Photo courtesy of the artist.
Vocalist Roopa Mahadevan returns to The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, September 19 for two sets of traditional Carnatic music. Building on her extensive training in traditional Carnatic music, Mahadevan frequently puts the music in dialogue with other traditions—in 2018, Mahadevan participated in the Banff Resonant Bodies program, while this year, she was a recipient of a Hedgebrook Songwriter’s residency.
For this performance, Mahadevan will be joined by violinist Arun Ramamurthy and mridangam player Sriram Raman. In an earlier interview with Jazz Speaks, Mahadevan discussed her approach to playing traditional Carnatic forms with this instrumentation:
I don’t think it’s perfect. Because I think it gives a little too much agency to the vocalist, honestly. For example, if I were to do improv on a scale, do a raga alap, I do it first, and then the violinist has to do her own version, but not as long as me, a little less long, and during my alap, she’s shadowing me also, she’s echoing the last part of each phrase. You know, these kinds of things that become part of the protocol. But it’s kind of silly.
I’ve actually thought that if you can have a beautiful exchange, between the vocalist and violinist, that can stand alone as the alap, you don’t need to then do a separate violin alap, or think of it as just the vocal alap. It could be this beautiful coming together of two ideas.
The mridangam player has an interesting role because they’re kind of ever-present. They don’t do the alap, for example, that’s arrhythmic. But when you start the composition, they’re always playing, depending on the school or the specific aesthetic of the mridangam player, sometimes they’re right under you all the time, and sometimes it’s more sparse. Sometimes they actually have another rhythm that’s going, that’s kind of counter to what you’re doing, but complementary.
Before coming out to the Gallery, check out Mahadevan performing live in the studio, with Rajna Swaminathan on mridangam.