31 January 2008

Mantra Jam

As promised here is additional information on earlier events at Tiruvannamalai; Ramana Rocks and Arunai Rocks, check out this posting. Both musical evenings featured rather unusual musical fusion by a group of contemporary musicians. One of the members of the musical ensemble is; J. Jayaraman who has been a resident of Ramana Ashram since 1985. He heads the Ramanashram Library and handles the Book Review column of the Ashram’s, ‘Mountain Path,’ magazine and has also served on its editorial board. He is an editorial advisor to the Tamil Journal, Ramanadhayam. J. Jayaraman’s interests range from afforestation and modern science to metrical chanting, mantras and movies.

To find out more about the group and events, read in the following in his own words.

Ramana Ashram Jam

“A month ago I left for Bangalore for a recording of 3 mantras for the Dances of Universal Peace's workshop at Sao Paulo, March 15-22nd. I am hoping to have at least one of them, if not all eventually, to be incorporated in a Dance designed around the sacred meaning exuding off each mantra.

My maternal cousin, is the founder and Lead guitarist of a trio, progrock band, which was rated the Best Band by World Space Radio for 2007. I had jammed with his group [Thermal and a Quarter] at some varied venues, and it had sounded and felt good on every occasion.

After completing the recording and mailing them off as .mp3 attachments to email, I got to witnessing the next act in the slick and simple Studio of my cousin's Band in downtown Bangalore. There was to be a rehearsal of ‘The Karthik Mani Fusion Group,’ [a motley group composed of skilled musicians from across genres]. There was Prakash Sontakke, a triple graduate from BHU [veena, vocal and guitar] and honoured with several awards [his website is worth a visit, vast and well endowed as he himself is]. He is a consummate artiste, and freely flows across cultures.

Ramana Ashram Jam

Karthik Mani, the leader of the Fusion Group, is a master percussionist facile in all types of Carnatic percussion as well as Jazz-Rock explorations, and can work up the instant magic of the blur of multiplying limbs that gives soul to skin and metal.

Rzhude's electric Bass can pack a mean rhythm and yet alternate with ethereal softness.

Adarsh on Tabla, youngest of them all, is a perspicacious player, providing exciting Northern foil to the Southern percussion,. and oozes romance in the rub.

President of Ramana Ashram with J Jayaraman

The Fusion Group conferred among themselves and didn't take long to decide on their 'starter' number for the concert the following evening. They started the rehearsal with Prakash's guitar 'sliding' into a raga [Naattai, perhaps, one of the few ragas reserved for primal invocation to] Ganesha. Then it was a roller-coaster ride into Fusion -land, what with Prakash's solo succeeded by solos from Bruce's guitar, Rzhude's bass and back to Prakash, and ending in a rush of flaming percussion in a Drums-Tabla dialogue that could only rightfully end in a Konnakkol Bol [verbal percussion duel]. But did it?

Arunai Hotel Jam

I couldn't help noticing how complete the whole thing would be if the Vedic mantra to Ganapati could be heard just at that juncture. When the Bol stopped on the 'samam', I was ready and chanted out the mantra for the rest to play along without break:

Arunai Hotel Jam

gaNAnAm tvA
gaNapati gam havAmahE
kaving kavInAm
upama sravastamam

Thou art the Lord of all groupings
To thee we offer Worship
O Poet of the poets
Whose fame is well-known

jyEshTha rAjam brhmaNAm
brhmaNaspata AnasruNvan nUtibhih sIda sAdhanam
mahA gaNapatayE namah

The Foremost thou art among the Great groupings
O thou Lord of the Chanters
Come to hear us
Heal the road by thy Presence!

It was an electric moment. When the chant got over, there was unanimous exclamation that the chant should start the song at the show.

Arunai Hotel Jam

As I got onto the bus after the show the following night, it was clear to me this group would serve as an admirable vehicle for my purposes of making mantra-jam. There was spontaneous acceptance all round by the members to come to Tiruvannamalai for a concert at the Ashram that I'd wanted focussed on selected verses from Bhagavan's ‘Monday Tamil Parayana’, the short poems of Sankara alongside their equivalent Tamil verses composed by Sri Ramana and sung at the Parayana.

As I returned, I was witness to a miracle in the form of an amazing coincidence ...A Concert video had been placed on my table at the Library by a friend on the day of my departure to Bangalore. When I returned I found it was the fusion concert of the group Khanda-5, with Karthik Mani's parents [both of whom are the founders of the Karnataka College of Percussion] jamming with Bulgarian and Irish musicians. What a coincidence that the parents of a person who was outside my domain of contacts had 'arrived' at my space in a DVD, weeks before I met the son incorporeal jam.

Arunai Hotel Jam

When I returned to the ashram and spoke about the concert and the rest of it, I found the President and Sri Mani very positive about having such a concert in the Ashram.

It was obvious that The Mantra-JJam Sextet would have to work out its game within the restriction of the impossibility of group practice before a concert, given the facts of location and careers. Pushing decision easily onwards to a focus on Spontaneous Unfoldment was the fact that the none of the five had ever been exposed to Ramana lore's poems while most of us here are well acquainted with their resonance. It was obvious it was a momentum intended to flow on its own powered by mantric vibratory presence amplified thru the manifested rhythm ornamenting the self-declared metric structures of the mantras.

The rest just flowed...and what followed as an unfolding flower was there for all to hear and see.”

[Composed of]

Vocals: J Jayaraman [ashram]
Slide Guitar: pt. Prakash Sontakke [Bangalore]
Electric Guitar: Bruce Lee Mani [Bangalore]
Electric Bass: Rzhude [Bangalore] [Thermal and a Quarter]
Jazz & Carnatic Percussion: Kartik Mani [Karnataka College of
Tabla: Adarsh [Bangalore] "

The above narrative is all in the words of J Jayaraman. The Mantra-Jam Sextet hope to be performing soon in Chennai. Will post information as to venue and dates of their performance as soon as it is available.


What the MJS hopes to present at its concert at Chennai under the auspices of the Chennai Ramana Kendra:

Excerpts highlighting metres and enunciation so that meaning flowers as experience as one sings along.

[1] Arunachala Mahatmyam/Navamani Malai/Ashtakam

[2] excerpts from Sankara's small poems which Bhagavan had translated into Tamil verse

In original Sanskrit followed by Tamil

[3] Appalap-paattu/Anma Vidya Keertanam

[4] excerpts from 40-verses Anubandham

[5] excerpts from Kavya Kantha's Ramana Chatvarimsat, Guru Stuti, Ramana Gita and UMa Sahasram.

This is a Fusion which aims at manifesting the foot-tapping rhythms inherent to all metres. These lie hidden in most our metres since Indian metres are on hierarchical [binary] structure and so are very vast in their 'progeny'.

The duration allotted to a guru is twice that of laghu
The duration allotted to the gap at the end of each pada is more flexible, even a laghu could be uttered as laghu and the gap that follows before the start of the next pada, is solely a function of the filler needed to complete the counting of say a given number [say 32, or 16, or 8 or 4 for an even gait
36, or 18, or 12, or 9, or 6 or 3 matras of matras per pada, for a Waltz-like gait [all Tamil venbas, for example].

1 comment:

Divya said...

Interesting, thanks!