Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Sangeet Mela 2016 – Heaven on Earth for Music Lovers

Sangeet Mela, now in its third year, continued its trend of ever more fabulous Indian classical performances on Saturday 3rd September 2016 at Queensland Multicultural Centre. The high quality of each item kept the near capacity audience riveted to their seats, and there was a building sense of anticipation for the final “East Marries West” jugalbandi by international feature artists, Pt Shubhendra Rao (sitar) and Smt Saskia Rao-de Haas (cello) with Sri Zuheb Ahmed Khan (tabla).
Sangeet Mela 2016 MCs Ku Alka Jaggessar and Dr Helena Joshi

The festival opened with performances by young artists under 25 who had applied for the Sangeet Premi Rising Star Awards and the chance to perform at this prestigious festival. Mathuja Bavan, who won the award for Bharat Natyam dance in 2015, returned to the stage on violin, accompanying her younger sister Oaviya who received the award for Carnatic vocal. They were joined on mridangam by fellow award winner Hariharan Vaheesan and his guru Arthavan Selvanathan.mathujq-7
Rising Star Award winners Hariharan Vaheesan, Mathuja Bavan and Oaviya Bavan with Brisbane Indian Times editor Sri Umesh Chandra

The featured Rising Star in Hindustani vocal was Ananya Muralidharan, who enchanted the audience with her sweet voice, rendering Raga Bhimpalassi and a short bhajan most beautifully.
ananya-8Finally Vellantina Ravirajah received the award for Bharat Natyam dance and demonstrated her talent in abhinaya (facial expressions) and drama.tina-18We heartily congratulate this year’s Sangeet Premi Rising Star Award winners and look forward to many more great performances from them.
The afternoon session closed with a tabla solo by Sri Zuheb Ahmed Khan, a member of the founding family of Ajrara Gharana. His performance featured a dazzling range of compositions from off-beat Peshkar to rapid, flowing Rela and sent the audience to the interval eagerly awaiting more.zuheb-33
The second session opened with a captivating performance of Mohiniattam dance by Smt Bindu Rajendren, certainly one of the highlights in a day full of magic moments. Her padams“Karukarey Karmukil”, “Enthaho vallabha” and “Pandhattam” had the crowd enthralled with her wide palette of expressions from humorous to serene.bindu-94
Sangeet Premi Club president Yousuf Alikhan invited the audience to spread the word about Sangeet Mela and Indian classical music and dance.

Smt Charulatha Mani (Carnatic vocal), with accompaniment by interstate artists Sridhar Chari (mridangam) and Kranthi Kiran Mudigonda (violin), gave a consummate presentation of how so-called “difficult” classical music can be presented with mastery and grace, and become spell-binding for any listener regardless of background. She even had everyone laughing when she responded to some hesitant applause with “a few more years of Sangeet Mela and you’ll know when to clap!”
The sunset session was closed by young Sydney vocalist, Sri Sayak Bhattacharya presenting Raga Bihag followed by a short rendition of Raga Puriya Kalyan, with able accompaniment by local artists Sri Joseph Nand (harmonium) and Sri Shen Flindell (tabla). The ease and fluidity of his voice evoked his renowned guru Ustad Rashid Khan, and it was hard to believe that he grew up mainly in Sydney.sayak-bhattacharya-71sayak-bhattacharya-36
Festival director Sri Shen Flindell, Brisbane Indian Times editor Sri Umesh Chandra, Councillor Jonathan Sri of The Gabba Ward, and Sangeet Premi Club president Sri Yousuf Alikhan. 

Following the dinner interval, we had a special performance by Bharat Natyam dancer Ku Janani Ganapathi with a live ensemble of local and interstate musicians led by vocalist Smt Susmitha Ravi and natthuvangist Smt Usha Chivukula.
janaani-240Janani gave a masterful performance and the electricity manifest by the dancer and musicians creating their art simultaneously added to the excitement and attraction.
Councillor Jonathan Sri of The Gabba Ward addressed the audience while the stage was being set up for the final item. The Gabba Ward supported Sangeet Mela 2016 through the Suburban Development Fund. His comments about the importance of cultural events like Sangeet Mela and how it would be better to spend a bit less on sport and more on culture were very well received.dsc_0169-1
At last the moment every was waiting for had arrived. Having witnessed a wide variety of excellent Indian classical performances, everyone was in the mood for something really sensational and their expectations were exceeded by Sangeet Mela 2016’s grand finale.shubendra-rao-30Pt Shubhendra Rao, protegee of the great sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar, with his wife Smt Saskia Rao-de Haas, pioneer of the Indian cello, had the audience captivated from first to last with their jugalbandi. In particular, the sound of the cello with its long deep meends and beautiful tone, and Saskia’s lively and at times ecstatic demeanour really stole the show.saskia-rao-de-haas-173
The harmony and interplay between Shubhendra’s traditional Maihar gharana sitar and Saskia’s innovative cello demonstrated a couple deeply in love and honouring each other through their shared devotion to classical tradition. Alap-jor-jhala in Raga Jog was followed by vilambit and drut gats in Rag Charukeshi, where tablist Zuheb Ahmed Khan added tasteful accompaniment and thrilling solos. The artists responded to the standing ovation and calls for encore with a lovely short medley of Vaishnava Janato and a Bengali dhun.saskia-rao-de-haas-103
A day of smiles and thrills, meditation and ecstasy through music and dance had come to a close. The festival organisers Sangeet Premi Club and EthnoSuperLounge are very grateful to the sponsors and supporting organisations, artists, volunteers and ticket buyers for making it all possible. We eagerly await Sangeet Mela 2017.

