Friday, March 23, 2012

8th Annual Ashu Babu Memorial Concert

March 17 was my Guru-ji, Late Pandit Kaviraj Ashutosh Bhattacharya's birthday and every year since his passing his students have organised a memorial concert on Tulsi Ghat on this day. (Click here for blogs on previous years' concerts: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006) This year's concert was, as always, very well organised and enjoyed by a full house of attentive listeners. It opened with a splendid vocal concert by Smt Kalapini Komkali, including a gorgeous bhajan in 7 beats. Then followed a powerful tabla solo in Benares style by Sri Arvind Kumar Azad, who also accompanied the final item, Kathak dance by Pt Kishen Mohan Mishra and family.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Holi season concerts and fun

No I didn't go out and play Holi in Varanasi this year. In keeping with our usual policy of keeping clean and calm, Yuki and I stayed in and did a big yoga session on the morning of Holi. However, around Holi there was lots of fun to be had in Varanasi.

A couple of days beforehand our friend Gumi (a bansuri player from Kyoto) organised a concert called "Namaste Mela" featuring foreign students of Indian classical music, in which I accompanied Tetsu Takana, a sitar student of Pt Shiv Nath Mishra. Along with one practice, it was the first time we'd met or played together, but hopefully not the last! Very enjoyable.

Hannah played very beautiful alap on Mohan veena

Gumi played Holi in the chai break

Shen and Tetsu playing together for the first time

On the afternoon of Holi it's traditional to put on new clothes and go visiting friends. I took this photo of Yuki and Nao on the way to visit their Guru-Ma.

Holi is on the full moon

An atmosphere of wildness lingers on for a few days after Holi, helped by traditional drumming groups like this (and mobile DJs).

A few days after Holi it was March 11, the first anniversary of the great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011. Many Japanese people in Varanasi gathered at Dasaswamedh Ghat to pray together and to sing a Japanese folk song, "Furusato" ("Homeland"). Yuki was asked to play the harmonium and lead the singing!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Some Varanasi concerts

I arrived in Varanasi the day before Shivaratri ("Shiva's night"), one of the biggest festivals in the City of Shiva. There are usually two big music festivals around Shivaratri: the Dhrupad Mela (now in its 37th year) on Tulsi Ghat, and the more recent khayal event near Durga Temple, sponsored by Jalan's. As my wife Yuki is studying Dhrupad vocal she spent all her time at the Dhrupad Mela - see her blog (many photos, text in Japanese). I visited the Jalan's concert for a couple of items but was mostly disappointed. The sponsor's son's singing sent me out the door. Talk about nepotism.

Meanwhile at Dhrupad Mela... Yuki performed with her Guru-ji Dr Ritwik Sanyal's student group and did very well.

Two days later I saw Tahir Qawwal's excellent Qawwali group Fanna-fi-Allah at a guest house in Assi. Tahir spends parts of the year in Varanasi, USA and Byron Bay, so he is a nearby musical friend for me when our schedules coincide. I've seen and accompanied Tahir in khayal and light classical (in which he is also excellent) but this was the first I'd heard his Qawwali. The atmosphere was electric and uplifting. Kudos to Hari Om Hari on the tabla.

The following day we were blessed to be invited to a special ceremonial concert. My friends Debapriya Adhikary (vocal) and Samanwaya Sarkar (sitar), aka Debapriya-Samanwaya, had their gandabandhan initiation with Benares vocal legend Smt Girija Devi. Many local music legends were in attendance. (I've written previous blogs with Deb-Sam.)

A sarody time in Kolkata

Here I am in India again. As I write this, Varanasi (and most of North India) is getting excited Holi with fires set up all over town ready to burn tonight, and colours in stock for tomorrow morning's water battles (which I'll stay safely away from inside, thanks).

I flew in through Kolkata and spent a few days there in order to catch up with some musical friends. It turned out that everyone I met was a sarod player! On the first day I was invited by Facebook friend Apratim Majumdar to practice with him. He gave me some good advice about making tihais in khanda jati (dividing the beat into 5).

That night I visited Pratik Shrivastav and tabla player Chiranjit Mukherjee, whom I met at Woodford Festival in December where they were playing in Earthsync Collective. Pratik and Chiranjit were practising for their concert to be held the next day at Ramakrishna Mission, so I was only able to play with Pratik a little that night. It was refreshing to be in that musical family atmosphere. Pratik's mother (a sitarist) was also listening to the practice and gave some nice ideas.

The following day I caught up with Japanese sarod player Baku Hirakawa, who like Pratik is a student of Pt Tejendra Narayan Majumdar. There are quite a few very dedicated Japanese students of Indian classical music who spend a lot of time in south Kolkata doing hard practice and taking lessons with great masters.

It wasn't far from there to Ramakrishna Mission where Pratik and Chiranjit were giving their concert that night. Guru-ji Tejendra Narayan Majumdar was in attendance along with great tabla player Subhankar Banerjee. I also bumped into another Japanese sarodist, Yasu Fujibayashi, though there was no time for us to practise together before I headed to Varanasi the next day. Hopefully when I'm in Kyoto in April!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Festival of Tibet 2012

On Sat 4 Feb Tibet2Timbuk2 gave two performances at the annual Festival of Tibet in Brisbane Powerhouse. We were joined for both concerts by special guests Peter Hunt (trumpet) and Katherine Philp (cello).

The first performance was a free show on the Turbine Platform as part of BEMAC's Planet Series of monthly world music concerts at the Powerhouse. The platform was packed as were the two levels of balconies above the platform! Fantastic response.

In the second concert, in the Visy Theatre, we provided musical accompaniment along with the Tashi Lhunpo Monks for a spoken word performance by Tibetan activist and writer Tenzin Tsundue. In the 90 minute show he talked about his experiences as a Tibetan in exile growing up in India, believing in the cause of Free Tibet, walking to Tibet over the Chinese border, being interrogated in jail in Lhasa and later in an Indian jail when marching to the border at the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was a very powerful performance and a great honour and experience for us to be part of.

Many thanks to Tenzin Choegyal for organising this fantastic yearly festival and creating such interesting projects. Thanks also to Carolyn Stubbin of Perfect Potion (main festival sponsors) for these lovely photos.

Katherine Philp - cello