Discernment. Online


 

 

 

 

 

Geetha: veena player who rocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

'My first experience of jazz came after my marriage to Gopal. Till then I didn't know that such a form existed. It sounded very harsh on my ears... I asked Gopal why everybody was playing off key!'

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Anjaneyalu: stern teacher
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
'My guru the late J Anjaneyulu was vice-principal of the music college in Hyderabad. He was a Vishwamitra lookalike, with a silky white, flowing beard, and a round red vermillion mark on his forehead. He zoomed in on his Bullet motorbike exactly at 4.30 a.m. for ten years, without missing even a single class.'
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gopal: singer and guitarist
 
'Only when maturity dawns -- and one thinks of oneself -- does the beauty and depth of traditional forms become perceptible.'
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
'The veena is a unique instrument, with vast possibilities in both bass and treble. It's high time it got recognition like the sitar.
 
 
 
 

Interview
 
Veena on rock terrain


Esperanto is touring the US and performing with a host of American musicians. Gopal and Geetha Navale, founders of the fusion band, talk about 
their musical journey  


Esperanto is touring the US from the first week of April. Gopal and Geetha Navale, founders of the fusion band, also run Guruskool, an informal music school near Bangalore.


The band leaves Bangalore on April 2. "We will perform in the Seattle area and then go to Portland, where we meet songwriter and guitarist Morgan Phillips," says Gopal. The band will play at a jazz club in New York, and also perform on the West Coast.

In a pre-tour interview,
Gopal and Geetha bare their thoughts.

On the name Esperanto

Gopal: This is a language formed by combining various languages of the world ... we want to evolve a musical Esperanto, a common language so that some of the great musical traditions of the world can meet, exchange and explore new frontiers.

On musical training

Geetha: My journey in the world of music began in Hyderabad when I was nine. I owe everything to my mother, who was very stern and disciplined. She made sure that I practised at least for an hour every day, even if the sky was falling down! Those were painful days ... how I used to sob. I hated my practice sessions, but looking back , I am so happy that it all happened the way it did.

My guru the late J Anjaneyulu was vice-principal of the music college in Hyderabad. He was a Vishwamitra lookalike, with a silky white, flowing beard, and a round red vermillion mark on his forehead. He zoomed in on his Bullet motorbike exactly at 4.30 in the morning for ten years, without missing even a single class. I remember how I used to shiver as soon as I heard the rumble of the bike. Being a purist from the Vijayanagaram school, he trained me rigorously on the veena.

I had a tremendous capacity to memorise at that time, and within one year I was able to learn 10 swarajatis, 20 varnas and a few kritis. Looking back, even I find it hard to believe... The very year after I started my music lessons, my guru took me to Tiruvayaru to play with him.

On genres
 
Geetha: My first experience of jazz music came after my marriage to Gopal. Till then I didn't know that such a form existed. It sounded very harsh on my ears... I asked Gopal why everybody was playing off key.
 
Gopal took me to all the concerts happening about town, and broadened my horizon. I started enjoying all genres, from folk to jazz, Karnatak to Hindustani, rock to raga, not to forget heavy metal. I enjoy listening to this noise, or whatever you may call it.
 
I like to experiment with different kinds of music and blend my classical style with all genres. I believe that culture is not evolving in isolation.
 
Hindustani music soothes me. I like the veena playing of Balachander and E Gayatri.
 
On teaching and learning

Geetha: I had a great experience teaching jazz musicians the Indian ragas, and the different calculations in the talas. They were astounded at the depth of our classical music. They have decided to come back and learn more.

The world has a lot to learn from Indian music in rhythm and melody. Rich Indian music now has an open window to the world and can enrich itself by absorbing the nuances of harmony and the use of new timbres. This is now visible in Tamil pop, and credit must go to A R Rahman, Suresh Peters and many others.
 
My guru for the last ten years is R K Suryanarayana, the legendary veena maestro. Under his guidance, I have matured as a performing artiste. He has introduced me to modern styles of playing and also original new compositions..... I have played with him in the album Tillana Guchcha released last year.
 
On the veena
 
Geetha: The veena is a unique instrument, with vast possibilities in both bass and treble. It's high time it got recognition like the sitar. I perform where the crowd is not so Karnatak, so that the instrument creates an interest among new audiences, and so that Indians can rediscover the beauty of Indian music.
 
On whether Guruskool attracts only those who relate somewhat remotely to the Indian musical experience

Gopal: Guruskool is a movement towards the 'fountainhead'.
It aims to create an ambience where music can flower without any constraints. It is a greenhouse for music, where instruments and rehearsal studios help the artiste practise, experiment and collaborate.
 
There is not much risk of abandoning the Indian musical experience. We try to enrich traditions by absorbing the experience of other great cultures. An example: a US-based jazz musician, who came to Guruskool to learn the tabla, worked out more than 50 chords using the seven notes of raga Mayamalavagowla. A melody played in this raga, backed by the harmonies of these chords, would multiply its possibilities without sacrificing its original beauty.
 
On the Freedom Jam
 
Gopal: This is a free musical platform set up in Bangalore by Guruskool, where any musician is free to perform, regardless of genre. We don't edit or impose our preferences on them. It gives an outlet to the creative energies of musicians, who often can't perform on the regular circuit which invites only established performers, or encourages imitations and cover versions. We welcome originality in any form.
 
In these jams we have observed a lack of regular participation by Indian classical musicians. We have had a performance of a Karnataka folk rhythm ensemble, and it drew great applause from the 1,000-odd cosmopolitan audience. Raghupathy Dixit, who experiments with classical violinists like Bhaskar, and Geetha on the veena, are regulars who are well appreciated. But by and large, most of the participation is in heavy metal, rock, blues and other Westernised genres.
 
On why most rock and pop musicians are alienated from the other kinds of music around them 
 
Gopal: Could it be a matter of identification of anything westernised as more progressive, more hep, more lucrative? This is what our education generally seems to indicate anyway. Most young people's ambition centres on learning computers, and either going to the US or working for multinationals. Most people are completely swept off their feet by these  market forces which push society to a situation where they can sell more goods regardless of consquences like monoculture (Pizza Huts, KFC chains only, no more neighbourhood benne masales) or pollution (plastic plastic everywhere!).

The tonal colours of traditional music, being far removed from the dictionary of ad agencies, don't appeal to the impressionable youth, who after all are more interested in impressing the opposite sex, working towards money and security. The ad/marketing juggernaut doesn't associate any of this with traditional music.
 
Only when maturity dawns -- and one thinks of oneself -- does the beauty and depth of traditional forms become perceptible. Such forms evolve out of the artistry of a thousand generations. Usually by then one's hair has turned grey and the 'josh'  to follow one's deams is stifled by the need to make ends meet, or by the plain insecurity of human existence.
 
 
On money and sponsorship
 
Somehow sufficient money has always been available, though it is never in surplus. It comes mostly from individuals and occasional corporate sponsors. More money would mean more recordings, shows, classes.
 
On the star system
 
Gopal: We do not believe in the star syndrome, which is just a creation of market forces to translate music into money. It is detrimental to the cause of artistic expression as it benefits only a few at the cost of many.

But for the record -- the group Thermal & a Quarter, which has achieved success with its debut CD, and the hugely popular metal bands Threnody and Krypyos are a few of the staying acts that have emerged.


 
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