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Ragas speak to everyone who listens

The Raga Ecstasy concert will see sitar maestro Niladri Kumar joined by tabla player Vijay Ghate taking South African audiences on a sonic journey with Indian classical music this weekend.

This ancient art form can be divided into Hindustani (north Indian) and Carnatic (south Indian) styles. A raga is essentially the melodic basis of Indian musical form and taal is the rhythmic basis, which can be either vocal or instrumental. Indian classical music is largely improvised, with no two performances being alike.

Nisaar Pangarker, from Inner Circle Entertainment, who is promoting the concert, says he has found a receptive audience for the music in South Africa.

“Ragas speak to emotions and it is said that any emotion other than anger can be represented in Indian classical music,” he says.

There is a long history to Indian classical music and often an instrument is taught from a very young age and training continues throughout a musician’s life. The music is taught in an oral tradition and passed on like a gift from the guru (master) to the shishya (student).

Kumar, who gave his first public performance at the age of six, says the music communicates the full spectrum of human emotions even to people who have never been exposed to the genre before.

“Just to have some love and respect for the tradition is enough to start enjoying this great music form,” says Kumar, who is one of the finest sitar players of his generation. He was taught by his father, Kartick Kumar, from the age of four.

Ghate, who started playing the tabla at the age of three, says: “The speciality of this music is that we don’t rehearse or plan much. It’s all spontaneity, and with Niladri this element excites me always.”

South African guitarist Guy Buttery, who confesses to being a fan of Kumar’s music, says his interest in Indian classical music grew after hearing the tanpura (a drone instrument almost always used in Carnatic and Hindustani music) in a scene from the film My Girl. He immediately wanted to know more about the sound and has spent several years researching this music.

“Niladri made me look at the genre, and all music for that matter, in a whole new light. There’s a multi-verse of worlds to be discovered if we are just open.”

Raga Ecstasy is on July 29 at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town and July 30 at the Lyric Theatre in Johannesburg

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