verushka pather

Concert Review: Ragas of the Desert

_MG_0315Ragas of the Desert, is a meeting of the masters inspired by the vast expanses of the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India. The spiraling sounds of the Mohan Veena intertwine with the vocal harmonies of the Manganiyars, the melodies of Kamancheh, and the ecstatic rhythms of the tabla, dholak and the khadtal, like a long distance message passing through the vast desert.

For weeks I waited in anticipation of this extraordinary recital as Inner Circle Entertainment has set a standard and you are guaranteed a phenomenal experience, with their programs. Ragas of the Desert, as the name suggests, brings with it the feeling of love, unspoken silence, longing and searching beyond, all the emotions I felt when sitting in the perfect venue for magic to take place, The Lyric Theatre, Johannesburg. Because of brilliant publicity and advertising you saw a unique multi-cultural gathering of art lovers all anxiously getting to their seats whispering words like, Mohan Veena, names of Ragas, Jazz, Rajasthan, Pops Mohamed and Disciple of Pt. Ravi Shankar. Taking a deep breath I gave thanks for being in such a special space for my soul to experience a moment of bliss.

I looked up and onto stage walks the most astute, regal and unassuming soul. His commanding presence with his silver mane, and in an elegant black silk kurtha, you immediately knew that Pundit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt has arrived. His first words when seated was, ‘I have travelled to 81 countries and have anxiously waited for this invite to come to South Africa, I am very happy to be here with you tonight.’ Pundit patiently shared with us a brief history of Indian Classical Music and the characteristics of a Raga. That it is like a scale, varying at every instant with improvisations and spontaneously created for the moment. Ragas are created for meditation, purification and spirituality. Insisting that he wanted the audience to be a part of his recital to understand and enjoy every part he shared the 3 aspects of a classical recital. After sharing all these precise details with us and seizing our attention, Pundit raises his hands together and asks us to bless him as he continues, the most humbling gesture for any great or young artist.

The perfect night for a mesmerizing Raga such as Maru Bihag, the chosen Raga for Panditji’s composition, filled with emotions of shringar or love and reminiscent of the capturing beauty of nature. This was a glimpse of Panditji’s virtuosity, his knowledge and this great gift of inventing a Classical Music Instrument. For my non-existent ability to sing and pitiable knowledge of music, I was totally carried away.  I was expecting to be immersed in the sublime, subtle sounds of a Sitar or Veena but here was a Mohan Veena a highly modified concord arch top guitar played on the lap. It is a loud instrument that is able to resonate through low amplification.  It captures the soul of a Veena or Sitar with a more modern, bluesy or jazz effect. The traditionalist that I am, it took a minute for me to settle down and appreciate the brilliance of what can be created from the Mohan Veena and knowing that this instrument was born from Panditji’s hands definitely aided me in being grateful to experience this wonderful creation. Watching Panditji’s superb control and mastery of speed he is undoubtedly one of the most intuitive, expressive and versatile artist that has graced our stage in South Africa and I am sure that it is these qualities that has earned him great international acclaim.

The interaction with Pundit and Subhen Chatterjee on Tabla, was phenomenal. Their perfectly synchronized Tihais and their unified, infectious interaction on stage was a pleasure for us to experience great artists does what they do best, make music. Shri Subhen is an excellent exponent of the arts and his flamboyant character makes him an artist loved by all. He certainly goes out of his way to make sure he pleases his crowd.

Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt continued using Maru Bihag to depict different emotions and scenes. A gamak portraying, a female’s anger could be clearly felt and visualized and then, she is now pleased and happy, the Raga entrancingly moves from the harsh deep notes to a subtle intense note oozing with love. Pundit shares his life in Jaipur and his inspiration from the birds and the peacocks and mimics the exact sounds as he reminisces.

The question and answer on Tabla and Mohan Veena was superb. Such charisma, personality and enjoyment from both artist, truly showed their mastery of their Art. This was disrupted by poor sound, disappointing for the Lyric Theatre but the artists continued to reach great heights and tried to manage with disturbances and poor settings of the amplification.

