A tribute to S.P. Balasubrahmanyam

S.P. Balasubrahmanyam
S.P. Balasubrahmanyam (left) with Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan in 2019. Photo: Krishnaprakash

Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan shares a tribute to S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, “a rare combination of humanitarian and legendary singer,” to whom the Navaratri Festival Committee has dedicated Wesleyan’s 44th annual Navaratri Festival.

The iconic singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam (1946-2020) was one of India’s most celebrated artists. Shattering world records for singing more than 40,000 songs in sixteen different languages, SPB or Balu Sir (as he’s fondly referred to), was unmatched in his vocal range for Indian cinema, throughout South Asia, spanning multiple popular and classical genres of music.

For me, he was not just a musical legend, he was also one of the most compassionate humanists that I have met and interacted with. He held many unbreakable records in his music career for the past five decades starting from the mid 1960s as well as holding equally unbreakable records in generosity, compassion, and humility!

I have experienced his love and affection from my recent meeting in 2019 (pictured above).

His recent demise on September 25, 2020 has left millions of his ardent fans feeling devastated and empty.

Wesleyan dedicates its 2020 Navaratri Festival to S. P. Balasubrahmanyam as a testimony to his unique musical ability to unite South Asia and South Asians in truly interconnected ways, transcending language, ethnicity, caste, class, and more.

For a detailed insight into this genius singer’s life, see this recent BBC profile:

SP Balasubrahmanyam: Legendary Indian singer dies

 

Graduate music student Suhail Yusuf reflects on Navaratri Festival and shares YouTube playlist

Shakti
“A Handful of Beauty” is the second studio album released by the world fusion band Shakti in 1976.

Wesleyan graduate music student Suhail Yusuf, a sarangi player, vocalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist, reflects on the Navaratri Festival and shares a YouTube playlist.

The playlist below consists of ten recordings by some of the greatest legendary musicians of North India and Pakistan and a few contemporary ones. The performing artists through these recordings were carefully selected on the basis of––keeping in mind––their connection to Wesleyan, especially with the Navaratri Festival, or the artists’ creative ideas aligned with the vision of our world-famous ethnomusicology program, offered in the Music Department.

From the impeccable upbeat rhythmic structures to utterly complex melodic runs, the opening track in the list is a power packed instrumental called “Kriti.” With its roots fixed in the Carnatic (South Indian classical) music tradition, this particular recording was made by the internationally acclaimed group known as Shakti. The members of this super group consisted of L. Shankar (who earned a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 1974), John McLaughlin (Carnatic music student at Wesleyan in the 1970s), Zakir Hussain, and Vikku Vinayakram. Apparently, McLaughlin met Shankar at Wesleyan around the mid ’70s and went on to form this super group.

Although “Kriti” is more likely to raise our excitement levels with its raised tempo and breathtaking virtuosic performances, the track after is a rather peaceful rendition of the raga “Jaunpurī.” In the recording, the artist performing this raga is the late Buddhadev Dasgupta. While “Jaunpurī” is a beautiful early morning raga from the Hindustani (North Indian classical) music tradition, it has healing properties and provides a soothing effect to the soul. This particular rendition was specifically made for a series of recordings featured as part of musicologist and ethnomusicologist Joep Bor’s book The Raga Guide. The book is a historical and an ethnomusicological outlook on the raga system of North Indian music. Indic music scholars at universities across the world include chapters from this book into their syllabi.

After a glimpse of traditional sounds from both North and South Indian classical music, the playlist will now move on to discover some of the contemporary approaches used in twenty-first century Indian music. Although a lot has been explored under the banner of “contemporary Indian music” sounds, e.g. composer Philip Glass’ collaboration with Ravi Shankar, and The Beatles and the Rolling Stones incorporating Indian sounds into their albums, amongst others, for the sake of this playlist, I will focus on collaborations from the last twenty years.

