Songs of the season

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Vocalist Meeta Pandit wins the audience over at WOMADelaide

Meeta Pandit is a star of Indian classical music. Descended from a family steeped in music for 200 years she has music in her blood. She has the distinction of being the first female singer in an unbroken line of six generations of singers. Through seven generations Meeta’s family has preserved and promoted the Gwalior gharana founded by Ustad Nathu Khan Sahib in the 16th century. Blessed with a clear voice and a deep understanding of the raagas and styles, her WOMADelaide debut was something to look forward to.

As she acknowledged later, the unique setting in the Botanic Gardens beside magnificent trees, in deep shade and with the audience sitting on the ground, reminded her of performing in India. Of great help to the audience were Meeta’s clear explanations and interpretations of the items she was to perform.

Her first item drew from the 13th century mystic poet and devotee of Lord Krishna Meera Bai. One of few female saints, it was fitting that Meeta should start with her song on this the International Women’s Day 2015. With the devotional song Ram naam ras peeja manwa sung in a semi-classical style, we had a pointer to what lay ahead. As the movement of her hands picked out the intricacies of the music, the sheer range and tone of her voice were on show for all to marvel at.

Perhaps the best season of the year is spring and in India it is celebrated in many ways. In music there is the much loved Raag Basant based on which Meeta sang a delightful number. In the introduction she explained that the song described the omnipresent Lord Shiva, the prime ascetic, who lives in Mt Kailash with his wife Parvati. The power of the music washed over the audience in the early evening light.

The tarana, as Meeta explained, is a genre that has been in existence for hundreds of years. Part of the reason must be the fact that it uses syllables or sounds rather than language so is not affected by evolution as language is. Her tarana in teen taal was based on Raag Bihag. It has the beautiful language of bol, is complex but very easy to listen to. The item included a savaal/javaab with the tabla player Shubh Maharaj. It was at this point that his virtuosity shone through as he was able to slide, skim and flutter notes on his tablas and display his excellence. Audiences always enjoy the tabla so, needless to say, his skill was acknowledged with much cheering.

Also accompanying Meeta was Paromita Mukherjee on the harmonium. Paromita’s harmonium resonated in perfect sympathy with the vocals until later in the show when it became a little more prominent as demanded by the music. Being a reed instrument gives its notes a haunting, plaintive quality as they meld into each other.

Next we had a tappa which, being in Punjabi, is always close to my heart. Meeta explained that this particular piece was not easy to perform as it has an unusual rhythmic cycle. Sung in Raag Kafi it was a lovely, enticing piece and with the words Dil le janda ve mian – how could it not be.

In closing we had a dadra with a fantastic description of the monsoons and peacocks. In Sawan jhar lage dhire dhire Meeta played with this refrain teasing out the nuances till the end.

It is no surprise that Meeta Pandit is the recipient of so many awards and much recognition. Still at a young age, we were surely witnessing someone bound for the very top in the great tradition of Indian classical music.

Avi Chandiok
Avi Chandiok
Mountain-fit 70 year old whose greatest achievement is trekking to Everest Base Camp.

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