Monday, October 30, 2006

A family affair

Weekend in NYC. Attending the Amjad Ali Khan concert at Carnegie hall. Bad flashback to SPIC-MACAY concerts in my school auditorium when I was eight as random uncle-ji walks on to stage and invites random other uncle-ji to "come say a few words on this occassion". When Thomas Friedman said the world was flat (a startlingly bad metaphor, as Matt Taibbi points out here; link via a friend) he was obviously talking about this man's intonation. We're subjected to an assortment of meaningless platitudes strung together in an oratory style that the speaker learnt in his Vikas Puri primary school. I'm a stickler for getting to events on time, but I gaze with envy at people filing in late.

When the concert finally begins [1] (said speaker having finally succeeded in putting himself to sleep) the sense of deja vu worsens, as the sublime sound of Raga Kamod is punctuated by the cries of the four year olds in the audience. Is there some secret fine print in the H1B regulations that I don't know about, which forbids these people from hiring sitters? People who bring three year olds to concerts should be horsewhipped. Before they're shot.

Fortunately, the joy of being at my first Hindustani classical concert in months more than compensates for these annoyances. The Ustaad starts by riffing on Vaishnav Jan To and then launches into Raga Kamod. His aalaap is disappointingly brief, but the glistening power of the final moments of his performance marries inspiration to breathlessness, proving once again that the hand really is quicker than the ear, and that real genius involves an audacity of invention and a velocity of beauty that the rest of us can barely hope to keep up with.

From this point onward the concert goes downhill. Tweedledum and Tweedledee succeed their father on stage, and the music moves from the sublime to the mechanical. It's like listening to a pair of trained seals playing the sarod - the difference between these two and their father is the difference between a gymnast and a dancer. MR falls asleep. I sit there, reminding myself that eventually the Ustaad will return.

When he does, for a final rendition of Raga Mishra Kirwani [2] preceded by a sweet little diversion into ekla chalo re, his performance only underscores the important difference between a performer and a musician. The great Indian classical musicians aren't just formidable instrumentalists, they are also spectacular composers - musicians capable of incredible feats of improvisation that flow from their hair and fingertips. What makes a really good Hindustani performance is the artist's ability to surprise you, to go just that little bit further than you expected, to produce that infinitesimally perfect variation that you simply couldn't anticipate. Amjad Ali Khan, when he really gets going, can do that - Tweedledum and Tweedledee, competent performers though they may be, can't. Which is why a format where the Ustaad lays out the raga for them, and they repeat after him obediently, like children reciting poems in pirmary school, works well.

Saturday's concert also demonstrated how Amjad Ali Khan missed out on his true calling - to be the lead musician for a heavy metal rock band. There were moments in that performance that Pete Townshend would have been proud of. The raw energy of the music was overwhelming, the sheer immensity of having three sarods [3] and two sets of tablas on stage produced a sound that made you want to headbang. Not quite the sublime elegance one had hoped for, but good fun nonetheless.


[1] With a standing ovation for the Ustaad, BEFORE he'd played a single note. If virgin sacrifices had been allowed in Carnegie hall, no doubt we would have seen a few.

[2] A choice of raga that had T. smirking for the rest of the evening about the 'manifest' superiority of Carnatic music.

[3] Father and sons stroking their sarods in unison on stage. Phallic symbolism runs yelping about, then faints with excitement.


Szerelem said...

Father and sons stroking their sarods in unison on stage. Phallic symbolism runs yelping about, then faints with excitement. Szerelem falls of chair laughing.

On another note, Ustaad is someone I have tremendous respect for. You are absolutely right in saying he is a trememndous performer. he is also someone who has tremendous PR skills. All the more reason for him to have been a lead for a rock band. The last concert of his I attended was a year or so ago and he started with Vaishnav Jan To as was beautiful.

km said...

Tweedledum and Tweedledee: dude, that's plain wrong. And funny.

IMHO, the father's bit of a Doodledoo himself. Lots of doodling, very little payback.

Ali Akbar Khan - now there's a real sarod player.

ggop said...

Real funny. BTW some women call the boys "hotties" in their posts. (totally irrelevant, I know!)

About your wondering why people don't hire sitters - a blogger who moved back to Bangalore wondered why Indian teens don't want to earn an extra buck to babysit like their American counterparts.

Rice Processor said...

Check out the Khamaj trio. It is a pulsating interpretation of this delightful raag:

Ash said...

Is there some secret fine print in the H1B regulations that I don't know about, which forbids these people from hiring sitters? People who bring three year olds to concerts should be horsewhipped. Before they're shot.

Well said ! same goes for desi movie halls.

Falstaff said...

szerelem: "off chair" surely. I have to admit that Amjad Ali Khan is not among my favourite Hindustani musicians. I have a healthy respect for the man, but I do think he's a little overhyped (possibly as a result of his tremendous PR skills). I enjoy his music, but I don't feel about him the way I feel (felt?) about, say, Bismillah Khan.

km: See above. I'm probably less negative about the father than you are, but I'm not that big an admirer. Hence the rock band cracks and the references to the family Stone.

ggop: And I agree. Especially the younger one (note to szerelem / Aishwarya: perhaps a series on hot male classical musicians?). Make that boy the family mascot and have him sit around on stage during the concert just looking pretty and I'd be the first one cheering. Just don't let him anywhere near an instrument.

rice processor: Thanks. Good stuff.

ash: Why not, while we're about it? I never frequent desi movie halls, but on general principle am all for horsewhipping parents of noisy childen everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Also try AI flights. People smell desi food on the flight and immediately think it means we can revert back to basic "desi" behaviour. I had one kid clamour to sit on my lap and the parent looked at me expectantly ( brown and female so I should have "maternal" instincts). (sigh) I am a pushover though - I entertained the child for an hour but got my revenge when I made up fun stories of how much fun it was being single. You could see the jealousy ( now if only they never figure out the real story of how I live :) )

Anonymous said...

the bangashii, as we call them in delhi had the misfortune of visiting my ladies only college for.....sigh....yet another spic macay concert. one of them is a bit more flirty than the other and perhaps seriously undermined the sexual repression in an auditorium filled with 400 mostly teenage women. oestrogen overkill. the green room was stormed. kurtas, theirs, the instrumentalists', were torn and all the gifts meant for the accompanying artists were lavishedupon these two tattered-battered men.
thought i'd share the story with you. i'm the one who sauntered off to take a few phone calls instead of minding the green room. :)

Szerelem said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Szerelem said...

yes, *off* chair. Apologies.
I know what you mean about him being a bit overhyped and I agree with you. I do think classical musicians would further their cause if they marketed themselves as well as he does though. I think I am also probably biased in my judment because Ustaad is the first classical musician whose concert I attended and really enjoyed. I think I was 7 or so.
And yes Ayaan is cute, and both boys are terribly well mannered. Now if we could find a few more cute ones the series could be considered =P

drifting leaf said...

fal... i'm always taken in by the range of your passions... and the depth of knowledge you have...

Aishwarya said...

I can't think of enough hot male classical musicians for a series! Any recommendations?