Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another playback song

Here's a glimpse of another song I sang a few lines for in a Telugu film "Chinna Cinema", composed by Praveen Lakkaraju with lead vocals by Srinivas Josyula.

I also sang a couple of lines for a montage song in the same film:

Quite excited that I get to share credits with SPB on the same album! Probably the closest I can get to the legend.
Listen to all songs here:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Of rakti, scales, and hedonism

!Rambler Alert!

The motivation for this piece really was the question, "What ragas do I like, and why?" I don't think I can come up with even a remotely satisfying answer to that. In fact, I'm not sure if it's even possible to answer this, but I've found it quite interesting and stimulating to mull over the question (like a zillion other pointless ones) and I believe I stumbled upon some intriguing observations. Well, at least intriguing for me. Right from when I was a child, I've been drawn to certain ragas that I believe have a certain kind of "personality". But rather than trying to characterize this personality, which seems daunting, let me try to explain with examples. When I was little, Hamsadhwani was an absolute favorite. Natural, I guess: it's undoubtedly a "happy" raga, and the very first krithi I learnt was in this raga (Vinayaka). As I grew older, Hamsadhwani started seeming kinda mundane, but I believe my new preferences were still similar in a sense: for many many years now, I've died for Bahudhari, Hamsanadham, Nalinakanthi, Ranjani, Dharmavati, Varamu and Bindumalini. This is surely not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. All of these have an almost visceral effect on me: I feel physically exhilarated/ stimulated/ touched; and Nalinakanti is the most strongly evocative of these (Check out this (compositionally very simple) piece, that I can listen to endlessly, while almost feeling my heart leaping.) On the other hand, ragas like Thodi, Begada, Reetigowlai, Bhairavi and to an extent even Sahana, don't have this effect. I respect and revere them. I fear (yes) and love them, but I'm not sure they give me the kind of "high" that the former set of ragas give me. The difference in preference was way stronger when I was younger - I just wouldn't be able to appreciate these latter ragas. I guess age and experience have helped me mature - I'm glad that now there are certain pieces in Bhairavi for instance, that I absolutely love. Based on these preferences, many connoisseurs of Carnatic music might not consider my breed "serious"/ "deep"/ "pure". Here comes what's most interesting to me. I feel that the former ragas are in a sense hedonistic. The focus is on strong emotional appeal, if not always pleasure. Well, I could say that ultimately it all comes down to pleasure in some sense: even Shubhapantuvarali evokes a kind of a pleasure - through its heaviness - but that's different from the pleasure that Nalinakanti brings about. Ragas like Bhairavi on the other hand seem to be somewhat on a "higher" plane. And it seems to me that this hedonism has been systematically curbed - just like hedonism in life in general. Pedagogically, we are (may be tacitly) encouraged to appreciate the more "serious" ragas like Reetigowlai or Bhairavi. They take musical maturity, conditioning, depth and involvement to appreciate. Of course, I need to keep throwing disclaimers throughout this piece that these claims are not grounded in any kind of experiment - neurological or sociological - but are just strong-ish hunches I have.

This Bhairavi-group of ragas are what are usually referred to as "rakti" ragas. (Some like Thodi are also "ghana" ragas, and may be not all ghana ragas are considered rakti ragas, but I won't go into that here.) Vidushi R. Vedavalli lucidly explains what rakti is in this Sruti article. Basically, rakti ragas are defined more by the raga "swaroopa" or form, rather than by the swaras alone. I like to think of this idea as a kind of 'holism': in rakti ragas, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. For some more philosophical jargon (sorry, can't help flaunting my disciplinary bias): rakti ragas don't reduce to the swaras, and don't supervene on the swaras. They have a distinct identity that emerges in terms of phrases, usages, prayogams, gamakams etc. and the mere scales of these ragas cannot fully capture these facets. My feeling is that the aptitude for these ragas is rooted in a deep reverence/ musical intelligence/ musical discipline. I feel it's unlikely for someone to say they get a plain "kick" out of, say, Huseni. (Of course, a LOT depends on the kind of notes too: Begada roughly belonging to the major scale certainly sounds happier than Huseni, so rakti apart, I'm sure a "theory" about preferences needs to be more nuanced and account for this point. Clearly, I am glossing over details, but given the sloppy theorist that I am, let me proceed anyway.) But interestingly, I feel in musical experience that involves tremendous amounts of conditioning - as is often the case with a Carnatic rasika - it is so hard to distinguish between "pure emotion" and "conditioned emotion". I mean, someone might say they are really touched by Begada and argue that they are as touched by it as I am by say, Nalinakanthi (I'm quite sure my dad would say that, and he was never trained in music - but he's of course a self-trained listener and rasika). Of course, mental states are entirely personal and we'll never know, but I'm still going to (audaciously) try to argue that Begada-appreciation is finer, more nuanced and more conditioned than Nalinakanthi-appreciation. To bring back the hedonism metaphor, the liking for the latter seems kinda "baser", less refined as far as music goes. Now what's curious about this is that as Smt Vedavalli says, the very meaning of rakti is that which is "pleasing and engages the mind joyfully": "ranjayati iti raktihi". Ha, so much for my insistence on almost the reverse. I have a half-baked response to this as well, but I'll spare you for now and move on.

One thing that's common to my "adrenalin-pumping" ragas is that they're all scale-based. I have no idea why. It's also indeed puzzling why/ how a "characterless" Chandrakouns/ Charukeshi/ Gambheera Nattai/ Srothaswini tug at my heart way more than any standard rakti raga that's supposed to be full of character. Well that's the question at the heart of this piece and evidently, I still don't have a clue as to how to answer it. It's also very curious that usually, in almost everything I do, I'm way more analytical than emotional. So is it probably that these scale-based ragas are actually intellectually stimulating for me? And this intellectual stimulation is somehow translating to emotional appeal in a way I can't tell? Likely. All I can say I guess is that I like the non-traditional appeal of these ragas.

It's of course heartening that many top notch artists indulge in a Charukeshi or Srothaswini for an RTP (yes, "indulge"; and that word can only be used for these kind of ragas: you can't possibly "indulge" in a Bhairavi lest you make her angry). Right now, I'm getting back to a breathtaking Charukeshi RTP by Jayanthi Kumaresh.

Oh, and check out this interesting blog post by Sanjay Subrahmanyam on this topic.