The Elgar Room is a relatively new addition to the RAH that can be set up variously to accommodate 300 standing or, as at Ronu Majumdar and Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee’s performance, a seated audience of around 160. The bansuri (bamboo flute) maestro Ronu Majumdar opened the first half with Puriya, switching flutes of differing lengths and ranges to create movement within the alap and jor. After some fifteen minutes, the tabla player Hanif Khan joined in for two compositions in the same rāg, the first set in 10-beat jhaptāl, the second in 16-beat teentāl. Showing Majumdar had got the measure of his audience, a little way into the second composition, ‘Ab kaise kahoon man ki baat’, he showed the relationship between flute and lyrics by singing part of its lyrics. It didn’t matter whether the audience understood its sentiments of now being so deeply in love and not being able to express those feelings in words. It communicated the cadences, word currents and mood.
Nathan Lee opened the second half. He played western flute before introducing the sell-out room to ‘flutebox’ – turning himself engagingly into a voice-flute beatbox. It felt like Call of the Valley meets R.D. Burman. There was an air of Bollywood to his raga-isations, the way Bollywood rifles through Bhairavi at the drop of a pagri. Keeping things experimental, he brought on Ian Crook aka Wandan to add overtone singing and percussive vocal booms. Majumdar re-took the stage. That was when, even though the potential shone through, the lack of preparation became apparent. Their variations on Hamsadhwani showed the greatest promise, strengths and weaknesses. Majumdar even interjected some flute ‘fluttering’ – as he called it – of his own. Lee’s long-term future lies in going beyond the gimmick of ‘flutebox’; more immediately I predict he will make an impact outside Hindustani circles.
As a venue, the Elgar Room never quite shook off its peculiar supper-club ambience. In its betwixt-and-between peculiarity lay its attraction and value. The Asian Music Circuit’s bold choice of venue, maybe combined with its novelty or newness, garnered an audience with a good mix of races and ages. A goodly number were in their twenties and, straw poll-fashion, at their first Hindustani recital. The audience looked different, not just the same old faces. That’s good.