Asian Music and Dance

Kala Ramnath

Kala Ramnath belongs to a violin dynasty that embraces – and holds apart – both Indian classical systems. She chose the Hindustani system. At the twentieth Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt she played two recitals, each accompanied on tabla by a highly empathetic Abhijit Banerjee. During this particular recital, she arced between the tradition and cyber-Indian, from Meerabai to iPod, so to speak. Her second concert of the festival took place from around 21:30 to 23:00 in the town’s theatre. Very, very, very occasionally during the course of a concert, it becomes clear something exceptional is unfolding. This was one of those occasions.

The opening Maru Bihag began with an exploratory vilambit (slow) section. She continued with three vocal compositions on violin. Not long into the opening movement, it was apparent that magic was afoot. The first of its compositions – by her guru, Pandit Jasraj – was in jhaptāl (a 10-beat cycle) and called Tum Bina Kalana Pare (Without you I cannot imagine myself) – a title followed, to provide its devotional context, by Shyam Kanhayi – (O, Krishna). It segued into an instrumental interpretation of Prabha Atre’s Jaagoo Mai Saaree Raina Balma (I have been awake the whole night, my Beloved) in teentāl (a 16-beat cycle). To finish, she played a tarana, a rhythmically inclined composition, of her own devising. Whether Maru Bihag’s pacing and development or her varied violinistic techniques (such as when she presented her bow to the instrument at an upright angle to obtain a viola-like ‘voice’), her singing violin sang kala (‘art’). And art that sings rather than postures or shouts is to be lauded.

She fed the mood and the recital’s development with a two-part, ‘trad. arr.’ interpretation in Kafi. It reinforced how imaginative and unpredictably logical her interpretative skills are. She concluded with Jasraj’s setting in Bhairavi of a Meerabai text, Maayi Saanvre Rang Raachi. The Hindu mystic poetess’s words are redolent with layered meaning. That title alone breaks down along the lines of My Saanvre – that is, Lord Krishna – ‘creator [raachi] of [my] turn of events/circumstances’ (as opposed to rang’s commoner sense of ‘colour’). Her performance matched her inspiration in both clarity and ambiguity.

Intellectual yet passionate, Ramnath’s performance blasted already high expectations. She utilised a range of violinistic techniques that any violinist could learn from. Or gain ideas from. This performance counts as one of the ten finest Hindustani concerts I have experienced over the last three to four decades. A bewitching display of consummate Hindustani revelations, hers was a performance like a summer peach that makes you bring your hand to your mouth to catch its unexpected juiciness. But to bring readers back to earth – or virtual reality – she keeps her tanpura player in her iPod, today’s shruti box upgrade of choice. 



Join the weekly Pulse newsletter and we will send you the latest news and articles straight to your inbox