Edinburgh Fringe 2016
An intriguing hour of Indian classical music.
Down to the Acoustic Music Centre at St Bride’s on another rain-soaked Saturday afternoon for a spot of what is promised to be a “hypnotic presentation of Indian classical music” in the press blurb covering it. And what better way to recover from the ravages of the latest monsoon to hit Edinburgh than to listen to the charming vocals of Chandra Chakraborty and a range of other supporting artists.
Well it would have been relaxing only the performers weren’t quite ready for the few curious folks that had turned up (sadly, this was one of those Fringe shows where participants outnumbered attendees), resulting in a forty minute delay and a very frustrated venue manager. Takes a lot of setting up and sound checking, this type of classical music, apparently.
But it was worth the wait although, when things eventually got under way, I’d be the first to admit that, as a complete newbie to this musical genre, I wasn’t really sure quite what was going on. Instruments were a harmonium, violin and tabla (Indian drums with that distinctive, almost metallic ring to them) with a reciter (the magnificently hirsute Erik Schelander) and the aforementioned Ms Chakraborty. But just what were we listening to?
Indian classical music, it seems, is rather unlike its formal, stylised Western counterpart and more like western jazz, but only in the sense that about 95% of it is improvised. The sound is quite, quite different, with the vocalist setting the direction in a conversational style of singing that ranged from lilting, almost lullaby tones to something that sounded a bit like a caustic fish-wife remonstrating with an errant husband.
Where was this all going, I wondered? But this is where a bit of patience paid off. Gradually the “conversation” started to develop between vocalist and tabla and vocalist and violinist. Dialogue, musical response, musical interjection, dialogue response. Violinist and tabla then started conversing and all the while the drone of the harmonium provided a back drop to what was starting to turn into an intriguing story.
With poetry being occasionally overlaid on top of or instead of the vocals, this show gradually developed into what was almost a one-woman opera (probably the best way of describing this experience to readers who are not aficionados of this genre) which built to a rousing climax once the singer determined that she’d reached the end of her tale. Intriguing.
Chatting with the performers afterwards, they confirmed that none of the music had been rehearsed and that as a group they were completely reliant on being able to strike up and hold a musical / sung conversation. Puzzled at the start, I emerged enchanted.
There’s just one more chance to hear Saudha and that’s tomorrow (21st) at lunchtime so get down there if you can. Perhaps the frustrated venue manager would benefit from an hour of what proved to be an interesting, transcendental listening experience.