Improvisation in music, Thumris, Shivaratri – February 2022

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Even though I publish this newsletter on a monthly basis, events around us such as the outbreak of war in Ukraine this week, gives me pause. As with the pandemic I feel music provides a means for us to cope with our uncertain world and hopefully build bridges across cultures. With this in mind I’ve focused on different music types and their commonalities and influences.

Improvisation in Jazz & Carnatic Music
Improvisation such as neraval plays a critical role in carnatic music. However explaining the intricacies of neraval to audiences not familiar with the genre can be challenging. Recently I had an opportunity to introduce the concept of improvisation in carnatic music to students at Northeastern University in Boston. In preparing for this I realized that improvisation in jazz has many similarities with that in carnatic music. This of course required us to have a shared understanding of jazz itself. The very nice introductory Jazz video that I shared with my students is available here.

Thumri – The Sound of Anklets
Hindustani music’s rich tradition arises from not just the classical drupad and khayal but also from its light classical forms such as thumri and dadra. Film buffs may remember the song Kaa Karoon Sajni from the movie Swami (1997). Yesudas’ soulful rendition of the song in raag Kirwani no doubt was a big part of its success. Kaa Karoon Sajni is a thumri typically sung in (Sindhi) Bhairavi. Thumri is a Hindustani vocal composition that originated in the 19th century at the court of Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow. The word thumri comes from thumakna, a dance movement that accentuates the sound of anklets. Well known renditions of this thumri are ones by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Pt Ajay Chakrabarty, whose rendition you can hear here.

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Songs for Shivaratri
We listen to great many songs thanks to YouTube, WhatsApp and all the music apps that are out there. Yet finding that one song when you want it always proves tricky. This is what led me to build playlists not just of my favorites but various themes that I find friends asking about or use in my classes. This month, with Shivaratri coming up musicians and music lovers turn to songs on and about Shiva. Here’s my playlist for the occasion from bhajans to classical to get you started – Songs for Shivaratri playlist.
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