When a saxophone sounds Carnatic

The five women were all a-shimmer in black and deep blue. They had met only two days before their live show at Phoenix MarketCity recently, but it barely showed as they spent the evening swinging between film music and fusion work, like traditional shlokas rendered in jazz.

It was in the latter, about half an hour into the performance, that Mumbai-based MS Lavanya on the saxophone and Ankita Boruah on percussion began to hold their own. The shlokas were not presented vocally, but by tune and rhythm, to a constantly intensifying pace. Though percussion-heavy, the pieces were dominated by Lavanya’s saxophone, as were most of the numbers that night.

When a saxophone sounds Carnatic

Special note must be made for Ankita, who spent the night flitting between five different instruments — a darbuka, a set of congos, a dhol, a cajon, and a number of small hand instruments — and handling each with precision. From pumped up renditions of ‘Damadam Mast Kalandar and ‘London Thumakda to solo battles with each of her instruments — her darbuka, then her cajon, and then her congos, shone against either the Indore-based drummer Shrishty Patidar or all the rest of the band — the Assamese percussionist impressed over and over again.

But it was when the girls took a break and went into retro Bollywood tracks, that Shrishty got her share in the spotlight. As did keyboard player Rageshri Dhumal from Mumbai — with tracks like ‘Dum maro dum’ and ‘Piya tu ab toh aa ja’ — there was simply more for them to do.

But synergy took a long time coming for this fledgling band. It eventually happened when they moved to a fusion of Hindustani and Carnatic music in raga pantuvarali. The drums and saxophone were played in unison, hitting the right notes repeatedly in synchronisation: notes originally meant for traditional Indian instruments. The keyboard joined them in sweet unison, and the night really took off. Lavanya played with such flair that it was easy to forget that these extended, intense, almost-mournful notes were never written for a saxophone in the first place.

The performance then flowed into a series of jugalbandis — percussion, guitar (by Chennaiite Ann Swetha), drums and keyboard on one hand and saxophone on the other — and the audience was finally rapt.

There were low points, like pre-recorded background scores to a few audience-requested songs. But Lotus band — five individual talents brought together for a single performance — gave its listeners a good time, though they can’t say when they will perform together again.


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