Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Sitar star Kumar Karthigesu wants music fans on his string voyage

Deep soul: ‘It is who I am and it is my journey thus far,’ says sitar player Kumar Karthigesu of the show Pravaasa – A Sitar’s Journey.

Deep soul: ‘It is who I am and it is my journey thus far,’ says sitar player Kumar Karthigesu of the show Pravaasa – A Sitar’s Journey.

Pravaasa by the Temple of Fine Arts is a concept show by award-winning musician Kumar Karthigesu that will take listeners on a sitar journey.

Thanks to the late Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar who connected the world to classical Indian music, the beloved string instrument has traversed many continents and continues to play a prominent role in the field of fusion music. In a celebration of the instrument, sitar player/academic Kumar Karthigesu and friends will present a one-night performance called Pravaasa – A Sitar’s Journey at the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) in KL on April 27.

It tells the story of the sitar from its ancient existence in the form of the majestic rudra veena, created by Lord Shiva, to its present, lithe form. Pravaasa, which means migration in Sanskrit, also chronicles the story of a musician with traditional and orthodox roots, and how he has been influenced by Malaysia’s rich, cultural, social and musical heritages.

Kumar will collaborate with 12 musicians, all of whom he has worked with previously. The musicians, utilising a wide range of instruments, are Prakash Kandasamy (tabla), Ravindra Parchure (dhrupad vocals), Praashekh Borkar (sarod), Achyutan Sashidaran Nair (violin), Sivabalan Shanmuga Sundram (mridangam), Hariraam Tingyuan Lam (gambus), Ng Siu Yee (Chinese drums), Kamrul Bahri Hussein (gendang and rebana), Jamie Wilson (steel/nylon guitar), Eric Li (jazz piano), Badar Ben Taleb (djembe/cajon) and Surjit Singh (harmonium).

“I prefer to call it a concept show, not fusion,” says Kumar in a recent interview. “Back in those days, the sitar was used to accompany dhrupad singing (a vocal genre in Hindustani classical music) and only later, became a solo instrument.”

The first segment will feature north Indian music while the second segment will showcase the sitar’s diversity alongside other carnatic (classical south Indian music) instruments. The carnatic segment will feature the song Nagumomu Kanaleni in Abheri raga, a popular composition by prolific composer Tyagaraja.

Other musicians in the show include Achyutan Sashidaran Nair (violin), Hariraam Tingyuan Lam (gambus) and Kamrul Bahri Hussein.
Deasoned players in the show include Achyutan Sashidaran Nair (violin), Hariraam Tingyuan Lam (gambus) and Kamrul Bahri Hussein.

A raga, as Shankar once explained to his illustrious fans in the West, is “a scientific, precise, subtle and aesthetic melodic form with its own peculiar ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven-note octave, or a series of six or five notes in a rising or falling structure called the Arohana and Avarohana. It is the subtle difference in the order of notes, an omission of a dissonant note, an emphasis on a particular note, the slide from one note to the other ... that demarcates one raga from the other.”

Then, the sitar continues to south Asia where it meets up with the likes of the gambus, gendang and rebana, before finally travelling west. “Eric (Li), Jamie (Wilson) and me have played in AkashA so we’ll be improvising a couple of the tunes from the group. Eventually, the sitar makes friends with other instruments from all over the world and the music becomes one,” says Kumar, who is also a sitar lecturer at TFA.

Based in Malaysia, AkashA is a multi-ethnic fusion act, that has built a name for itself in the music festival circuit abroad. But back to Pravaasa – A Sitar’s Journey, the finale will see the musicians coming together in a medley – the sitar shows its versatility by blending with Latin music, jazz, blues and a bit of gypsy music. Each musician will also showcase his individual skills here.

“The reasons for the show is simple,” says Kumar. “It is who I am and it is my journey thus far. I studied the orthodox form of the sitar in India and started teaching after I returned home. Inevitably, I got to meet so many other musicians and have done collaborations. This is what I’ve discovered so far and I’m trying to put it all together.”

Since the group comprises independent, professional musicians, finding time to rehearse together was virtually impossible. Instead, Kumar recorded the pieces and distributed the basic tracks to them to listen. Improvisation looks set for a major role this show.

“This is the first time I’m working with so many musicians. I chose this group because we’re all friends and have a good energy level. Pravaasa is also a story about friendship – of the all-pervading beauty that exists in all forms of music, breaking through religious and racial divides. Our natural inclination is towards unity and acceptance.”

The audience can expect an eye-opening set list from the two-hour show. “We promise not to tire you out!” quipped Kumar before concluding this interview and going back to practice on his sitar.

> "Pravaasa – A Sitar’s Journey" will be held at the Shantanand Auditorium, Temple of Fine Arts, KL on April 27. Doors open at 7pm. For invitation and information, call The Temple of Fine Arts at (03) 2274 3709 or e-mail admin@tfa.org.my.

Tags / Keywords: Entertainment , Sitar , Indian Classical Music , Pravaasa , Temple of Fine Arts , Entertainment , Music


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