HCL Concerts’ Folk-Fusion festival was a celebration of diverse genres and styles

Well-known tabla artiste Bickram Ghosh.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

With an aim to nurture and promote Indian classical performing arts, the HCL Concerts have been regularly organising performances at various venues across the country, and also in New York and San Francisco in the U.S. Over the years, they have developed more platforms for this purpose. Most notable being HCL Concerts Baithaks — a series of virtual performances by up-and-coming and accomplished musicians and dancers, and HCL Concerts Soundscapes, launched recently to showcase independent and inclusive music from across various genres such as sufi, folk, fusion and Indie-pop.

Celebrating 25 years, the HCL Concerts presented a festival of Folk-Fusion featuring Maati-Baani and Bickram Ghosh’s ‘Folktail’ at the LTG auditorium in New Delhi recently. The two-day festival aimed at an exuberant exploration of new and interesting types of fusion music like folk-pop to attract younger audiences, and to also preserve and celebrate our folk traditions while creating a contemporary and inclusive sound.

Bickram Ghosh performing at the 25th year celebration of HCL Concerts.

Bickram Ghosh performing at the 25th year celebration of HCL Concerts.
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Blend of tunes

Maati Baani sounded like a mix of folk and classical music with a blend of funk and blues, whereas Bickram Ghosh’s ‘Folktail’ was a cocktail of classical, folk and multiple percussion instruments such as tabla, ghatam, kanjira, dholak, octapad and drums. Known for his virtuosity, Bickram came up with an imaginative presentation.

Bickram opened with an invocatory alap in Hamsadhwani followed by a Uthaan on the tabla, with the whole ensemble joining on the dramatic ‘sam’ followed by the teentaal bandish ‘Lagan lagi mori’. There were two tablas — the broad-faced one was tuned in the madhya shadja and the small-faced ‘teep ka tabla’ was tuned to the higher octave, the taar shadja. Bickram judiciously used both along with the dagga (left-hand drum). The well-known tabla artiste also played the kanjira, the octapod and other instruments for added effects. The vocalists used a variety of sargam taans reciprocated by the ghatam and tabla alternately climaxing into a fast-paced tarana, which like a jet-speed jhala, ended with an impressive tihai.

The second piece was ‘Homecoming’ from his album ‘Soundscapes’. Creating a contrast, it opened with a melodious alap of Charukesi on the sitar prefacing the Sanskrit song ‘Janani janmabhumishcha swargadapi gariyasi’, accompanied by Bickram on the octapad with a duff-like effect, and the kanjira. The song was adorned with a variety of rhythmic sargam patterns.

Bickram Ghosh with his ensemble at HCL Concerts’ Silver jubilee celebrations that took place in New Delhi.

Bickram Ghosh with his ensemble at HCL Concerts’ Silver jubilee celebrations that took place in New Delhi.
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Bickram then introduced folk singer Kalpana Potovary from Assam, who impressed the audience with her melodious rendering of a variety of folk songs in different languages such as the ‘Chhath’ song from Bihar invoking the Sun god, ‘Kabir’ in Bhojpuri, ‘Kesaria balam aavo na padharo mhare des’ from Rajasthan, and, of course, the lyrical Assamese songs. But the mediocre rendition of ‘Tori tirchhi nazariya ke baan’ and Ghulam Ali’s ghazal by the male vocalist didn’t go down well both with audience and Kalpana.

The concluding Drum-Jam, translated by Bickram as ‘rhythmic-madness’, featuring all the members of the ensemble — Bickram on the tabla, kanjira and octopod, Suresh Vaidyanathan on the ghatam, Shankhdeep on the dholak, Chandradip Goswamy on the drums, Nirmalya Roy on the vocal, Abhishek Maallick on the sitar and Pulak Sarkar on the keyboard, was exuberant, particularly with the male-female ‘sawal-jawab’ session in rhythmic language. The audience reciprocated Bickram’s bol challenges with claps. The whole session culminated in an impromptu ‘HCL Tihai’.

Fusion concert

The two-day festival opened with a fusion concert by ‘Maati Baani’. Founded by vocalist Nirali and composer-music producer Kartik Shah, the band aims at bringing together world music and Indian classical. Nirali is a Hindustani vocalist trained under Sanjeev Abhyankar. Her classical roots and Kartik Shah’s nomadic vision have given the band its distinct semi-classical-folk-pop sound.

The fusion concert by Maati Baani at HCL Concerts’ silver jubilee celebrations took place in New Delhi, 2023.

The fusion concert by Maati Baani at HCL Concerts’ silver jubilee celebrations took place in New Delhi, 2023.
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Their presentation on the inaugural evening opened with Kabir’s ‘Dhaai aakhar prem ka’, followed by ‘Jogi’, a glimpse of ‘Bhinna Shadja’, semi-classical songs like ‘Boondan barkha’ and ‘Naina baware’ to the folk flavours of ‘Kachchhi Kafi’ and ‘Banjara, because they had combined the Rajasthani folk singers and folk instruments too. Maati-Baani had Nirali Kartik as the lead singer, Kartik Shah on the guitar, Anurag Sawangikar on the drums, Govind Gawli on the bass, Zion Methew on the keys, Finix Ramdas on the violin, along with Moorabhai Marwada, the folk singer, and Nur Mohammad Fakir on the rare folk instrument Pawa.

The two-day fusion festival featured performances that showed how the divide between the classical and folk music can be bridged