The Great British Gharana was a showcase of budding and established performers of Indian classical music living in the UK. For anyone who may be unfamiliar with the term gharana, it is used to identify different sub-styles of Indian classical music and dance. The name of a gharana is usually derived from its geographical origin and is characterised by distinct stylistic traits and compositions unique to that style. In order for it to be recognised in its own right, it needs to have stood the test of time by being passed down a lineage or by apprenticeship for several generations.
The evening opened with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Carnatic group with veenas perfectly in unison. As the performers changed to the next group one got the feeling this may end up being yet another variety show of ensembles. But I was very pleasantly surprised with what came next. Like a breath of fresh air, Jessica Mistry quickly sucked the audience into an oasis of calm with her hamsadhwani bansuri solo, displaying an experienced control over the instrument and tonal variation. Members of SAMYO then joined Jessica for Rain: the tabla now tuned to a pakhawaj pitch evoked the sense of thunder and gave the piece real theatrical panache.
The first half concluded with a sitar recital by Mehboob Nadeem accompanied by his student Akash Patel. I was excited to see the interaction between teacher and student – both complemented each other brilliantly well on stage. The dynamics between the two were perfectly balanced, with Akash being given ample room for his own improvisation, in which he displayed some very intricate embellishments particularly in his meands.
The second half of the concert opened with Roopa Panesar’s sitar solo. One could completely relax into her music. She effortlessly displayed speed, layakari and variation, all with such humble ease. After a first half that ran seriously over time, acts from the second half started to get curtailed. But I was glad we had the chance to hear Rasikpriya School of Music. An all-male quartet dressed in traditional South Indian attire, they were probably the strongest ensemble of the evening. Their tayari and coordination were superb. With all four members of equal standing and energy, these guys rocked the Carnatic repertoire with gusto. Equally inspiring were the all-male Singh Strings Ensemble. It was so refreshing to hear the santoor and a pleasant surprise when the santoorist doubled up as a vocalist. Though their piece appeared to end abruptly, most likely due to time constraints, their lively performance was a great way to end the evening.
In terms of presentation, the sound quality and engineering from start to finish was excellent. Use of IT tools, namely the projector screen, provided an efficient means of introducing the names of the performers. However, with little spoken introduction and a lack of programme notes, the projector could have also been utilised to provide descriptions of the pieces and their ragam/talam information, benefiting those of us in the audience who may not be familiar with the entire repertoire.
Milapfest should be applauded for pulling together teachers and performers from various parts of the country, facilitating a network for them to work and train together. They brought to the main stage talent which in some cases was hidden in the confines of community art centres. As I left the Queen Elizabeth Hall I wondered – was the Great British Gharana a representation of, as Milapfest put it, an emerging ‘international gharana’? Based on the aforementioned criteria, the answer was no. But what I did witness was the arrival of a very bright, promising, modest generation of British Indian classical musicians that we can proudly call our own.