When the mood blends perfectly well with the melody and note after note gets delivered with the highest dedication to form and purity; when an artist’s mastery over his craft is as mesmerising as the ease and panache with which audience-engagement is ensured … then the result is an all-encompassing sensual, aural experience that transcends spatio-temporal reality and begins to transfer one into the realm of pure magic.
Listening to ace tabla player Pandit Bickram Ghosh and vocalist maestro Ustad Rashid Khan at the Emirates International School auditorium in Dubai late on Friday evening — for what was the stalwarts’ first joint concert in the UAE — one cannot but admit that ‘Surtaal’, as the concert was rightly nomenclatured, not only exceeded a music lover’s expectations, several times over, from two of the biggest names in Hindustani classical music, but also whet one’s appetite for much more in the months ahead.
Friday’s joint concert was set in two parts. The first session was more of an exposition through the rhythmic concept of ‘grooves’, as Ghosh succinctly put it. The mood for the evening was set with a fusion version of ‘Albela Sajan ...’ while the standout moment came in the form of a unique version of The Dance of Shiva from Ghosh’s Rhythmscape, set to Raaga Jog, with Khan’s voice weaving in and out. With ‘Naina Apne Piya Se Lagaye Re ...’ Khan — from the Rampur-Sahaswan gharaana (specialist school of musical tradition) and Ghosh — whose compositions are strongly influenced by the thumris (light romantic songs) and khayals (a traditional light song from the north of the Indian subcontinent) of the Patiala gharaana — revealed the full repertoire of their masterclass.
The second half of the concert was dedicated to pure fusion, with the focus being primarily on an extempore jam session, whereby, the sarangi, harmonium, tabla and also the keyboard combined with the vocals, with ‘grooves’ so to speak, to create a holistic, fusion mosaic.
“Every single thing that we do here this evening, is set to raag [a melodic framework] and taal [rhythm and form] — the two pillars of Indian classical music. What we do on stage as fusion has its roots in the very essence of Indian classical music. Age-old instruments such as the sarangi, harmonium, tabla combine with the songs, with ‘grooves’, to create this new format. Content-wise it’s the same — the same bandishes [a fixed, melodic composition] the same thumris — but in a different texture,” was how Ghosh explained the format and its execution for the evening’s esoteric ensemble.
As a case in point, one is tempted to refer to Ustad Khan’s rendition of ‘Saiyaan Bina Ghar Suna.’ After an almost haunting, lilting start, with Murad Ali setting the mood with his measured play of the sarangi, as the powerful vocals of Khan took over and went on to reach a crescendo at ‘Aag Lagey Uss Sawan Ko ...’, Vinay Mishra’s harmonium tugged at one’s heartstrings, even as Ghosh’s dexterous touches on the tabla and the electric drum — sometimes in unison — transformed ‘Saiyaan Bina Ghar Suna into an immersive experience for the listeners.
Later, as Khan obliged audience requests for the immensely popular ‘Yaad Piya Ki Aaye...’ midway through the rendition, Pulak chipped in with his keyboard to give a time-tested, evergreen thumri a whole new, more contemporary dimension. The same verve and creativity of fusion music was on display during the jugalbandi (a duet play by two solo musicians) when Ghosh on the tabla and Satyajit on the drums set the pulse racing, with Ghosh even using his face to produce an eclectic mix of sounds that blended perfectly well with the format — that of getting a musical conversation going through onomatopoeia.
In a nutshell, Friday’s concert was in every sense a treat for a music connoisseur. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to watch and listen to two of the most accomplished names in Indian classical music giving out a joint concert. But along with the maestros, there was someone else who too won hearts at the concert — Armaan Khan, the 15-year-old son of Khan. Ably accompanying his father in some of the vocals, Armaan — with such finesse at such a young age — is a gem to watch out for in the days ahead.