Sarangi meets mandolin
Ustad Sultan Khan and U Shrinivas play together on Sahavaadhan, and their rare collaboration brings out some inspired music
Sahavaadhan features U Shrinivas and Ustad Sultan Khan, and that the two have come together to record a album is in itself a matter of curiosity and interest. This Music Today tape says the recording was done at Satyasai Chandrashekhar Studio in Chennai. I presume it was a commissioned recording, and not a live concert of the sort organised in that city by the Telugu Association. Doordarshan viewers will remember that jugalbandi concerts featuring Karnatak and Hindustani musicians, organised by that organisation, used to be aired regularly on Sunday mornings.
This studio recording, nearly an hour long, features the Karnatak raga Dharmavati and the roughly corresponding Hindustani raga Madhuvanti. The recording follows the ragam-tanam-pallavi form of Karnatak music, which is why Shrinivas leads for the most part, and his senior colleague replies with phrases in the northern idiom.
Shrinivas earned fame as the young boy who had tamed the mandolin to play something it was never known to play: south Indian classical music. He was a draw for many years as a child prodigy, and as he grew up, he joined the ranks of young classical music celebrities like Zakir Hussain, with whom, incidentally, he played a live concert in Bangalore some years ago.
Ustad Sultan Khan is a highly regarded sarangi player, and his forays into film music (he plays as a sessions musician for bigtime composers in Mumbai and Madras) and Indipop (he sang the music channel hit Piya basanti re with Chithra) have made him a familiar name even among people who don't tune in to classical music.
The best part of Sahavaadhan is the half-hour-long alapana, which shows both players in very good form. They strike a rapport early, and progress up the scale with well-chiselled and very spontaneous-sounding phrases. Dharmavati is a sampoorna raga, with a flat third (komal gandhar) and a sharpened fourth (tivra madhyam); it gives Shrinivas a large enough canvas to show his skills in raga improvisation and rhythmic play. Sultan Khan has to negotiate the raga with a little more restraint because Madhuvanti's structure is a bit more intricate: it eliminates the rishabh and dhaivat in the ascent. But at some places it looks like he is playing close to Dharmavati, and not going too strictly by the grammar of Madhuvanti.
Shrinivas and Sultan Khan play some tanam style passages and then launch into a rhythm-supported composition. The southern accompanist Murugabhoopathy plays adi tala on the mridangam while tabla player Hanif Khan takes up mid-tempo teen tal.
From Madhuvanti, the two artistes take brief detours into ragas like Bahudari and Brindavan Sarang.
Towards the end, they play some sawal-jawab passages where Sultan Khan matches Shrinivas's racing phrases with gamak-style play that emphasises deeply accented graces rather than speed. That is one stretch where Shrinivas dominates, but on the whole, Sultan Khan's accomplished playing consistently shows up the almost primal appeal of his instrument, which they say comes closest among all instruments to the human voice.
The tape ends with a short bhajan. I was glad there weren't too many pieces on the hour-long tape, and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the two musicians taking an unhurried approach to the main piece. The inlay card wrongly mentions that the Hindustani equivalent of raga Dharmavati is Malkouns. Music Today sleeve notes are generally well-researched, and this error is uncharacteristic of the label.
S R Ramakrishna
Published on 14 January
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