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‘More impressive than expressive’

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The Economic Times, April 24, 1988

Music – as perhaps all creative art – is of two types. One is characterised by the sheer physical ability and the intellectual skill with which the executants conjures tonal and rhythmic patterns to present an impressive melodic build-up.

The older variety is marked by the moving humanistic faculty (which inspires all great creations). There is in it the subjective element of intuition which breathes life into the musical effort.

The vocal concert that I attended at the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre on April 14 turned out to be a combination of both the types mentioned above. The artiste was the 35-year-old Ajoy Chakraborty of Calcutta. It was an evening recital that covered the familiar but perennially charming ragas like Multani, Kamod and Rageshree. The final piece was a thumri in Bhairavi.

It was with high hopes that I went to listen to Ajoy – and for good reasons. First I had occasions to hear the young vocalist many times before in Bombay as also in Calcutta. But it was six years ago that I had last heard him. Secondly, all previous recitals showed him as a musician who had the makings of a veteran of tomorrow.

Thirdly, this impression was justified by the long and intensive training he had at the Sangeet Research Academy of ITC, at Calcutta, in the guru-shishya parampara way. Indeed, his tutelage unde a line-up of competent mentors like Jnan Prokash Ghosh and Munawwar Ali Khan (son of the maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana), which he also backed up with his academic achievements as a top-ranker at the master’s degree examination from the Rabindra Bharati University, put him in a class of himself as a scholar-musician.

Last but not the least is his musical lineage. For Ajoy is the grandson of the greate maestro of yesteryear, Girija Shankar Chakraborty, whose versatility, it would seem, also runs through the third generation, if one goes by grandson’s proficiency on the harmonium as well as the tabla, Ajoy’s association with the Sangeet Research Academy first as its alumnus and now as a scholar-teacher on its faculty, I thought, was a fitting recognition of his achievements in the field at so young an age.

Yet, sadly for me, it was different Ajoy whom I heard this time. His familiarity with the city audience was no doubt reflected in the fairly large turn-out at this concert. Many of the listeners may have heard him at his live concerts in Bombay before, while others may have turned up out of sheer curiosity.

In such a situation listeners’ reactions are bound to be diverse. His music may have sounded impressive to those who are inclined to give precedence to skill and craftsmanship over the virtues of originality and aesthetics of presentation. To others (old-times like me), who look for unity of form and design and a striving for nobler effects, the recital came as a disappointment.

To say this is certainly not to overlook, much ignore, the many vignettes of his obvious musicianly attributes as he proceeded to unfold melody after melody with a quiet confidence so typically his own. He is endowed with an exceptionally good voice. He has also a fine sense of style and an equally fine grip over rhythm. He also showed many felicities of melodic improvisation in the process of portraying the individual items.

It would be even true to say that Ajoy began well with each of his ragas. But before long did he choose to shift his emphasis from steady elaboration to volatile embellishment. Thus we were treated to an endless array of cascading sargams and taans. It looked as though they were unleashed on the listeners without any discernible aim or design – except perhaps to dazzle them with the display of his vocal power.

It is indeed distressing that a talented, young vocalist like Ajoy Chakraborty should have begun to succumb to the temptation of playing to the gallery. But I am an optimist and I firmly believe that he has a great future ahead of him. The least he could do is to do some introspection and strive to regain his old artistic form and thereby restore his undoubted credentials.

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