Raaga-Rang: Meru’s Brilliant Musical Presentation

“One of the finest shows of the year. Most Amazing Talent!!! What hard work! What dedication!! Each song was simply amazing”, says Ranjani Saigal of Lokvani.

Meru Education Foundation pioneers yet another genre of entertainment in the New England area. With Raaga-Rang, an evening filled with melody and mode, local stars enthralled all with movie songs based on classical raagas.  Shekhar Shastri, director of Meru Foundation, conceived this incredible show over a year ago, in consultation with the local musical icon, Tara Bangalore. The event was sold out, with people packed in the hallways a half hour before the doors were opened and filled to capacity with standing room only by 5:00 pm. Who knew that classical music could be so popular?

The audience sat spellbound for over 3 hours as the musicians wove magic on stage. The live music, the simple narrations which described the Raagas and the smooth transitions all aided in setting this concert apart. Divided into segments based on Hindustani raagas, the event progressed with short introductions by Shuchita Rao who described the grammar of each raaga and demonstrated its framework with notes and aalaps. Listeners were exposed to all the nuances of a raaga through both traditional items and toe-tapping film music. Tara Bangalore, who was instrumental in getting this show together, said “In these times, where foot tapping fusion music enjoys popularity, it takes a lot of courage, determination and dedication to envision and present a program based on classical music. You have tried to remind our light music audiences that music in any form is strongly rooted in classicism”.

Through all the segments the instrumentalists led by Chris Pereji on the keyboard, ensured a magical experience possible only with live music. There was Dilip Acharya on the keyboard and harmonium; Harshal Tole and Pranav Ghataraju on the tabla; KVS Vinay on the violin and Vijay Mohan on percussion. Short announcements of the songs by Shobha Hiremath held the program together. The event started on time with a beautiful rendition of Ganesha Vandana by the students of Tara Bangalore, Pavithra Devarajan and Sahana Srinivasan, in raaga Kalyani.

The first segment began with Raaga Yaman and the flawless aalap from Sowmya Shree Sandeep set the tone of this unique event. The romantic mood of the raaga, with feelings of love and loss, was set on its path by Sankar Gangaikondan and Anuradha Palakurthi, the Mohd. Rafi and the Nightingale of Boston, with a perfect rendition of “Jab deep jale aana”. This was followed by a melodious “Dil-e-Betaab” by Meena Sundaram and Vijay Kumar. There is little doubt that Meena deals with matters of the heart professionally too, as a cardiologist! And it is unbelievable that Vijay is re-entering the stage after a hiatus of nearly 40 years.

After taking us through a roller-coaster of emotions, the group presented the theme song, Raaga-Rang, specially composed by Shekhar Shastri; Tara Bangalore added her magic touch with the music; and the arrangement was by KVS Vinay. All the musicians came together to render this beautiful song as one voice and showered melody and color on the audience (Raaga-Rang jan man mein barse).

In raaga Bageshri, New England connoisseurs were introduced to the golden voice of Sowmya Shree Sandeep. Her sonorous voice filled the auditorium with tuneful mischief with “Radha na bole”!  Meena Sundaram’s soulful rendition of “Ghar aaja ghir aye” enchanted the audience. The segment concluded with a beautiful Taraana composed by Late Pt. Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, founder of Gandharva Mahavidhyalaya in New Delhi. He was also teacher to Shekhar Shastri and Raaga-Rang was dedicated to Pt. Maudgalya, along with Shri Gopal Shastri, father of Shekhar Shastri.

Raaga Khamaj ignited devotional passion with an astounding rendition of “Vaishnava Janato” by Dilip Acharya. The depth of Bhakti Rasa, in its fathomless glory surfaced in his translucent voice. He seamlessly went on to accompany Anuradha as she drenched all with “O Sajana Barakha Bahar. The segment concluded with the duet “Baar baar tohe kya samjhayen” by Anuradha and Shekhar. The folksy gusto of Anuradha’s voice and the mischievous whistling by Shekhar kept all at the edge of their seats!

In raaga Bhimpalasi Shuchita’s divine voice singing “Eri mein to prem divani” reached the depths of turmoil and brought about peace and piety. This segment included a special treat wit the introduction of the Carnatic counterpart, raaga Abheri. A Kannada song, Yede chippinalli” by Sowmya Shree and a Tamil song, “Singara Velane”, by the guest artist Uma Sankar. Uma’s dulcet voice and her mastery over music resonated in the hall and left people wanting more.  Vinay was in his element on the violin accompanying Uma’s voice exquisitely while creating magic that lingered.  The segment concluded with an impish rendition of “Eli re eli” by Sowmya Shree and Meena. Chris’s accompaniment on this piece was incredible and helped the girls raise the roof!

The evocative Pilu took off with a slow melody by Shekhar with “Sur na saje”, which articulated the melodious pathos of the timeless classic. The momentum built up with this popular raaga and climaxed with a toe-tapping, heart-stopping performance of the modern classic “Ghanana ghanana ghan” from the movie Lagaan. The percussionists Harshal Tole, Pranav Ghatraju and Vijay Mohan kept pace with the throaty and energetic renditions as if one with the song!

After the break, local film music expert, Siraj Khan gave us choice tidbits about the raaga-influenced film music directors. Did you know that Naushad actually recorded a song in a bathroom with glazed tiles? Siraj then introduced the evergreen “Kuhu kuhu bole Koyaliya”. In a perfectly choreographed presentation, each verse of this complex song was rendered by one couple at a time to a thunderous applause.

Raaga Hamir added melodic depth with a traditional Khayal superbly rendered by Shuchita. This was followed by an energized and masterful rendering of “Madhuban mein Radhika” by Sankar and Sriharsha. Their enthusiasm and enjoyment of this piece was evident in their delivery and Harshal’s tabla and was reflected in the audience.

Shuchita opened Darbari with the devotional and serene “Tora Man Darpan”. Sriharsha built up the melody with his effervescent “Jhanak jhanak tori baaje” and the crowning glory was the Ghulam Ali ghazal “Hungama” by Dilip. He had the audience captivated with both this expressive singing and the harmonium.

This paved way to the final raaga of the evening, the magnificent Bhairavi. Every song in this segment hit home. Shekhar set pace with a heartfelt “Tu ganga ki mauj” at the end of which Anuradha made a dramatic entry and held the audience hostage with “Sanvare sanvare” (incidentally, from the movie Anuradha). Meena Sundaram at her festive best rocked the hall with “Saqiya”, supported by Sowmya, Anuradha and Vijay; initiated by Shekhar, the entire cast were on stage singing the concluding notes of “Laaga Chunri Mein Daag”. The night concluded with theme “Raaga-Rang jan man mein barse”, ringing true in the hearts of each and every one in the still packed auditorium.

March 16th was a night to remember. Meru Education Foundation ventured into new territories and gave us the perfect gift of music. Chris Pereji said, “I have rarely seen this kind of synergy within a team of musicians, singers, and production team – and look at the unbelievable response.”  Kavita Katti from the audience responded, “Astounding, Awesome, Amazing… and that is just starting with the letter ‘A’. One-of-a-kind musical event.”

Raaga-Rang whetted the appetites of many music enthusiasts and we eagerly look forward to many more exciting and innovative presentations from Meru.

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