Karnatak Music and Bharatanatyam Dance Concert

As part of the Masala World Music Concert Series, the University of Oklahoma hosted a Karnatak Music and Bharatanatyam Dance concert that featured singer and dancer Lavanya Raghuraman and mrdangamist Poovalur Sriji. The first half of the concert featured several different songs in different styles, melodic modes, and rhythmic cycles, while the second half featured different styles of Indian dance. Some of the songs that were performed were written by Dr. S. Ramanathan, the grandfather of Lavanya Raghuraman, which made the concert a very personal and emotional one unlike any I’ve ever attended. The soundscape was very unique because while the singing and the drumming were live, the rest of the instrumental music was recorded, and the same pitch was used for each of the live songs. Another part of the soundscape was the soft tapping of hands on legs as members of the audience kept the tala with Lavanya Raghuraman.

The first half of the concert was a showcase of classical Karnatak music in several different genres which praise different Hindu deities. Matthew Allen Harp writes that these songs to the gods were written for both spiritual and political reasons: “This one particular manifestation of Hindu deity was to take on the character of a master metaphor for…the Indian nationalist movement as a whole” (74). The primary focus of the songs was not the mrdangam (except for a brief solo piece), but rather the voice, which demonstrated what Amanda Weidman called, “the ‘fundamentally vocal’ character of Indian music” (6). The most interesting part of the vocal performance for me was the brief pauses Lavanya Raghuraman would take between each song to explain its significance. She dedicated the entire performance to her grandfather, Dr. S. Ramanathan, who she spoke very high praise of throughout the perfmroance. This, interestingly, brought to mind a quote from Weidman’s work on gender and the voice in which she writes that “after a few words about the greatness of her father” a prominent Indian vocalist began to speak about her own work (111).

The second half of the concert again featured Lavanya Raghuraman dancing in the Bharatanatyam style of dance. It was interesting to watch this dance after learning about its origins in the Devadasis earlier this week in class because while the dance was set to religious music, it was taken out of its original context of Indian temples and made to be more of a performance than a religious act. Author Richard Schechner writes in a chapter of his book on performance studies about this phenomenon of Indian dance being taken out of its original context and used as a performance in the act of what he calls “reframing” (84). It is really amazing to be able to experience other cultures and their music and dance traditions without having to leave Norman, but it is also unfortunate that these acts have to be reframed so that they are no longer viewed in their original context.

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