Track number three, “Amirah,” is a composition by U.K.-born sarangi player Surinder Sandhu. In the track, one can hear cinematic musical influences combined with traditional Indian sounds. What I absolutely love about this piece is the almost avant-garde approach in Sandhu’s sarangi playing and the orchestral arrangement given to the Indian instruments––a practice that became popular during India’s colonial days.

While maintaining the contemporary vibe, track four moves away from highbrow orchestral sounds and transitions into an earthy combination of U.K. folk and Indian Sufi sounds. The song “Westlin Winds” by the U.K. based Indo-jazz-folk trio Yorkston/Thorne/Khan was originally written by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). However, in this version the trio translates Burns’ song into Hindi. They do this by borrowing Hindi lyrics from Indian Sufi poet Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) and as critics have said, “gave new lungs to the song.”

Moving forward on the lines of fused sounds, the next track features critically-acclaimed Indian pop duo Hariharan and Leslie Lewis, popularly known as Colonial Cousins. In this playlist the duo’s featured song is “Krishna,” based on a composition that was popularized by T. Balasaraswati and other musicians of her family. As the story goes, Hariharan’s mother learned this song from T.Brinda (T.Vishwanathan’s cousin’s sister) and passed it on to Hariharan. Hence, a very strong connection with the Carnatic music legacy of Wesleyan University. In their version, Colonial Cousins, while giving it a western touch, maintain the prayer-like feeling of the song: requesting Kriśna (Hindu mythical God), Jesus, and Allah to come and save the world; indeed, a song we all need in these unprecedented times!

On the other hand, track six “Dubla” presents an interesting combination of the North Indian version of Solkattu (vocalized rhythmic syllables) and electro-dance beats. It is written and produced by U.K.-based tabla player and DJ Talvin Singh. The song was released as part of Singh’s highly-acclaimed album Ha in 2001. With a blend of folk, jazz, orchestral sounds, and new age electro-beats, our contemporary Indian music section in the playlist comes to an end. In contrast, the remaining four tracks will lean back towards the traditional approaches used in Indian music.

Although the playlist began with separate showcases of each of the Hindustani and Carnatic music traditions, this last leg of the playlist will explore interactions, amalgamations, and cross-cultural togetherness that has brought Hindustani and Carnatic musicians together through music-making. Track seven is a unique 1935 vintage recording featuring the doyen of Hindustani music Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. In the recording Khan sings a Carnatic raga “Karharapriya,” probably one of the earliest documented renditions of a Carnatic raga sung by a Hindustani vocalist.

The next track is a beautifully crafted instrumental duet of the late Sultan Khan (Hindustani sarangi player) and the late U.Sriniwas (Carnatic mandolin player). While revamping each other’s traditions, in the recording both Sultan Khan and U.Sriniwas masterfully performed raga “Hemavati.”

The second to last track on the list is a Thumri (semi-classical song in Hindustani music) composed in raga “Sindhi Bhairavi.” It was sung and recorded by Pakistan’s legendary vocalist Salamat Ali Khan, who visited Wesleyan in 1982 in order to participate in the Navaratri Festival. Every time I hear this recording it feels as if I am drenched in a shower of blissful melodic notes falling from the sky.

With astonishing singing from Salamat Ali Khan, we have now reached our final track in the playlist. And as per the tradition goes in Carnatic music performances and also at Wesleyan’s Navaratri Festival music performances, a concert must end with a drum solo––popularly known as taniavartanam. Therefore, this last track presents a rhythmic dialogue between master drummers Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram, performing a “taniavartanam” in a complex rhythm cycle set to 9 1⁄2 beats. I have to say, they sound like fire! Thank you for listening and I hope you have enjoyed this experience of active listening. Please stay safe.

Click here to watch the complete playlist of ten videos on YouTube.

