumbai hosts relatively fewer Carnatic concerts, and that too, at select venues. Besides the Fine Arts Society, one sees some shows at Shanmukhananda Hall, Karnataka Sangha, Tata Theatre and Nehru Centre. This September, Fine Arts Society is organising a festival featuring vocalists Malladi Brothers, Bombay Sisters and TV Gopalakrishnan, and violinists M Narmadha, Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Ganesh-Kumaresh.

But compare them with Hindustani music, and the number is quite small. While Mumbai’s Carnatic music calendar has one annual festival called Dakshinayan, organised by Banyan Tree Events, and regular events at Fine Arts Society, there are aso many Hindustani festivals like IMG Janfest, Megh Malhar, Gunidas, Sureshbabu-Hirabai, Vyas Vandana, so on and so forth.

The same holds true for other cities of north, west and east India. While Dakshinayan is also held in Delhi and Pune, the number of Hindustani classical events is much larger. In contrast, Chennai has a Carnatic music season for six weeks every December and January, where numerous ‘sabhas’ host a string of concerts featuring scores of musicians. Bangalore, Kochi and Hyderabad, though much smaller in scale than Chennai, have Carnatic concerts through the year, albeit with smaller crowds.

One reason for this may be the larger demand for Hindustani music in Mumbai, and also the fact that a number of leading and upcoming Hindustani classical musicians are settled in Mumbai. Most of the Carnatic musicians are based in Chennai, and since the average size of a Carnatic ensemble is larger (normally four or more people), transportation and hotel costs become involved. Add to this the fact that corporate sponsors back shows by a select group of star musicians, most of whom belong to the Hindustani genre.

The second factor we mentioned is the audience profile. Among Tamilian families, children get exposed to Carnatic music at an early stage, and they often accompany their parents to ‘kutcheris’ (concerts). As such, the understanding of the nuances and development of a serious taste happens from an early age.

North Indians and Maharashtrians residing in Mumbai don’t get that early exposure to Carnatic music, and thus stay away from the genre for the rest of their lives. Thus, a large proportion of visitors to Carnatic concerts naturally comprises south Indians, who have been brought up on that music.

The third issue relates to the popularity of certain artistes who are involved in experimental and innovative music. Let’s take a few examples here. Violinist L Shankar and ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram are essentially Carnatic musicians, but they attained mass popularity because they were part of the Indo-jazz group Shakti. Similarly, mandolin genius U Shrinivas and kanjira player V Selvaganesh are part of the Remember Shakti ensemble, and are thus known among fusion fans.

L Subramaniam is an excellent Carnatic violinist, but his recordings with western artistes like Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin, or his ‘global fusion’ projects, sell more than his pure Carnatic recordings. Similarly, among Mumbai listeners, path-breaking saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath is known more for his international collaborations than for his pure Carnatic renditions, which are a rage in the south. The violinist brothers’ duo of Ganesh and Kumaresh are known in Mumbai, because they are often accompanied by the great Zakir Hussain, who adapts south Indian rhythmic patterns to his tabla. The great Balamuralikrishna and talented Bombay Jayashree are extremely popular as Carnatic vocalists in the south, but a large chunk of Mumbai’s audience knows them more for ‘jugalbandis’ (duets) with Hindustani classical musicians. Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan have their roots in Carnatic music, but the world knows them for other styles.

While all these musicians are game changers in their own way, the sad truth is that many other talented Carnatic musicians don’t get equal kudos in a place like Mumbai, or rather get it only among a select few. Brilliant vocalists like Aruna Sairam, Sudha Raghunathan, Sikkil Gurucharan and OS Arun, to take only four examples, are all stars across audiences of all age groups in Chennai. They are stars in Mumbai too, but only among a select audience, that too as and when they perform.

The same could be true of violinists Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi (children of the legendary Lalgudi Jayaraman) or Viji Krishnan and Sriram Krishnan (children of the brilliant T N Krishnan). Or veena players E Gayathri and Jayanthi Kumaresh, and gotuvadyam player N Ravikiran. All of them are established in the south, and get adequate opportunities across India, but ask the hip Mumbai concertgoer and page 3 follower about youngsters in Indian music, and chances are that he’ll drop names like Anoushka Shankar, Rahul Sharma and Niladri Kumar easily, and not even know of Gayathri, Ravikiran or Sikkil Gurucharan.

All this is not to start any debate on which of the two forms — Hindustani or Carnatic — is superior or more popular. Both are steeped in traditional and have a long musical history. Moreover, there may be some would will rightfully say that barring a few top names, Hindustani musicians don’t have the same popularity as Carnatic musicians in Chennai as they have in Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata.

But in a place like Mumbai, cosmopolitan by nature, one would love to see a serious and continuing effort on the part of musicians, musical organisations and sponsors to expose and educate more non-Tamilians about the intricacies of Carnatic music. This could be done through regular workshops, lecture-demonstrations and listening sessions, and will greatly help increase the overall appreciation levels manifold. Otherwise, a whole section of musically-inclined society will miss out on the magic of the Carnatic form.

An ode to the great Hollywood composers

VANGELIS, Hans Zimmer and Marvin Hamlisch are part of the same fraternity of musicians, but are in the news for different reasons.

Vangelis, a Greek composer, made headlines because his memorable theme from the 1981 film ‘Chariots of Fire’ was used as a leitmotif at the London Olympics, and was played at every medal ceremony.

Zimmer, a German, composed the tune ‘Aurora’, dedicated to victims of last month’s shoot-out at the screening of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. His music is also one of the highlights of the Christoper Nolan film.

