Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


Album: Home

Artiste: Anoushka Shankar

Genre: Hindustani classical

Label: Deutsche Grammophon/ Universal Music

Price: Rs 395

Rating: ***

(Some technical terms have been italicised and explained at the end)

IN her early recording career between 1998 and 2001, sitar exponent Anoushka Shankar concentrated on Hindustani classical* albums, focusing on shorter versions of compositions popularised by her legendary father Pandit Ravi Shankar. Barring a piece in raag** Madhuvanti and the lighter Mishra Piloo in her ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’, she stayed away from full-length renditions. Later, she moved totally into the fusion and world music space in the albums ‘Rise’, ‘Breathing Under Water’, ‘Traveller’ and ‘Traces of You’.

With that backdrop in mind, her decision to record a purely classical album after almost 14 years comes as a welcome development. In ‘Home’, released exactly three years after Ravi-ji’s demise, Anouskha pays tribute in the liner notes by writing, “I hope this offering of classical ragas, played in the style you taught me and from as deeply in my heart as I was able, reaches you somewhere.”

‘Home’ features old-time accompanist Tanmoy Bose on tabla and Kenji Ota on tanpura ***. On first hearing, three things come across. The first is that this is obviously a very sincere effort to offer ‘pranaam and gratitude’ to her father and guru. Secondly, Anoushka hasn’t chosen some very obvious compositions, but played two late night raags that have been closely associated with Ravi-ji and the Maihar gharana.**** Third, her renditions are straight, avoiding histrionics and gimmicks.

The first piece, played in the traditional style of building up raags, is in the pentatonic Jogeshwari, created by Ravi-ji blending Jog and Raageshwari. However, Anoushka adds her own elements. After a serene, 11-minute alaap, she builds pace with the jod. The jhala is gradually introduced, and here, Anoushka doesn’t get into the high-speed playing that’s often related with this portion.

The gat, set to the seven-beat rupak taal, is Anoushka’s own composition. The interplay between the sitar and tabla is charming, though one feels that the volume of the percussion instrument in the mix could have been slightly higher. The rendition retains its meditative qualities, but one feels a second, faster gat would have taken it a notch ahead.*****

The second piece is in the lighter Maanj Khamaj, popularised by Ravi-ji’s guru Baba Alauddin Khan and later played by Ravi-ji, sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan, sarod great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and others. Here, Anoushka begins with an aochar –short alaap – before varying beat cycles and ending with a brief coda.

Though Anouskha hasn’t recorded much of pure classical music, her experience of playing in concert with her father, often on his own creations, comes across clearly. If her first two albums seemed a bit mechanical and very basic, a certain maturity is obvious in this latest release. An added advantage of the CD, specially for listeners of her generation, is the publication of a wonderful introduction to Indian classical music written by Ravi-ji in 1965.

On the technical front, there are times when one feels Anoushka’s meends****** could have been more incisive and soulful, and the tihaais****** more vigorous and dynamic. The tabla lehra******** improvisations are underplayed too. As such, there are hardly any gooseflesh or ‘waah’ moments that suddenly stand out.

One guesses that will come slowly after a few more years of intense riyaaz *********. What’s admirable is that she has chosen to do a traditional album using compositions that go back to her roots. Most important, she’s kept things simple. A judicious mix of pure classical and experimental albums is what’s essential to her growth as an artiste.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

Explanation of terms

* Hindustani classical – North Indian classical music – the term ‘Carnatic’ is used for south Indian classical music

** Raag – A combination of notes that gives a composition its unique character. The basis of Indian classical music. Raags are played as per time of day or may be seasonal

*** Tanpura – The stringed instrument which provides the drone backdrop in any Indian classical music performance

**** Gharana – A school of music or a musical family tree. There are different gharanas for vocal and instrumental music. Ravi Shankar represented the Maihar gharana

***** Alaap, jod, jhala, gat, taal – An instrumental raag begins with the alaap-jod-jhala section, where the alaap is the slow introduction, the jod is the tempo build-up and the jhala is the faster climax. This portion is played without rhythm accompaniment. The gat is an improvisation in the same raag, but with rhythm (in this case tabla) accompaniment. Aochar, explained in main revie, is a shorter alaap. The taal is the number of beats in the cycle – rupaktaal having seven and teentaal having 16

****** Meend – A glide from one note to another

*******Tihaai – Polyrhythms used at the end of a piece, played in sets of three

******** Lehra – Where the tabla player plays improvisational patterns against a fixed and repeated melody line provided by the main instrumentalist

********* Riyaaz – Thorough practice


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