On August 15, Carnegie Hall resounded with Eastern and Western musical notes

Festival of [email protected] brought together loyal musicians to celebrate freedom of musical expression

Festival of [email protected] brought together loyal musicians to celebrate freedom of musical expression

It was August 15, when India celebrated the 75th anniversary of its independence. As the Habs floated atop nearly every house across the country, far out in New York, Carnegie Hall rang with the sounds of Eastern and Western notes. There couldn’t have been a better day to celebrate this cultural confluence as Bhairavi tihai flowed from the sarod strings of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Aman and Ayaan Ali Khan Bangash to meet the vibrant Western notes of “Samagam from the Refugee Orchestra Project. Directed by Lidiya Yankovskaya, it provided a fitting finale to the Festival of [email protected]

Celebrating ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) and the Consulate General of India in New York presented a ten-day festival showcasing India’s cultural heritage.

The festival opened with the singing of Indian and American national anthems. Desh was the perfect raag for the occasion and Aman and Ayaan played with maturity and dedication. Mid-tempo Jhaptaal and fastest compositions on Drut Teentaal adorned with delightful musical sequences, and a variety of taans culminated in the fast-paced jhala to crisp tabla accompaniment by Amit Kavathekar and Ojas Adhya, who also played with Ustad in a remarkably discreet way.

Ustad at its best

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan chose the majestic Darbari Kanhada, a favorite raag of his guru and father Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan. The short alaap had the depth of his musical sense creating the atmosphere of the dark raag before playing the mid-tempo Teentaal composition of his treasure. This was followed by a bandish Drut Ektaal, giving the two tabla players an opportunity to take turns showing off their skills before the Ustad switched to a Drut Teentaal composition ending with a quick jhala. He then played one of his favorite songs, “Ekla chalo re” by Rabindranath Tagore, his melodious meandering over the strings with his eyes closed touched the hearts of the audience.

The third segment “Samagam” conducted by Lidia Yankovskaya was performed by the Refugee Orchestra Project with the sarod trio. He musically translated the Sanskrit word “Samagam” with the confluence of Western and Indian musical traditions, while retaining their own identity and essence. It was thrilling to spot almost 12 raags including Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s creation Ganesh Kalyan with Yaman, Khamaj, Bihag, Durga, Kalawati, Basant, Madhmad Sarang, Bhupali and Bhairavi performed on western instruments like flute, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

There were also sawaal-jawaab sequences between the orchestra and the Indian artists.

100% female collective

Kaushiki Chakraborti

Kaushiki Chakraborti | Photo credit: Sachyn Mital

The festival kicked off with Kaushiki Chakraborty’s Sakhi Ensemble comprising Kaushiki (vocals), Nandini Shankar (violin), Debopriya Chatterjee Randive (flute), Sawani Talwalkar (tabla), Mahima Upadhyay (pakhawaj) and Bhakti Deshpande (Kathak). This all-female collective offered bandish khayal that featured the female perspective, thumri, dadra, chaiti, hori, kajri, tarana/tillana, bhajan, and folk music interspersed with solo violin, flute, tabla, pakhawaj, and kathak.

After singing the Ganesh vandana, Kaushiki rendered a tarana in raag Shyam-Kalyan on Drut Ektaal with the captivating touches of violin, flute and percussion, for Kathak. ‘Aanandini’, the prayer ‘Akaar, Ukaar, Makaar Rupini Amman Aanandini’, invoking Devi was composed by N. Rajam. ‘Vageeshwari’, a prayer to the goddess of learning, in raag Bageshri came next. ‘Samanjasya’, meaning balance, was a thrilling rhythmic interplay between the tabla and the pakhawaj, instruments usually played by men but skillfully manipulated by female Sakhi performers.

Sakhi, the all-female ensemble performing at the festival

Sakhi, the all-female ensemble present at the festival | Photo credit: Sachyn Mital

Four pieces were performed after the intermission, opening with “Kanjari – the divas of yesteryear” on female singers of yesteryear, presented as a baithaki bhaav abhinaya through the thumri, “Mohe chhedo na nand ke sunahu chhail” , composed by Bindadin Maharaj. However, one could feel the emotions more in Kaushiki’s chanting than in Bhakti’s Abhinaya Kathak.

Although ‘Chaturang’ was meant to be a composition with four segments including words, sargam, tarana and pakhawaj or tabla bols, they did not flow seamlessly. The last Rudrani was an impressive invocation of Kali, interspersed with kavittas.

Purbayan on sitar, Rakesh Chaurasia on flute, Ojas Adhya on tabla and Taufiq Qureshi

Purbayan on sitar, Rakesh Chaurasia on flute, Ojas Adhya on tabla and Taufiq Qureshi | Photo credit: Sachyn Mital

‘Saath Saath’ with the brilliant quartet – Purbayan on sitar, Rakesh Chaurasia on flute, Ojas Adhya on tabla and Taufiq Qureshi on drums was a beautiful blend of rhythm and melody. This drew attention to the importance of Saath-sangat (unity) as well as individuality.

The critic specializes in classical music.