A different melody altogether

Fusion

The term ‘fusion’ has risen to be suspect in the eyes of diehard classical aficionados who revere its purist state with a vengeance.

Veena maestro : Suma Sudhindra

But when veena maestro Suma Sudhindra took the stage at prestigious platforms of the country, including the India International Centre in the capital, the mood was a complete bowl over.

Even at the practice session on the winter afternoon at the venue auditorium, the mesmerising strains featuring the famed Dutch Jazz group Spinifex playing alongside Suma Sudhindra, had attracted a stream of curious listeners, drawn by the novel and yet enticing sounds.

 The performance of the evening and on all other sessions where this group has come on stage, listeners have been captivated by the elements of familiarity coupled with a mix of novel differences woven seamlessly into the concert layout. At one point, it seems that saxophone in the hands of Tobias Klein is playing the opening notes of a raga number when the mood transforms into a characteristic strain of pure jazz, all the while gelling the composition without angularities.

One learns later that the music one has just heard is actually a scored piece so that every part of the play is well rehearsed and thereby made appealing.

As the mood of the evening matures and audiences are engrossed in the happenings, one is drawn into assessing the lead musician’s role in the piece. Suma Sudhindra claims: “I play pure Carnatic style and the Jazz group plays around the Indian component. In this way, listeners in India find the concert mapping extremely sonorous to Indian ears, for the improvisations and the rhythmic combinations are based on Carnatic tenets and the drums and bass guitar enrich the compositional calibre of the music by their inputs rather than their individual inclusions.”

Another advantage that this ensemble enjoys is in the choice of the southern format for its fusion character. The intrinsic nature of the Carnatic style is created around a rhythmic patterning, making for lively passages and thus ideal for music of an orchestral nature as rhythm is an inherent mood uplifter in any form of music. The instrumentation collaboration of the jazz component ranges around instruments that have a timbre of like-minded instruments.

The heavy bass guitar and the resounding nature of drum beats add volume to the play while the trombone in the hands of Joost Bius of the group provides the correct highlights to the continuous musical strain. Of course, the veena, decidedly the richest of Indian string instruments, holds its own, even in this medley of western make as the sounds are amplified to the right pitch and the strings reverberate into a classy instrumentation quality that would please even the severest of fusion critics.

In the final count, it is Suma Sudhindra who herself explains why her fusion experiment has been such a runaway success globally. “I have been playing with this group both in the Netherlands where they hail from, and also in India, over several years. We understand each other’s musical capabilities and we are very confident of ourselves on stage.”

As she plays her Carnatic style with aplomb, the others in her five-band team fall in step as they play out faint waftings of Hansadhwani or Malhar or Des ragas complete with repetitive cycles of rhythms in the classical Indian style, giving audiences on both sides of the globe an enriching and satisfying evening so that listeners recall with pleasure the experience of the evening long after the stage lights are dimmed.

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