Musical conversations

Alisha Shinde
Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Ahead of their city concert, santoor artist Pt Madan Oak and tabla virtuoso Pt Ramdas Palsule talk about music collaborations and more

Pune Festival is completing 30 glorious years and as always, it is bringing forth some of the best talents from music, art and dance. 

Music being an integral part of the fest, various interesting expressions of this art are presented at the event. This year, Pt Madan Oak will create enchanting tunes out of his santoor while Pt Ramdas Palsule will accompany him on the tabla. 

Ahead of their performance on September 21, the two artists help us understand the relationship between two artists and two instruments.

Santoor-tabla is considered to be the most celebrated and enjoyable combination of instruments in Indian classical music, says Oak. “Santoor provides the melody and tabla provides the rhythm, making this association a complete musical treat for the listeners,” he says, adding that santoor is a very unique string instrument, the reason being it is neither plucked like a sitar, sarod or a veena, nor it is bowed like a violin or cello, instead, it is played using two wooden strickers or mallots, known as ‘kalam’ or a ‘mizrab’. 

Palsule believes that the tabla is the most advanced percussion instrument in the world. “It has its own rich language which is not found in any other percussion instrument, except pakhawaj. Tabla repertoire is vast and suits well with any form of music, right from Lavani to Indian classical music. It goes well even with Pop and Western classical music,” Palsule adds.  

Because of these qualities, says Palsule, “I feel it is the most suitable accompanying instrument for vocal as well as instrumental and even classical dances.” 

He adds that the tabla has got a unique quality because of which it can be played in any tempo, right from Ati Vilambit Laya to Ati Drut Laya.

Talking about the relationship between the two widely loved instruments, Oak says that santoor was originally a folk instrument and was mainly used as an accompaniment to the folk music called ‘sufiana mausiki’, literally meaning sufi sangeet. “Today, we see santoor as a purely classical instrument although it’s being used in film music, ghazals and other formats including jazz and fusion too. There have been drastic changes in the tuning and playing techniques and the overall tone and style of playing santoor, from its original version played in the valley of Jammu and Kashmir,” Oak says. He adds that the tabla is an established instrument for centuries now and has an important role as an accompanying instrument. “The tabla player has a supporting role in a santoor recital — s/he provides a steady tempo and also builds on the development of mood and energy of the performance,”Oak adds. 

When asked how the relationship between the two artists collaborating or performing together should be like, Palsule says that it is always desirable that the two music players, the instrumentalist and the tabla player, know each other and their music well so that they can give an enriching experience to the audience when they blend their music.

Oak points out that what many people call as jugalbandi is actually the musical conversation that happens between the santoor player and tabla player and that is referred to as ‘sawal jawaab’ during which the santoor player plays a pattern and the tabla player creates his or her version of the same pattern or phrase. They continue doing this to build the climax of a musical dialogue that is most times impromptu and can be very entertaining and intriguing. “This is quite a playful part of the performance and in order to make it effective, both the artists need to have an understanding of each other’s ways of thinking of musical phrases and style of development of music and most importantly, it is about knowing the style of music the other plays. It needs years of interaction between the artists,” adds Oak. 

So how often have they interacted with each other since Oak is based out of US? Oak says that he has known Pt Ramdas Palsule from his early school years since they both went to the same school. “He has accompanied me many times. We have been regularly performing together on his annual tour to the US,” Oak says. 

Talking about the response that Hindustani classical instrumentalists get as opposed to the vocalists, Oak says that living in America and what he has experienced in Europe as well, he feels that non-Indians prefer listening to instrumental music as there is no need to understand the poetry or lyrics like in vocal performances. 

Palsule feels what is challenging is the fact that when it comes to accompanying the vocalist, the main requirement is the ability to play sustainable and very strong theka (rhythm). While accompanying any instrumentalist, the tabla player must have the capacity to play solo and he should be able to play in faster (Ati Drut) speed. 

Pt Madan Oak will be performing along with Pt Ramdas Palsule at Yashwantrao Chavan Auditorium on September 21, 5 pm onwards

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