Photo credits: Brian Sullivan and Barani Ganapathi. See many more photos in our Sangeet Mela 2016 Facebook album.

Sangeet Mela 2016 was supported by the Lord Mayor’s Suburban Initiative Fund and The Gabba Ward, and proudly sponsored by Platinum Sponsor SolarSpan, Australia’s favourite all-in-one patio roof, insulation & ceiling, giving superior comfort & style to your outdoor area. Also supported by Supporting Organisation Sahaja Yoga Meditation, Silver Sponsors Homeopathy for Health (Rukmani Paliwal), Sitar RestaurantTarget Travels & ToursYoga With Yolanda, IGA Forest Lake, and Exclusive Media Sponsors Brisbane Indian Times and Australian Indian Radio. Sangeet Mela is organised bySangeet Premi Club in conjunction with EthnoSuperLounge, and underwritten by a consortium of dedicated Indian classical music lovers including Australia-India Cultural Exchange AssociationTabla Wala Australia, and FinancialFirst.

Monday, July 25, 2016

9th Annual Ashu Babu Memorial Tabla School Concert

On the Saturday before Guru Purnima ("Guru's full moon"), 18th July 2016, we held our 9th annual tabla school concert at Queensland Multicultural Centre (aka BEMAC). We continued the trend of each and every student improving year by year, as well as the arrangements and presentations of all the group performances. This year we had 24 students performing, including 2 groups of 7 tabla students! A first this year was the inclusion of a short instrumental section presented by Murali Ramakrishnan (bansuri), accompanied by my senior student Sanjey Sivaananthan.

As always big thanks to our regular sponsors Brisbane Indian Times, our stalwart harmonium accompanist Joseph Nand, and dilruba accompanist Adarshbir Singh. Thanks to Brian Sullivan and Bappi Hussain for the photographs, to Susmitha Ravi for coordinating the meals, to all the students and parents for their tireless efforts, and to all the other supporters who came along to listen.

Opening bhajan by Rhea Ravi, with Sivamsan Senthilvasan on tabla

Beginners group: Guhanesh, Ashwin, Aarav, Rishab, Rohan, Pyara and Enan.

Juniors group: Ben, Ashwin, Aaryan, Aditya and Josh.

Varun Lal was my best student back in 2008, when he had a tragic car accident which left him unable to use his left side. He has been learning tabla again for the last few years and is doing great.

Tabla solo in jhaptaal by Rhea Ravi.

Bansuri recital by Murali Ramakrishnan, with Sanjey Sivaananthan on tabla.

Intermediate tabla group incorporating Chermside, Gold Coast and Westlake students: Bipro, Ishaaq, Arun, Siva, Sivamsan, Ayngaran and Hari.

Senior tabla group performance in Jhaptaal: Sanjey, Tito and Jesinthan with Adarshbir Singh (dilruba) and Joseph Nand (harmonium)

Presentation of certificates by chief guest Sri Umesh Chandra of Brisbane Indian Times.

Tabla solo in Basant Taal (9 matras, in honour of our 9th annual concert) by Shen Flindell, with Adarshbir Singh (dilruba) and Joseph Nand (harmonium)

There are lots more photos in the Facebook albums of Brian Sullivan and Bappi Hussain (The Picture Hub).

Pt Kushal Das in Brisbane

As mentioned in my previous post, June 2016 was a milestone month for me in terms of playing with high level Indian classical musicians. After suddenly being called to accompany South Indian vocalist OS Arun's devotional concert, the following week I had two shows with brilliant young sarangi master Sangeet Mishra. But the definite highlight was my concert with sitar maestro Pt Kushal Das from Kolkata.

Kushal-da was in Australia to perform with Pt Kumar Bose in a concert in Sydney, so while he was here the organisers asked me to help out with a concert in Brisbane. It was a golden opportunity and great honour for me to accompany such a wonderful artist, as well as to host him at our home for a few days. We got to know a genuine artist with sincere devotion to his art, who was very encouraging to all he met. The concert left everyone present feeling clear and uplifted.