Playlist
1) “Kriti” (Shakti)
2) “Raga Jaunpurī” (Buddhadev Dasgupta)
3) “Amirah” (Surinder Sandhu)
4) “Westlin Winds” (Yorkston/Thorne/Khan)
5) “Krishna” (Colonial Cousins)
6) “Dubla” (Talvin Singh)
7) “Karharapriya” (Abdul Karim Khan)
8) “Hemavati” [(Sultan Khan and U.Srinivas) watch first three minutes]
9) “Sindhi Bhairavi” [(Salamat Ali Khan) start at 2:43 onwards]
10) “Taniavartanam” [(L.Shankar, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram) start at 42 minutes]

Listen: “Music of India for Wesleyan Navarati” Spotify playlist by Joseph Getter MA ’99

Music of India for Wesleyan Navaratri
“Music of India for Wesleyan Navaratri” Spotify playlist.

From Joseph Getter MA ’99, director of the Youth Gamelan at Wesleyan University:

“This playlist represents some of my favorite artists from India and beyond, primarily in the South Indian Carnatic tradition as well as a few from the North Indian Hindustani style. Most performed at Wesleyan University during our Navratri Festival, and a few were faculty members.”

Listen to this playlist on Spotify.

 

Aditi Mahesh ’21 on Wesleyan’s 44th annual Navaratri Festival

The Hindu goddess Durga.
The Hindu goddess Durga.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, Navaratri Festival Intern Aditi Mahesh ’21 writes about the annual festival that celebrates traditional Indian music and dance.

Navaratri has long been a vital part of Wesleyan’s history, bringing in established Indian artists to celebrate the auspiciousness and showcase the depth of Indian classical art forms. Navaratri, held in the honor of Hindu goddess Durga, is a prominent festival celebrated in India for nine (nava-) nights (ratri). Each day signifies a different avatar of Durga, nine avatars in total (navadurga). On the tenth day, Durga defeats the demon Mahishasura, celebrating the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness. This last day is Vijayadasami or Dussehra, the most auspicious day of the year for beginning a new endeavor, especially in the arts.

Click here to listen to a playlist I created on Spotify of a range of traditional and contemporary, instrumental and vocal devotional songs centered around the three goddesses (Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati), ending with Aigirnandini.

Wesleyan’s commitment to Indian music, dance, and culture was one of the main reasons I chose to apply to the University. Coming from a family of Carnatic vocal musicians and being an Indian classical Bharatanatyam dancer myself, I couldn’t see myself thrive anywhere else. I’ve taken Bharatanatyam classes from Chair of the Dance Department and Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Hari Krishnan, and Carnatic vocals from Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan, giving me both a well-rounded Wesleyan education and a robust insight into the inner workings of the Navaratri festival held at the Center for the Arts each year.

Back in 2017, when I was a freshman, the University brought the distinguished Mallika Sarabhai and her company to perform for the Wesleyan audience. Her work really challenged the traditional notions of Bharatanatyam. It was more than just a dance form; it was a powerful mode of political communication. This very sentiment was reflected in my Bharatanatyam classes with Professor Krishnan, who challenged the ‘Brahminical’ perspective of the artform, teaching us the courtesan style of Bharatanatyam and instilling in us the powerful responsibility to use our platform for social good (very characteristic of a Wesleyan education!). This deepened my own narrow preconception about the dance form, allowing me to apply my art beyond the walls of the classroom, communicating powerful stories.

On the musical side, Wesleyan has always brought diverse artists, celebrating both North and South Indian musical styles. Last year, we heard from Ustad Amjad Ali Khan on the sarod, who powerfully captivated the audience with his music. We also have our very own talent, Professor Balasubrahmaniyan, who performed on the Friday evening of the festival [with Adjunct Associate Professor of Music David Nelson]. In past years, his South Indian voice class has been an opener to his concert, allowing for Wesleyan students to showcase their learning and play a crucial role in the festival.

The Navaratri Festival not only draws in a Wesleyan audience but also a local Connecticut audience, allowing for greater community interaction and education about Indian art forms.

As a result of the global situation, Navaratri at Wesleyan has adapted to a virtual platform. Despite these challenges, the Center for the Arts is bringing in rich talent while still maintaining its core integrity of social responsibility through the arts. We hope you join us for this year’s virtual festival!

