Sonic Saturdays

Listen: Sarangi master Ram Narayan experiments with raags, rhythm and pace

This is the fourth episode in the series on sarangi as a solo instrument.

Renowned sarangi maestro Ram Narayan (b1927) is one of the foremost among those sarangi players who have presented superlative solo recitals as well as their equally masterful accompaniment to vocal recitals. But he stands apart in his decision to stop accompanying vocalists and dedicate himself entirely to solo recitals, as he felt his position as an accompanist placed restrictions on his creativity.

The fourth episode of our series on the sarangi as a solo instrument starts with two short clips from a French documentary that feature Ram Narayan as a soloist. His brother, well-known tabla player Chatur Lal, provides accompaniment. The first clip has a short rendition of the raag Shankara. The madhya laya or medium-paced composition is set to Ektaal, a cycle of 12 matras or time units.


The second track includes a composition set to the 16-matra Teentaal in the raag Kirwani. Chatur Lal engages in a continuous dialogue with the taans or fast melodic passages, instead of maintaining the main rhythmic canvas.


As is evident from the two short clips, the tonal quality of the sarangi is refined and radiant, and the intonation is incredibly precise even in fast passages. The next track is a longer exposition in Darbari Kanada, a raag prescribed for the night. The composition is set to Teentaal.


Listeners will note the skillful handling of the flat third or komal Gandhar, which characteristically requires andolan or subtle and slow oscillation. The long meends or glides between notes are also evocative of vocal technique. The use of dynamics is also very effective in creating the mood of the raag. Ram Narayan also explores the upper octave to the fullest.

The second composition is set to madhya laya Teentaal. Ram Narayan plays a series of taan patterns that also involve a deliberate changing accent of the bow, a key feature in the virtuoso’s style.

The last track in this episode is a short recital in the raag Pilu. The composition is set to the 16-matra Addha or Sitarkhani taal, which later changes to a faster-paced Teentaal. Ram Narayan deviates from the main raag to introduce facets of other raags. Not only does he introduce these ideas in slow passages, he displays great technical virtuosity and coordination of both hands as he reels off taans in one raag followed by another in a different raag only to be quickly succeeded by several more in other raags. He is accompanied on this recording by noted tabla player Suresh Talwalkar.

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