Many thanks to Brisbane Indian Times, Sangeet Premi Club, Sitar Restaurant, and the rest of the consortium of Indian classical music lovers who got behind me to underwrite the concert, giving me confidence to go ahead without the worry of a big loss in the event that the audience didn't turn up in big numbers. In the end the concert was a success and the underwriters all got to enjoy the concert for free, as well as the feeling of having helped to create something magical in Brisbane. This system of underwriting big classical concerts by a team of supporters is something I'm keen to continue in the future, so if you are prepared to take an active stake in promoting Indian classical music events with me, please do get in touch!

Many thanks to Brian Sullivan for these photos. You can find many more on his Facebook album, "Kushal Das Concert".  The Picture Hub also has a nice selection of Bappi Hussain's photos in their Facebook album, "A Melodious Sitar Evening by Pandith Kushal Das and Shen Flindell".

Various events April-July 2016

Since returning from our trip to India Feb-April 2016, things have really been picking up in my professional life. A lot of new tabla students joined my lessons and they are all learning very well, and almost all the older students have shown greater enthusiasm too. June in particular was an amazing month in which I got to accompany 3 separate international artists: Carnatic vocalist OS Arun in a devotional concert, sarangi master and regular musical partner Sangeet Mishra, and amazing sitarist Pt Kushal Das. More on the Kushal Das concert in my next post...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

India 2016

From late January to early April 2016, Yuki, Saraswati and I had a grand old time in India, beginning in Kolkata, spending most of our time in Varanasi before having a little holiday in Rishikesh and our final few days in Delhi.

In Kolkata we stayed with our friend Supriyo Dutta, an excellent classical vocalist. He invited us to his concert while we were there and Yuki played tanpura. We're very happy that we can bring Supriyo to Australia for Woodford Folk Festival later this year!

We arrived in Varanasi shortly before Saraswati Puja, and I performed in a tabla group and then vocal accompaniment for the annual Basant Panchami concert in my old guru-ji's house.

Pt Pooran Maharaj came to perform at Sangeet Mela 2015 last September, and he reciprocated by inviting me to perform tabla solo at his house for his annual Sangeet Sabha Kashi concert. Pt Pooran Maharaj learnt a lot from his grandfather, Pt Kanthe Maharaj, also the guru of my principal guru-ji Late Pt Kaviraj Ashutosh Bhattacharya. So I was very blessed and honoured to have the opportunity to take lessons from Pooran-ji, and to perform in his historical home. 

Also while in Varanasi, we attended many concerts including those of Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma, Sakhi (Kaushiki Chakraborty's all-female classical based group), and the annual Dhrupad Mela. I also participated in a couple of workshops with pakhawaj players - Tetsuya Kaneko's introductory pakhawaj workshop, and Sukhad Munde's taal workshop. We really enjoyed meeting Sukhad-ji and he was certainly one of the bright lights of the Dhrupad Mela.

I had a few more concerts while in India. The big one was joining the Kathak dance group of Smt Malti Shyam, at the annual Ashu Babu Memorial Concert on Tulsi Ghat. She had her established tabla player there of course, but I got to play along where I could and had a small solo as well. I had tabla tuned in Pancham to add to the tonal quality of the music, and mainly just tried to play Dhas in the right place rather than make a mess trying to catch difficult compositions!

I also had fun playing with bansuri player Shyan Kishore in Vegan & Raw Restaurant, a much more casual and fun gig.

From Varanasi we went to Rishikesh and enjoyed 12 days of sunshine and spare time. We spent a lot of time with Shivam Rath and Mico Sundari, who play beautiful devotional music based on Indian classical music with their own rock sensibilities infused. We played a concert on the Parmath Ashram ghat by Ganga which was quite a treat.

Various events Sep 2015 to Jan 2016

This blog is like a record of all the shows and special events I'm up to. I notice that just like this time last year, I'm about to post photos of my annual tabla school concert, and find I haven't blogged in yonks. So here's a list of what happened between Sangeet Mela 2015 and our 2016 India trip:

SEP 2015
  • Sun Sep 20 Oxley: Tabla Workshop with Pt Pooran Maharaj - Following Sangeet Mela 2015, we hosted a tabla workshop for my students with the festival's featured tabla master, Pt Pooran Maharaj. In the morning the young students came for a short lesson which was mainly in the way of getting blessing and meeting a great master in our lineage. Then the intermediate students had a couple of hours before lunch, and then more advanced students after lunch. It was a great experience for the students to get a flood of knowledge from a great master, and to sit for a long time. 
  • Sep 24: Flew to Japan for my sister-in-law's wedding. It was a beautiful event. Also while in Japan I got to meet a few old friends which was very nice.

OCT 2015

NOV 2015

DEC 2015

Participating in a radio interview show with various drummers, hosted by Geoff Wood of ABC RN's "Rhythm Divine" programme.

JAN 2016