Aditi Mahesh ’21
Navaratri Festival Intern

Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 4:40pm  Music Department Colloquium with Anna Morcom (Professor of Ethnomusicology and Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair of Indian Music at U.C.L.A.’s Herb Alpert School of Music): “Music, Exchange, and the Production of Value: A Case Study of Hindustani Music.”

Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 8pm “Sakthi Vibrations” Film Conversation with Director Zoe Sherinian. Moderated by ethnomusicology doctoral student Bianca Iannitti. The film will be available for viewing online before the event with a link included with the reservation confirmation.

Friday, October 2, 2020 at 7pm Rethinking “Navaratri.” A conversation with Artistic Director of the contemporary Indian dance company Ananya Dance Theatre Ananya Chatterjea and Chair of the Dance Department and Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Hari Krishnan.

 

Dr. Yashoda Thakore: Courtesan Dance from South India (10/12/19)

Saturday, October 12, 2019 at 4pm

Crowell Concert Hall

Dr. Yashoda Thakore balanced the practice of the art of dance with research in her Connecticut debut during the Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan. She has enthralled audiences around the world—from England and Greece to Dubai and Bangladesh—with her flawless artistry.

Photos by Richard Marinelli.

To view more photos from this event, visit: https://www.flickr.com/gp/wescfa/9VPsS8

 

Yashoda Thakore 69

Yashoda Thakore 24

Yashoda Thakore 34

Yashoda Thakore 84

 

Fall Photos: Mythili Prakash

On Sunday, October 14, 2018 at Crowell Concert Hall, Mythili Prakash made her Connecticut debut to conclude the 42nd annual Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan. The dynamic Mythili Prakash began her career as a Bharata Natyam performer at the age of eight. Since 1990, she has toured as a soloist in the United Kingdom, Scotland, France, Singapore, the United States, and Mexico. Highly acclaimed for her virtuosic skill as a performer, she stays deeply rooted in the inherent spirituality of the art form, which is the driving inspiration of her choreographic explorations. She was also cast in the award-winning film Life of Pi (2012).

Photos by Richard Marinelli. Click here to view the full album on Flickr.

Fall Photos: Lalgudi Duo

On Saturday, September 30, 2017 as part of the 41st annual Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan, Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and his sister Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi performed as a violin duo, blending tradition and innovation, and mesmerize the audience, bringing each raga—a pattern of notes used as a basis for improvisation in Indian music—to life. The siblings share an extraordinary coordination and almost telepathic understanding. The duo was accompanied by Sangita Kalanidhi Trichy Sankaran on mridangam and Shri Tripoonithura Radhakrishnan on ghatam.

Photos by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on Flickr.

 

Fall Photos: Darpana: Nataraja Vandanam – Love Songs to Shiva

On Friday, September 29, 2017 as part of the 41st annual Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan, Mallika Sarabhai and three dancers from India’s Darpana Academy of Performing Arts performed Nataraja Vandanam: Love Songs to Shiva, choreographed by Ms. Sarabhai and her mother Mrinalini Sarabhai. In the work, the nayikas (heroines) journey through a wide range of emotions in their joyous, rhythmic celebration of Shiva, one of the principal Hindu deities. Associate Professor of Dance Hari Krishnan engaged in a post-performance discussion with Mallika Sarabhai and the dancers from Darpana.

Photos by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on Flickr.

 

 

 

Fall Photos: Navaratri Festival: Music Department Colloquium—Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life

On Thursday, September 28, 2017 as part of the 41st annual Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan, author and mridangam virtuoso Douglas Knight ’70 discussed Balasaraswati: Her Art & Life – one book in three editions, for three audiences. The book has appeared in three different editions: an American edition published by Wesleyan University Press in 2010; an English language edition published in India by Westland Books in 2011; and a Tamil translation published by Cre-A Publishers in May 2017. Each edition was intended for a distinct readership, and elicited different responses. He reflected on how the writing, editing, and publishing of these three editions transformed his understanding of the significance of Bala’s story as it “came home.”

Photos by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on Flickr.