Hamlisch, an American musician, passed away on August 6. Though his untimely death at age 68 didn’t receive the kind of mass coverage given to disco queen Donna Summer and rock keyboardist Jon Lord, hardcore fans recalled his great work in the movies ‘The Way We Were’, ‘The Sting’ and ‘A Chorus Line’.

All three of them belong to the community of Hollywood music composers. They are stars in their own right, people who have produced some outstanding music over the years. Yet, compared to musicians from other genres like pop, rock, jazz and the blues, they are somewhat under-recognised in the global entertainment spotlight. And even in the movie world they belong to, they get much less attention than the stars and the directors.

Take five classic movies that many of us would have seen — ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Love Story’, ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Mackenna’s Gold’. All of them were great films, and had a great cast. They also had outstanding music and memorable musical themes. However, without reading the next paragraph, or doing a Google search, how many would be able to rattle off the names of those who composed them?

Now let’s see the answers. The ‘My Fair Lady’ music was by Frederick Loewe, who also did ‘Camelot’. ‘Psycho’ was by Bernard Hermann, who was a Hitchcock favourite and a trendsetter. ‘Love Story’ was by Francis Lai. ‘The Godfather’ was by Nino Rota. And ‘Mackenna’s Gold’ was by Quincy Jones, who is better-known as producer of the Michael Jackson album ‘Thriller’ and the anthemic song ‘We Are The World’.

From these films, most of us would remember the names of Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Ryan O’Neal, Gregory Peck, Ali McGraw, Al Pacino, Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola and even authors Eric Segal and Mario Puzo, but how many would know the names of the composers?  Or know that Vangelis created ‘Chariots of Fire’ and Zimmer made ‘The Lion King’? Or remember that there was a composer named Hamlisch, who actually won the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards?

There are many more examples. Most of us have admired Charlie Chaplin for his great films and comic performances, but only his biggest followers knew he actually created music for his own films, albeit with the help of other composers, As a conductor and pianist, Leonard Bernstein is a huge name in western classical music, but he also composed two outstanding sets of film music in ‘West Side Story’ and the Brando hit ‘On The Waterfront’.

The other Bernstein, Elmer — not related to but friends with Leonard — worked on masterpieces like ‘The Ten Commandments’, ‘The Magnificent Seven’, ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, but today’s audience wouldn’t have heard of him. Ditto with Malcolm Arnold, who created one of cinema’s most memorable tunes in ‘The Bridge Over The River Kwai’, basing his them around the famous ‘Colonel Bogey’s March’, Ludovic Bource, who did a phenomenal job to win this year’s Oscar for ‘The Artist’, is a non-entity compared to the Lady Gagas, Justin Biebers and Spice Girls-turned-Mums of the world.

Sad, but true. The Hollywood composer, like the Hollywood cameraman, has always been overshadowed by the glossier names. Yes, the hardcore movie and music buffs do follow and admire them, and they are big names in the stage  theatre world of Broadway and West End. But come to the cinema, and for the lay public, it’s always the film and their stars.

One may always argue that there are exceptions. For instance, in today’s world, a handful of composers have attained some fame even among the mass audiences. There’s John Williams for ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jaws’, ‘ET’ and three Harry Potter films. There’s Zimmer for ‘The Lion King’, ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Inception’. There’s James Horner, who worked on ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’.  Alan Silvestri did ‘The Bodyguard’, ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘The Avengers’. And James Newton Howard composed for ‘The Fugitive’, ‘The Prince of Tides’ and ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’.

From the earlier days, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II are still remembered for ‘The Sound of Music’. Ennio Morricone provided some of the most-hummed tunes ever, becoming a rage with the Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. Henry Mancini clicked with the Pink Panther series.

Burt Bacharach, in partnership with lyricist Hal David, was prolific in non-film songs, but also composed some great film tunes, including ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head’ from ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. The film ‘Saturday Night Fever’ is known equally for the Bee Gees, as it is for John Travolta’s performance. It’s a different matter that the Bee Gees were primarily known as a pop group than as creators of film music.

But these have been rare cases. Maestros like Miklos ‘Ben Hur’ Rocza , Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North, Richard and Robert Sherman, Maurice Jarre, Max Steiner, John Barry, Michael Nyman and Howard Shore, to name only some of them, are recognised only by very ardent followers.

Look at the Oscar night too, and it’s dominated by the best film, best director, best actors, the red carpet and the performers — best music and best song are relatively smaller awards (though AR Rahman did get enormous coverage in India after winning them). The same goes with the Grammys, where pop, hip-hop and rock get more exposure than the film awards.

Over the past few years, two new trends have emerged in Hollywood film music. The first is the creation of not-so-original ‘original soundtracks’ (OSTs), where popular songs are compiled and used in a film’s background, to be later marketed as CDs. Examples are ‘Forrest Gump’, ‘Wonder Boys’, ‘A Knight’s Tale’, ‘Kill Bill’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Finding Forrester’.

The second is the tendency of making the film’s stars sing cover versions of popular songs, as was done in ‘Walk The Line’, ‘Ray’, ‘Chicago’, ‘Mamma Mia!’ and, more recently, ‘Rock of Ages’, which made Tom Cruise sing.

Though the first trend is well-established by now, the second has been restricted to only a few films. Yet, the truth is that filmmakers are finding other options on how to use music in the movies. The chances of creating great original music, like was done in the older movies, are getting somewhat smaller.

The truth, of course, is that Hollywood is filled with musical geniuses. Scoring music for a film always requires a great amount of work, and to stand out, that extra bit of talent and imagination. One has to ensure that the music is in sync with the film’s storyline and situations, and yet create an impact of its own. One also has to make sure the music sounds great in a cinema hall, and that there is no discontinuity because of editing.

All this isn’t easy. It’s a tough job, and a relentless one done behind the scenes. It’s time the Hollywood composer gets his real due.

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