It takes two to tango

Shailaja Khanna | Updated on April 14, 2021

Music meet: Mumbai-based Vivid Arts and Entertainment has been organising duets between North and South Indian classical musicians for 10 years

Expect the unexpected when musicians of different traditions come together for a duet

* Cross-genre duets have their limitations

* Jugalbandis take different forms; in some an attempt is made to merge the music into one unique whole

* The concerts would now be aired on different online platforms


A musical duet doubles one’s aural pleasures. Jugalbandi concerts — featuring two musicians — tend to bring out the best in both the performers — the competitive edge acts as a spur, resulting usually in an interchange of spontaneous inspiration. But when the duet is between musicians of different traditions, the unexpected and unknown can also happen. One was lucky to witness this at the Uttar Dakshin (North-South) concerts — held over four weekends in February and March.

Mumbai-based Vivid Arts and Entertainment has been organising duets between North and South Indian classical musicians for 10 years. “The two systems of classical music have so much in common; they have sprung from the same roots, yet today have totally separate audiences. Our aim is to unite the listeners,” says V Narhari, the brain behind the venture.

It has not been a cakewalk, he adds, for cross-genre duets have their limitations. “Every classical musician is not comfortable collaborating musically with another from an alien tradition; the choice of ragas is also limited as there are only a handful of ragas known to both systems, plus the system of rhythm (laya) is different too. So we need to convince musicians to experiment on stage,” Narhari says.

This time, because of Covid-19, there were added problems. Live concerts were held in four cities after the organisers were advised that it would be safe to hold such events. The concerts, featuring eight main artistes, were also ticketed for an online audience. “The audiences in each city couldn’t wait to attend the concerts after such a long gap,” he adds.

Jugalbandis take different forms; in some an attempt is made to merge the music into one unique whole by adding to each other’s musical exploration; in others, the artists retain their own individual interpretations of the notes, letting the music proceed on two tracks. A third form gives prominence to one of the genres. The four Uttar Dakshin duets saw all of these.

The tone was set by the first concert in Mumbai in February, featuring sitarist Ustad Shahid Parvez and violinist Vidwan R Kumaresh. Both have collaborated before, so there was a perceptible camaraderie. The expert strumming of the sympathetic tarab (resonating) wires by the Ustad unmistakably announced the raga — Bageshwari. Bageshwari is a North Indian raga adopted also in the Carnatic system. The understanding between the two maestros resulted in the music flowing seamlessly. A gracious touch was Ustad Shahid Parvez strumming his chikaari wire to provide a rhythmic background to Kumaresh’s violin. The chikaari strings, which keep tempo, are not present in violins. Mridangam accompaniment by the unparalleled Patri Satish Kumar added a different dimension to Kumaresh’s movements; the Carnatic style of accompaniment has a layered richness that is hard to match.

Perfect pair: Jayateerth Mevundi (left) and Abhishek Raghuram presented a vocal jugalbandhi at the Uttar-Dakshin concert in Hyderabad


In the vocal jugalbandi between Jayateerth Mevundi (Hubli) and Abhishek Raghuram (Chennai) in Hyderabad, it seemed at times the North Indian style dominated, with Abhishek following the style of note movements of Jayateerth; the reverse does not happen as the Carnatic style of embellishment requires specific training. Both the Carnatic accompanists, the incomparable violinist Vidwan HN Bhaskar and Vidwan V Praveen on the mridangam, occasionally followed Jayateerth’s voice, too, in welcome sporadic interactions. This is what one hopes for in a successful cross genre interaction.

The third jugalbandi was in Bengaluru, Bangalore, between Mumbai-based flautist Pandit Ronu Mazumdar and mandolin exponent Vidwan U Rajesh from Chennai. Both maestros have collaborated many times, and their musical rapport on stage was exhilarating. They played solos first, then a duet in raga Charukeshi (a raga adopted in the North from the South). Mazumdar shared with the audience how artistes have missed the physical presence of a live audience. Spontaneous reactions are vital for musicians, he said.

The last jugalbandi in Delhi — between Chennai-based vocalist Vidushi Sudha Ragunathan and Kolkata-based guitarist Pt Debashish Bhattacharya — was the most innovative. The pitch adjustment was challenging — Bhattacharya had to make physical changes on his instrument to tune it from the usual ‘D’ to a ‘G’ to match Ragunathan’s voice. They chose a raga common to both systems — Kafi/Karaharapriya. The composition was in a nine-beat time cycle. To match the Carnatic beat emphasis, Ustad Rafiuddin Sabri on the tabla had to virtually create a new taal, as the existing North Indian nine-beat pattern didn’t work for the composition. Bhattacharya’s embellishments, in a tappa style, matched Ragunathan’s. This concert was dominated by the Carnatic tradition. Impressively, the duo had never performed before together.

The concerts would now be aired on different online platforms, Narhari says. “In a post-Covid-19 world, sharing music can no longer be confined,” he holds. “Of course, a live audience is necessary to bring out the best performances; but, subsequently, there are so many options of sharing the music.”

Shailaja Khanna is based in Delhi and writes on music

Published on April 14, 2021

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