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Like its inaugural concert two years ago, Tarannum, CFI Events’ ghazal offering, featured Hemant Shirsat and Arpita Chanda, two of Auckland’s talented singers. That first edition was dedicated to legendary maestro, the late Jagjit Singh and his timeless ghazals, geets and nazms. Last week’s second edition, however, had an eclectic but equally popular collection drawn from the oeuvre of a range of singers and Hindi films.

The three-hour concert featured more than 20 songs with Hemant and Arpita singing both solos and duets with flourish and finesse, to the delight of the audience that filled the Green Bay High School Performing Arts Theatre.

The show began with a welcome and introduction by ace percussionist Araad, who showed his additional talent for emceeing and delivering shayari in style. The performances were peppered with shayaris by both singers before many of their songs. Shayari are like garnish to the delectability of a ghazal, adding to its overall appeal. Both singers delivered their shayaris with as much aplomb as their singing.

Both Hemant and Arpita showed their versatility in presenting the different numbers that ranged in complexity with some steeped in classicism and others in more rhythmic variations with ease. Their renditions, especially of the more popular and lilting ghazals, were met with enthusiastic applause from the audience and a few ‘once mores’.

This reviewer had discovered Hemant’s talent as an engaging speaker at Tarannum One where he introduced many of the ghazals, with rich information about their nuances, their story and sometimes their history with humour and candour. He did an encore this time around and his commentary was lapped up by the audience.

Ghazals, geets and nazms have been popular forms in the music of North India for centuries. While all three forms are similar in terms of their use of language and meter, they have distinct differences in terms of structure, themes, and musical styles.

Ghazal originated in Persia (now Iran) and is widely used in Urdu poetry. It has rhyming couplets and a refrain. Ghazals typically explore themes of love, loss, and longing, and are known for their intricate wordplay and metaphors. Traditionally ghazals are accompanied by acoustic instruments like tabla for percussion, sarangi and/or harmonium to follow the singers and the sitar. Electronic instrumentation to add to the soundscape are a latter-day addition.

Geets are a poetic form associated with light, popular music and are usually set to upbeat, catchy tunes and are more conducive to the use of electronic instrumentation for accompaniment than ghazals.

Unlike ghazals and geets, nazms do not follow a strict rhyming structure and are usually written in a more straightforward, narrative style and are known for their clarity and directness, unlike the liberal use of metaphors in ghazals.

Which brings me to the sound management of ghazal concerts. The soul of the ghazal soundscape is the harmonium and the tabla and when it is there, the sarangi. Electronic accompaniment is not only not traditional but detracts from the simple melodic beauty of the ghazal form ––especially if the sound is not balanced optimally.

At Tarannum-2, the electronic instruments seemed to continually drown out the acoustic tabla, wielded exquisitely by Prashant Kumar and singer Hemant Shirsat’s harmonium. The harmonium is the very backbone of the ghazal soundscape and its sound was all but feeble throughout the show. At one point, it appeared that Hemant was simply moving his fingers over the keyboard without producing any sound.

It is understandable that synthesisers and electronic rhythms are necessary to provide a soundscape, especially in the absence of the full range of acoustic instruments and artistes to play them but then sound engineers must balance equipment accordingly so as not to overpower the sound of the acoustic instruments on stage, making it difficult to appreciate their uniquely natural and wholesome sounds.

Araad on electronic percussions, Prashant Kumar on tabla, Hemant Thakar on keys, Prasanna on guitar and Sargam Madhur on sitar provided superb accompaniment to the accomplished singers.

Conceived, organised and hosted by Ram Iyer’s CFI Events, Tarannum-2 was made possible by sponsorships from City Forex NZ, Travel Corner, Reliance Ventilation, Growth Property Management and Transparent Finance. The event was supported by CIPA (Centre for Indian Performing Arts) and the Mohan Nadkarni Foundation. Indian Weekender was the media partner.

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