Here's Dwijavanthi on impulse: A short aalapanai followed by a song I learnt from a Bombay Jayashree recording years back. (Source of inspiration of the sudden impulse: TNS's mind-blowing RTP that I've lately been listening to like crazy)
An abridged version of this post is now in Sruti magazine.
(Pictures courtesy: Anu Sood and Flickr)
That life springs surprises on you may sound cliched, but it is not until it happens to you that you actually know what it feels like. Couple of months ago, I had what I can easily call the biggest surprise of my life till date. Little did I expect a random intro email I sent long ago to a contact here in the Carnatic Music circle; to get me an opportunity to be part of a musical ensemble curated by Pt Ravi Shankar, to perform at "India Calling!" in Hollywood Bowl, LA! It was the tail end of my vacation in India when all of a sudden I heard from a Bharatanatyam artiste, Divya Devaguptapu of Indian Fine Arts Academy, SD, that Pt. Ravi Shankar was looking for vocalists to join his ensemble. I was asked to send a vocal sample for audition, and the rest just fell in place...
September 12th 2009 is a day I can never forget: the day I first met and spent an evening learning some music with the Sitar legend Pt. Ravi Shankar at his house. I was elated, nervous, excited and dazed, all at the same time. I was at a loss for words for a while... Guruji- as everyone there calls him- was ever so warm, affectionate and encouraging though. Nearing 90, his energy and drive are unbelievable. Sukanyaji and Anoushka Shankar were also extremely warm and friendly. (So was their cute little dog Sukhee) There were four other singers, one flutist and one violinist that day. We were going to meet the rest of the artistes in a couple of days, from when all-day rehearsals for a week would start at Guruji's house.
September 14 was when the rehearsals started full swing. Ah, what an atmosphere! I'd never felt so fortunate before... Here, before me, were some of the finest artistes- many from India, some from US. About twenty of us put together in a room doing music all day... I have no words for the experience- felt blessed. Guruji would sit in front and teach us the songs with Anoushka beside him, helping him out. (She was going to conduct the ensemble at the show) Every piece was composed and hand-picked by him and such a beauty! All of them were wonderful raags including Khamaj, Pilu, Bihag, Maj Khamaj, Yaman..And not to mention a small Carnatic piece from "Raghunayaka" in Hamsadhwani!
What I loved most about the experience was that I had the opportunity to spend a whole week with these wonderful artistes, listening to their renditions all day long. I am so glad that the whole thing was an amazing learning experience for me: I'm now able to appreciate Hindustani music a lot, lot more! About half of us were from Carnatic background and the other half, Hindustani. It was a beautiful exchange of ideas and styles. I could clearly see, beyond a point, the two genres seamlessly merging into one another when you could no longer tell the difference.
Same with the people :) Keeping with the spirit of Guruji's household (with Sukanyaji being a Tamilian) the two languages we could predominantly hear among the artistes as well, were Bengali and Tamil :) It was a lot of fun, each pulling the others' leg now and then. And out of the blue, Guruji and Anoushka would surprise us with a a word or two in Tamil! Ah... I could go on and on about the rehearsals.
We were taken to LA a couple of days prior to the day of the show. Between rehearsals, a bunch of us would go on long walks looking around Hollywood and we had a great time.
September 20th, the day of the event, finally dawned. That morning we had a couple of sound checks in the bowl and that was a tremendous experience! If the empty auditorium could give me goosebumps, I was wondering what it would be like that evening, with the seats full. Even a seemingly insignificant thing like the sound check proved to be an absolutely delightful experience, with each artiste getting to sing/ play anything they wanted, individually for a couple of minutes. Everyone was at their creative best and for once I actually wished the sound check never got over!
Soon it was evening- and we were all finally on the stage. As the dais turned around facing the audience, Guruji was right there in the front, smiling... Finally we were there, ready to present his creations in front of a 25-30,000 strong audience- the feeling I had is indescribable. Never before had I faced such a large crowd. The half hour of our performance went off very well with Anoushka conducting it. The end had a kind of "thani avarthanam" with the dhol and dhaak and was amazing, making all of us want to get off stage and start dancing! The resounding applause after each item was exhilarating- however small a part of the ensemble I was.
And oh, my evening was made extra special by my mom who made it to the show! And thanks so much Karthik for being there :)
Unfortunately, we could not record the event, but some good soul in the audience ("bharathwaj" on youtube) has recorded and uploaded on youtube. Thanks to him, here is a small sample of the event. (You can find most of the other parts too on youtube) Since I guess this was shot from the left side, the right half of the stage is not very well covered. Nevertheless, many thanks to the person who uploaded all the videos.
The rest of the event had Kailash Kher, a Rajasthani folk dance and music, Anoushka Shankar's solo performance and a Bollywood dance item. They were all very enjoyable and needless to say, Anoushka's was a stunner.
At the end of it, I was left wondering if I deserved any of it... anyway, I'll profusely thank my stars (or whatever!) for this totally beautiful, memorable experience with one of the greatest legends of our times, Pt. Ravi Shankar.