India Currents, July 1991

A Meditative Quality

Nikhil Banerjee Live on Raga Records
By Mahesh Jethanandani

NIKHIL BANERJEE LIVE. Compact disc. RAGA-204. Raga Records PO Box 635 Village Station, New York, NY 10014. 74:25 minutes. 1982. ADD.

Sitar great Nikhil Banerjee disliked being recorded. He felt that the process distracted and somewhat compromised the inner meditative quality of his music. "I think when any musician is recording he becomes self-conscious and he cannot give his best," he said.

Although he made many studio recordings before his untimely death in 1986, few recordings of his live concerts exist. Aficionados say that his leisurely majestic development of ragas in a concert setting was unsurpassed.

This live recording from Raga Records, third in a series, fills this musical void. It features the second half of a 1982 concert at UC Berkeley in which Banerjee plays Raga Misra Kafi (The first half is available on Raga-207). He is accompanied on tabla by Swapan Chaudhuri, resident tabla master at Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael.

Kafi is a midnight raga; its scale corresponds to the minor scale in Western music. The misra (mixed) means that the raga is not pure, that one will hear glimpses of other ragas as well.

The recording opens with a leisurely alap in which the artist develops structure of the raga and its mood. The gat is set in slow rupak tal, a rhythm cycle of seven beats. The tal has a theka, a characteristic series of drum strokes that goes like: tin tin na, dhin na, dhin na, with a flat sound for the first three beats and a deep whoomp sound on the fourth and sixth beats.

The last two gats are both set to teental, a rhythm cycle of 16 beats which start off slow and pick up speed towards the end.

This recording shows what an outstanding musician Banerjee was. When it came to music he was completely uncompromising. He did not play for the sake of entertaining others. He wanted to communicate with the world in a deep and profound way.

The two musicians who influenced him most were Allauddin Khan and Ali Akbar Khan. Banerjee spent five years in strict training with Allauddin Khan. "What is interesting is that Baba (Allauddin Khan) played many instruments but sitar was not one of them." said Banerjee. "Mostly his way of teaching was singing. He used to sing and we used to follow."

Those songs are still coming our way. I never had the chance to hear Nikhil Banerjee live and for me this recording is invaluable. Originally mastered in analog it has been transferred to digital from the original master tape and it shines in sound quality and musical content.

© 1991 India Currents

Raga 204 page \\||//

Reviews \\||// Raga CD-207 page \\||// Nikhil Banerjee