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Melodic confluence of styles

GOWRI RAMNARAYAN

A seamless blend of genres marked the unusual vocal-flute jugalbandhi by Bombay Jayashri and Pandit Ronu Majumdar.



SWEET AND SERENE: Bombay Jayashri and Ronu Majumdar at the performance PHOTO: R. Ragu

Jugalbandis are all about fierce exchanges and frenetic crescendos, right? Not in this unusual duet of voice and flute by Bombay Jayashri Ramnath and Pandit Ronu Majumdar, which launched The Hindu Friday Review November Fest at the Music Academy on Friday last.

"In a true jugalbandi, two artistes must play like one. We will try to offer a bouquet where every flower is a swar," Majumdar announced at the start. His confidence was not misplaced. The mood of their recital remained sweet and serene, the pace measured and mellow, the rapport tender and trustful. Not a single flower was crushed in the process.

Powerful expressions

The Carnatic raga Saraswati was their first choice. Clarity of thought and power of expression marked Majumdar's alaap from the very first note. Jayashri's lower octave singing heightened the resonance as the four-foot long flute poured melody, matching the vocal karvais of middle octave shadja and lower panchama in different registers.

Muthuswami Dikshitar's kriti "Saraswati namostute" in a six-beat tala cycle anchored exchanges of swara passages. Here, the smaller flute accented rhythm patterns. There was nothing artificial or staccato, and due respect was given to ragabhava.

Both artistes were on even keel in raga Mayamalavagowla — Kalingada to the pandit. This was a contrastive choice on many counts, including the suddha madhyamam after the pratimadhyamam of Saraswati. Wistfulness was the keynote in the alaap. The jugalbandi format gave Jayashri an opportunity to explore the raga in a way wholly different from what the kutcheri format allows, and with a slow deliberation now out of vogue in the south. The raga being homeground to Majumdar, he could, by turns, be playful, plaintive and peaceful, weaving in little unexpected twists.

Tyagaraja's "Meru samaana" extended the inner quietness, with greater flow and continuity, as the pauses were filled by mridangam and tabla. Majumdar's singing of "Maan abhimaan..." (Shed the ego and immerse yourself in music) reflected the spirit of the musicians.

In music recitals, it is not easy to recreate the performers' and audience involvement after an interval. Jayashri and Majumdar achieved it with Jayjayvanti. Imported to Carnatic music by Muthuswami Dikshitar as Dvijavanti, the raga retains its northern connection even in the transference. Alternating essays and mutual support in the duet overcame the limited scope for alapana in the Carnatic genre. Dvijavanti is also dangerously close to old ragas such as Sahana and Kedaragowlai. But Jayashri permitted no straying into alien regions. More admirably, she maintained the Carnatic mould of the raga by following the gamakas and contours established in the Dikshitar compositions. She also performed the difficult feat of maintaining the slow grandeur of Dikshitar's tempo in the alapana. Soaked in rakti, Majumdar's alaap had a mesmerising continuity.

This was soul music, meditative in tone. The middle speed gave Majumdar the opportunity to use the special techniques devised for instrumental music, to match the vocalist's tanam singing. Jayashri joined Majumdar when he sang "More mandir ajahoon nahin aaye" in teen taal, before both plunged into improvisations, trading swaras in sheer joy.

Percussionists Satish Kumar (mridangam) and Ramkumar Mishra (tabla) added to the exhilaration with sharp but restrained rhythms. The second round had patterns more varied, before the crescendo fusillade. Gandhiji's favourite bhajan by the Gujarati saint poet Narsimehta concluded the recital. Here, Khammaj cast its glow, especially as the flute evoked the sheen of folk tunes and the voice sought nuances.

Through the concert, the artistes enjoyed each other's music. More important, each adapted seamlessly to meld with the other's genre, without sacrificing individual identity. Ronu Majumdar's collaboration showed his empathy with Carnatic music; he was even able to touch on Carnatic gamakas here and there, suggestively, not intrusively. Having been trained in Hindustani music, Jayashri made the coordination seem like child's play. Her strength was in resisting imitation, even in Jayjayvanti and Khammaj.

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