Thursday, December 14, 2006

A handful of beauty

The year is 1976, the place, Paris. Voilin virtuoso L.Shankar, attempting to be fashionable in oversized Ray-bans, scorches his instrument, his bow a mere blur. A shirtless Vikku Vinayakaram beats a frenetic tattoo on the ghatam, nodding and smiling at a very young Zakir Hussain, fingers flying flawlessly. Strangely enough a foriegner that too with a guitar sits among these Indian Classical greats. Even more strangely he seems at home with the ragas, the inhuman talas and all the fine nuances of our great musical heritage. John McLaughlin forms the bridge and the trump card that fuses the energy that could only be called Shakti.

Thirty years down the line and L.Shankar has been replaced by another irrepressible but much more humble Mandolin U.Srinivas and Vikku has handed over his mantle to his equally talented son, Selva Ganesh, who adds the dimensions of the Kanjira and Mridangam to the Ghatam. Guest sit-ins by vocal gymnast Shankar Mahadevan and Shashank on flute and Remember Shakti is back in Bangalore settled before the familiar background of the Palace.

Remember Shakti started off with a time signature feast wryly entitled "Six In The Morning, Five In The Afternoon," where the four core musicians jammed playfully getting their sound on cue. The sound unfortunately let them down repeatedly even pushing McLaughlin and Zakir to exchange unpleasantries at their expense through their vocal mics. You really couldn't blame them especially after Shashank's laboured histrionics on the flute were lost in the mix on Zakir's airy "Ma No Pa." The musicians looked ill at ease about their stage sound for most of the performance.

Shankar Mahadevan was impeccable, much better than their last performance here. He looked very comfortable and rattled off scats with the furiously fast U.Srinivas with as much elan as he imparted turns and bends to his alaaps and soulful refrains. He truly held his own on "Sakhi," the only thumri based tune of the evening.

Zakir Hussain and Selvaganesh opened the portal to the past with a spirited and very funny bol tan, taking a dig at each other, the other musicians and even a photographer who dared to get up close to the stage and start taking photos of Zakir ("tirakitadhadhikita click click click go away dhoomtaratiradha"). The antics gave way to the vitalising "Dance Of Happiness" that allowed Srinivas to completely explore the immensity of his genius. The soothing and transcendental "Lotus Feet" allowed all the musicians latitude to stretch out and give the audience a masterclass in the use of space.

As always the grand finale involved a percussion jam with Selvaganesh accomplishing the impossible on his Kanjira. Then it was the turn of Zakir Hussain. Granted he can be extremely arrogant, granted he can even be downright rude but when he lets loose everything else is lost in a blaze of talent. The other musicians kept count on a 10 beat cycle and Zakir was content to play to their timing for a couple of bars. Following this he began playing with the numbers breaking down the cycle into 6+4, 3+7, 5+5 etc and then inverting them, playing complex progressions on all of them and always coming in on the accent on the 10th beat. If this display wasn't enough he decided to apply all this and then break down individual beats till he was playing half and quarter beats, interspersed with sound effects, sending me into convulsions of nervous giggles. I couldn't believe the ease with which he did all this. He finished with a flourish to a standing ovation.

This is my fourth Shakti gig and the first at which I was lucky enough to take photos off. A truly memorable experience.

You should've been here. You would've loved ever moment.



Anonymous said...

I know I would've loved to be there...It sounds so interesting. And Zakhir Husain, John McLaughlin and Shankar Mahadevan seem to me to be quite an interesting unexpected blend.

I'm really curious about how they would've sounded. What's the flavour of Shakti?

There's a piece we're performing in tomorrow's performance that is set to indian-western music. The vocals are english, but they've used the sitar and tabla in the song. It makes me feel all warm when I hear the sitar and tabla. Hehehe don't know why I'm writing this here, but well...heh.

thinkpotty said...

i am a huge admirer of zakir... immensly gifted man he is .
i ve watched a show of theirs in bangalore once a few years back which was rather pedestrain
considerind the fantastic collection of individual talent present on stage. only shiva mannaged
to thrill me that day.