Revelatory Accounts of Indian Music at the London Darbar Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  DARBAR 2013: Transposed Rhythm and the Saraswati Veena Bernhard Shimplesberger (cajun/drums); Sukhad Munde (pakhawaj); Jayanthi Kumaresh (saraswati veena); Patri Satish Kumar (mridangham); R. N. Prakash (ghatam). Purcell Room, London 19.9.2013 (CC)

 Last year I reported on a concert in the four-day Darbar Festival (Rare Ragas and dhrupad), the largest festival of Indian music outside India. 2013 marks the eighth such festival, and long may it continue. This year I was only able to make one of the concerts; the level of expertise in performance was everything one might expect.

The first half, and the opening of the festival, was given up to a non-indigenous soloist, Austrian percussionist Bernhard Shimplesberger, who has studied with tabla master Suresh Talwalkar. His use of a drumkit in Indian music was not wholly convincing, but there is no doubting the excellence of his technique or his feeling for the music he played. But the masterstroke was that here was a European player explaining basics of Indian music to a UK audience, admittedly one comprising mainly Indians. In explaining 16-beat and 10-beat cycles, he was of course entreating us to try to follow them, something made a whole lot easier by the tendency of many of the audience to tap out the beginnings of the cycle, almost in the manner of a celebratory arrival point or a conductor’s downbeat. It was an inspired way to begin the festival in many ways, not least because of Shimplesberger’s infectious enthusiasm for this music.

But it was the second half that held the really special experience. Jayanthi Kumaresh (see is an acknowledged mistress of her instrument, the saraswati veena, and her expertise was clear in everything she touched. The pieces she played referred to the Carnatic tradition from South India. The clear characteristic of her playing was the near-vocal quality of the lines. There was also a tremendous rapport between her and the two percussionists,  Patri Satish Kumar on mradangham (a type of drum) and R. N. Prakash on ghatam (an astonishing percussion instrument, effectively a type of pot that adds subtly to the overall sound). See also Prakash’s (shared) website, The music played included moments of exquisite sweetness. The Spring rag “Vasanta” was particularly beautiful and impressive. Throughout, rhythms were preternaturally tight; the range of emotions delivered was simply huge.

To my eternal regret I was unable to attend more of the Festival; maybe next year I should earmark the entire four-day event for review …

Colin Clarke