The legendary musician sits Indian style mid-stage, holding his santoor as if it were an infant. To his right, the tabla player slaps away at the tune’s billowy rhythm. Behind him sits a young, mustachioed tanpurist droning away with a woeful stare. A woman on sitar and another tanpura player sit to his left.
Appearing to be part sage, part madman (though perhaps the two are just different sides of the same coin), Pandit Janraj strums his santoor with his right hand and waves his left hand around in florid motions that no doubt annunciate the most decidedly devotional message of the tunes he plays and sings.
Jasraj and disciple/female vocal counterpart (for lack of a better term) Pandita Tripti Mukherjee will give a rare performance on Maui this coming Wednesday at Studio Maui in Haiku. The appeal of such an event should extend beyond that of the yoga set. Anyone remotely interested in seeing a live performance of a type of music that employs nearly twice as many semitones – a full 22 compare to the West’s 12, according to an Ravi Shankar essay entitled “On Appreciation of Indian Classical Music,” may want to check out this performance.
It’s not “Norwegian Wood” we’re talking about (as reverent as we are about the tune). This is an unadulterated raga performance.
Jasraj is known as the “foremost exponent” of the Mewati Gharana of Hindustani music. Why this is important: Mewati Gharana is a type of musical lineage – seriously – that originated in the sixteenth century. To be a credible purveyor of the form – an exponent – you have to live and breathe it for years. You have to study with a guru who him or herself is an exponent of the mode. It is only after years of sadhana – devoted study – are you authorized to employ your prana (breath of life) within this form, as is the case with any true form of raga.
For a while there, while in its infancy, Mewati Gharana is said to have only been passed from master to student in jungles under the cover of night; not exactly a tradition that the average Western conservatory would embrace. But this was centuries before Pandit Jasraj first learned of Mewati Gharana from his father (Pandit – teacher – Motiram). But it’s still not exactly something you can major in.
Part of what makes Jasraj’s vocal style so otherworldly, especially to Westerners, is his command of a whole three-and-a-half octaves. His rapid fire scat syllables would scare the living daylights out of someone raised on Wonderbread and top 40. His hair is gray and wild. He sways. His arm movements, hapless at first glance, actually parallel his precise yet quivering annunciations.
Part of what makes him unique is his incorporation of vocal counterpart in his performances, jugalbhandis (musical duels, essentially) performed between dueling male and female vocalists.
Wednesday’s performance, of course, will feature Pandita Tripti Mukherjee holding down the feminine side of things. But she’s a hell of a lot more than just a pretty voice.
In 2007 Mukherjee became the first Indian classical musician to perform at the White House (I’m guessing Dubya was out of town or under sedation for this one). Over a decade ago she started the Pandit Jasraj Institute for Research, Artistry and Appreciation (based initially in Philadelphia and named, of course, in honor of Jasraj, her guru) after observing a lack of appreciation for classical Indian vocals in the US.
Her vocal style is tentative yet dynamic, bold yet irresistibly sweet. She, too, has an amazing range that can jump octaves like it’s nothing.
The reverence implicit in each of their vocal performances is not something a fuzzy YouTube clip can mask. To see the two perform side by side would be astonishing for those open to it.
Shangri-La by the Sea, the Valley Isle’s only full-on Indian restaurant, will serve food at the event and vendors will add an international bazaar feel to the show. MTW
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