The second part of the recital was collaboration with Mr. Pops Mohamed who specializes in playing indigenous instruments from Africa. From the brief introduction and seeing him on stage and his special aura, I believe that he lives by what he says and plays, that the Millennium is actually going back into the past to move into the future. He welcomes us on a mystical journey, where playing the Birimbau from the Kalahari Desert allows us to journey together looking for the same answers. The Bushmen when collecting honey use this remarkable instrument. The bees tune into the frequency of the instrument and are pacified. This allows the hunters to collect from the hive. So too, in our world one is calmed and pacified by intense, intimate sounds of classical music to minimize our sting. His sharing of his talent on the amazing instruments was phenomenal, he created sounds from the desert, wind, birds and the movement of sand. The collaboration was nothing short of outstanding. The fusion revealed a rare, often transcendental beauty as the two artists gently and intuitively found common ground.

This in front of us, is our future, looking beyond classical, contemporary, Indian, African, vintage and modern, but just the creation of music and this only happens when one shares from heart to heart.

The dedication to our father of our nation, Nelson Mandela was touching and applauded by all. Pundit sincerely expressed his concern and wished that the emotions and blessings from the Raga Kirwani traveled to Madiba for a safe and speedy recovery. Wow! What an incredible composition, so endearing, comforting and filled with sentiments of love and devotion. A perfect Raga set at the perfect time and again brilliant sharing from Pundit and Pops Mohamed.

After this melancholy mood I was amazed by the astounding applause and welcome for the Manganiyars, an exclusive community of musicians from the vibrant and intriguing, Rajasthan. Their simplicity of their tradition and modest display of their art and culture gave us a glimpse of the essence of Rajasthan. They were a treat to watch and enjoyed playing for us as much as we enjoyed listening to their treasures. They began with a traditional song Kesariya Balam  in RaagMaand, meaning welcome to our village. Their vibrancy and spirit on stage was captivating and a treat that none of us has ever seen, again the future of music. Where a maestro of a great legacy is seated comfortably with simple but brilliant village musicians sharing music, sharing their legacies and sharing their souls.

Pundit then went on to telling us that it is only the 7 notes in music that is universal and unites the entire world. His Grammy Award title, A Meeting by the River in Raga Tilak Kamod & Maand is unbelievable. Composed with Ry Cooder this enchanting piece of brilliance was unplanned and unrehearsed. They met 1hour before the recording to create magic. A twilight Raga filled with Love and compassion. One was able to visually experience the versatility, fluidity and flexibility of the Raga by the variations in emotions and the elaborate improvisations within its scale. And just listening to these varied emotions I could not help myself but be taken back to the banks of the Yamuna, the ordained meeting place of Radha & Krishna. Was today going to be a meeting of love or anger and the melody that follows suggests that it all ends up in joy, love, peace and harmony as it was composed, as it is meant for us and for Krishna too, who can remain angry with Him?

Pundit composed this piece as a celebration of love, friendship and sharing from one’s heart. He captivated the audience by insisting on our participation and then concluded with a vibrant, magnificent finale’ Nimbooda. The alaap was magnificent, captivating and really exuded Panditji’s expressive bhava. This is a popular folk song that got everyone tapping their feet, throwing their hands up and really if it was not the Lyric I am sure we would have got up to dance.

A magnificent program filled with all the essentials to be outstanding. Congratulations to Nisaar Pangarker and the Inner Circle team for not just planning to host a program but travelling around the world to especially choose the best program to suit our times, our audience and what will have a positive impact on all who attend. Your vision has certainly broken all barriers in providing us just pure brilliance in Art & Music. And giving us what is real and tangible, not from what we have classed into categories of classical arts.

To Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Subhen Chatterjee, The Manganiyars & Mr. Pops Mohamed thank you for sharing your art and allowing us to have a glimpse of your soul. My wish, to listen to Raga Kafi/ Kharaharapriya or Yaman Kalyan on the Mohan Veena in the natural setting it has been designed to express, the desert with natural sound, no amplification, and then perform my favourite Ashtapadi in Rag Shuddha Sarang, Saki He Keshi Madhana.

Review by: Verushka Pather, a classical dancer from Durban who flew in to Johannesburg for this special event. Indianspice would like to extend its gratitude to Pather for her contribution.  

  • Inner Circle Entertainment presents
  • Pundit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Shri Subhen Chatterjee, The Manganiyars & Mr. Pops Mohamed.
  • The Lyric Theatre


About Naufal Khan

Naufal Khan was the Publisher at ADISHAKTI MEDIA and the editor-in-chief of the South African Indian news service Indian Spice. Khan was former Sunday Times journalist and also an occult fiction and non-fiction writer with several published titles.