Asha Ramesh is getting ready for her upcoming concert, “Navneet Sangeet,” to be held on Jan. 20. The concert is a fundraiser for Nandala Mission to support the Suraksha Dialysis Center in Chennai. Asha will be accompanied by the talented brother-sister duo of Anuradha Sridhar on the violin, and Sriram Brahmanandam on the mridangam, while Ravi Gutala will provide tabla accompaniment for pieces sung in the Hindustani style. The concert, which will include both traditional Karnatik music pieces and Hindustani pieces, reflects Asha’s core beliefs. “Music is a universal language, and several formative experiences come together when I plan a concert which includes songs from many Indian languages. My formal training has been in Karnatik music, while I listened to my sister practice Hindustani music. I am a South Indian who grew up in North India. There was always an openness to speaking Hindi, and to absorbing the best that the North had to offer in terms of music. When I am asked to define where I come from, I answer that I am a ‘true’ Indian,” she says with a laugh. When asked about the differences between Karnatik and Hindustani music, she peppers her impromptu demonstration of the two styles with these thoughts. “The differences start with the alapana. The Karnatik phrasing is crisp, and there is a rigidity in the way the raga swaras are delineated. Fluidity in the raga phrasing marks a Hindustani musician’s alapana rendering. Then, of course, there are differences in pronunciation. ‘Ri’ in Karnatik music becomes a ‘re’ in the Hindustani style. As a student, I wanted to avoid the situation where one style’s nuances would seep into another, making it a wasteful exercise to try and master both.” Reminiscing about her experiences learning Karnatik music under D.K. Jayaraman in Chennai, Asha says that, “for my Guru, shruthi alignment, clear pronunciation, appropriate bhava, and maintaining a style that did not rely on speedy phrasings that went up and down the scale were important. I use this to guide me, and take care when presenting songs from different languages. If I do not pronounce words in an unfamiliar language correctly, there might be an audience member who will tune me out for the rest of the concert based on his knowledge of the language. Planning a concert like this which tries to reach out to people from different language and cultural groups entails more hard work.” Having explored the work of many Indian composers, any favorites? I ask. “Muthuswami Dikshitar,” she says promptly, adding, “I love singing abhangs too. They have an upbeat quality that matches my personality.” As I drove away after our conversation, I was reminded of a Bhimsen Joshi concert I attended in Baltimore 10 years ago, accompanied by a friend who understood Hindustani music. Being familiar with Karnatik music, I whispered to him anxiously between songs, not wanting to miss any tid-bit that he might have to share about the music. After some time, I found him with his eyes closed, completely enjoying the music. And I? I was sitting on the edge of my seat, worried that I might miss some important nuance that would help me enjoy the concert. Then, I realised how silly my quest had been. I had equated understanding the style’s technical nuances to an enjoyment of the music. I put the brochure inside, and let the music flow into me. Asha’s concert will have songs from about eight Indian languages with traditional pieces from Karnatik music followed by bhajans, and abhangs in the Hindustani style of music. Having listened to Asha for many years, I can imagine that what will remain in listeners’ hearts will be her voice that soars to connect with the Divine in a sincere way. Does it truly matter whether the language is Telugu or Bengali when you try and invoke a spiritual space through music? Try not to affix labels of “Karnatik musician” versus “Hindustani musician,” or “Telugu” versus “Bengali.” Let the music truly flow into you. Do not repeat the mistake I made in that Bhimsen Joshi concert … Nirupama Vaidhyanathan …………………………………………………………………… Saturday, Jan. 20, 5 p.m., CET Performing Arts Center, 701 Vine St., San Jose. $15 general, $10 seniors, students, and balcony seating, children under 5 free, $100 sponsor (2 prime seats). (408) 255-8526, (408) 720-8437, (510) 818-0092. Nandalala Mission funds the Suraksha Dialysis Center in Chennai, which serves poor people who receive dialysis at the subsidized cost of Rs. 500. It uses state-of-the-art medical equipment with an operational cost of $15,000 per month. An example of their educational programs for needy Indian children is the Childrens’ Club in Vijayanagar, Bangalooru where they provide childen with school supplies, and access to music, art, computer, and other classes. Local chapter of Nandalala Mission sponsors Matru Seva, where food is cooked and served in homeless shelters. They also sponsor youth concerts where children can perform music and other talent in a supportive environment. For more information about the Mission’s activities, email Anu Sundaresan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.nandalala.com
Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a writer, dancer and choreographer. She was the former editor of India Currents magazine. More by Nirupama V.