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Gig Review: Strings of the World, Mumbai

The show was a melodic coming together of instruments from various parts of the world

Sunil Sampat Oct 25, 2019

Qamancha player Rasa-Lila Buniatyan. Photo: Narendra Dangiya

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It wasn’t a ‘fusion’ concert of the usual kind to which we have become accustomed — where percussion instruments hold the session together. In this concert at the NCPA in Mumbai this past weekend, led by the talented New Delhi-based violinist Sharat Chandra Srivastava; it was the melodic coming together of instruments from various parts of the world that formed the crux of the musical blends. It must have been challenging for the arranger to create these melodic convergences with different cultural influences at work. The array of instruments ranged from violin, qamancha (from Armenia), ukelele, tabla, drums, guitar, bass, piano and the use of voice in various ways, including ‘voice percussion’ by Olaf Keus, plus the Rajasthani string and percussion instruments.

The qamancha is a fascinating instrument. It looks like a shrunken replica of a sitar or tanpura and is played using a bow, much like a violin. The artistry of Rasa-Lila Buniyatyan was evident and her playing alongside the violin of Srivastava on more than one occasion was very enjoyable: it exemplified the theme of the concert, emphasized by the unison of the sounds from their diverse instruments.

Artists during the One World Many Musics event at Tata Theatre, NCPA.
Photo: Narendra Dangiya

For this reviewer, the high point of the concert was the rendition of “La Fiesta,” written by jazz pianist Chick Corea. Pianist and vocalist Nita Aartsen from Bali is a brilliant exponent of jazz piano and scat vocals. Her skill and verve in “La Fiesta” was inspired. She was simply outstanding. At one point her vocal interaction with Sardar Khan Langa was truly a coming together of musical minds, much applauded by the audience. In this piece, we heard the sounds of the flamenco, Afro-Cuban rhythms, Brazilian and jazz influences as well as the blues! Also outstanding was Heiko Dijker on tabla; he is a long-standing associate of Srivastava’s in international collaborations and clearly has mastery over the tabla and is well steeped in Hindustani classical music traditions.

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All the musicians were very talented. The ironic downside of this group was that there were perhaps too many of them! At one point there were 16 musicians on stage and it was distracting to the music and audience alike. The only jarring note in this otherwise excellent concert was the drums. They were very loud and drowned the subtlety of the other musicians. Perhaps it was the positioning of the drums — right in the front of the stage that added to the imbalance of the sound, but they did have a negative impact. At one point when young Raghav Srivastava was playing his solo, his sensitive playing was drowned out by the loud drum playing. Perhaps they should have stayed with just the gentle percussion from Keus.

On the whole, it was an enjoyable music concert, emphasizing the common thread that runs through the music of the world. This concert series, Strings of the World, from the NCPA for the past few years is an excellent initiative. It was very well received by a near full auditorium. May it have a long run in the years to come.

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