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Memorable Musical Journey

It’s an exciting opportunity to see an impressive musicologist and a sold-out artist that everyone enjoys,” says Prabha Gopal, President of Bay Area Performing Arts, to introduce a double-header concert scheduled for the conclusion of Navratri. The morning session, entitled Mysteries of Morning Ragas, features a lecture and demonstration by Pandit Vijay Kichlu. The afternoon session features a concert by Mahesh Kale’s Melange, a group of musicians that cover the sweep of India’s classical music tradition. Held at the India Community Center, the day “in spirit is not just entertainment. Both sessions will stay with the audience. They will take not just enjoyment but also new information home with them,” says Mahesh Kale, Founder of the Indian Classical Music and Arts Foundation.

“I saw Vijay Kichlu last year talk about thumri and it was fantastic. This talk is an excellent opportunity to find out why morning ragas are so important,” says Gopal.  Kichlu, the founder and for 24 years the Executive Director of the Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata, is widely recognized as a leading vocalist of Agra gaikee. Taught by Pandit Nathuram Sharma, Ustad Moinuddin and Aminuddin Dagar, and Ustad Latafat Hussain Khan, Kichlu is celebrated for his talent in alapchari in the traditional dhrupad style and compositions in madhya laya and boltaans in gharana gaikee. With multiple presentations on All India Radio and Doordarshan, Kichlu has traveled the world lecturing and demonstrating musicology. “He is a serious master, and this is a good chance to learn about how these ragas came about and how they’re connected to the Vedas,” comments Gopal. Kichlu will be joined for the morning session by Sanjukta Biswas, a “mesmerizing vocalist,” comments Gopal, specializing in the Bengali tradition.

In the afternoon “Mahesh is presenting the colors of Indian classical music,” says Gopal. A disciple of Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, Kale is renowned for not only his voice but also the versatility of his performances. His acclaimed debut at the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival was in 2011. Following last year’s sold-out show in the Bay Area, Melange toured the East Coast and India performing for crowds of up to 5,000. Billed as “khayal to tarana, thumri to ghazal, sufi to bhajan” Melange puts a dozen talented Indian classical musicians on stage together to explore the sweep of South Asia’s varied traditions. “It’s a rejuvenation, because the pieces are not fixed. There are eleven to thirteen people on stage, and they all change, mix, and match what they’re playing,” explains Kale. An ever-changing visual backdrop frames the performers, as Kale works to innovate the traditional stage presentation of classical music. “We are trying to enhance the visual element of the performance while not diluting anything,” says Kale. He will be joined on stage by Melange’s narrator, Ashvini Bhave, a veteran Bollywood actress and critically acclaimed film maker. Salar Nader will join the group as a percussionist, and Vivek Datar will be on harmonium.
“When it started, it was just a bare idea. But if you wish for good and keep doing things the right way it will happen…and it just happened to me,” explains Kale of the birth of Indian Classical Music and Arts Foundation. One of the ways ICMA tries to “keep doing things the right way” is to provide the older generation access to Melange. “We went to all the senior centers last year, giving heavily discounted tickets and providing free rides and chai,” to provide older South Asians access Melange’s presentation. ICMA was formed to “present and honor culture the way it’s meant to be over the years,” says Kale. It is easy “to worry that the performance will look good, that everything will run on schedule, but then you stop about the strong cultural sense [of what you’re doing]” explains Kale.

Beyond Melange, it has been a busy year for Kale and his nonprofit. Recently Kale gave a talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco about classical music, a part of his ever-present mission to reach out and introduce new audiences to the Indian classical tradition. Kale has also partnered with Professor Anna Schultz to create a joint ICMA-Stanford production. One of the highlights, however, was a performance at the Ali Akbar Khan School of Music, “It was so nice to sit on the same stage as all those [famous] performers, knowing they’d been there before,” says Kale.

“We’re offering a limited number of free student admissions for the morning lecture and demonstration…because it’s so important for students to come and listen to this great man,” says Gopal. She is the person responsible for bringing the entire event together. For 25 years she has brought almost every major Indian artist to Bay Area stages, from Ustad Bismillah Khan to Ustad Zakir Hussain. Music and performance is clearly an important part of her upbringing, “At the age of three I sat on the carpet and listened to classical performances for up to four hours,” says Gopal, who has also had the opportunity to perform in front of Pandit Nehru. Although she’s appeared on KRON-TV’s Bay Area Backroads, and hosted her own KPFA show on ragas, BAPA is clearly her passion. “It’s an opportunity to bring artists, some of them not well-known, to the Bay Area,” says Gopal. It also offers her the opportunity to support charitable work with organizations such as the India Community Center, the American India Foundation, and Narika.

“It’s such a collage and cornucopia of music,” says Gopal of the combined show of Pandit Vijay Kichlu and Mahesh Kale’s Melange. It’s also the perfect way to bring friends and family together for Navratri, “We will make sure we finish by five so everyone can go celebrate the festival together that night,” concludes Gopal.

October 13. Mysteries of Morning Ragas, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. $20. Melange, Flavors of Indian Classical Music, 2:30 p.m. to 5  p.m. $35. India Community Center, 525 Los Coches St., Milpitas. (925) 947-1908.