An evening of North Indian classical music at UCSC's Performing Arts recently attracted a highly appreciative audience, most of whom were acquainted with this unique form of sound and rhythm.
The artists were Ashwin Batish, a young sitarist who plays weekends at the Batish India House restaurant here; and Zakir Hussain a noted Indian rhythm or (Taal) player who plays on tabla drums.
Seated on a rug, behind a bank-of bright flowers, each played a solo piece and then they played together for two ragas. A song can last from one to three hours. One new to this kind of music can be delightfully fascinated with the smiling play between drummer and sitar player as they try to match rhythms and sometimes trick the other with sudden rhythm changes.
Ashwin opened with Shudha Sarang (colorful peacock) with a sitar solo. He started the first movement of the Raga in slow tempo with gentle string work, by deflecting two to four notes on one fret, then by using his plectrum in the right hand, producing trills and swift musical graces. The music weaves a sort of hypnotic state. The maneuvers gradually increase in speed and intensity, then seem to pause, supported in the background by a drone sound, played by a student.
In the second movement, Hussain entered with his drums, accenting phrases and adding debth to the sitar and drone sounds.
The finger movements are amazing and untiring. The rhythm cycle twists and turns; drummer and sitar join, then part, fight and make up, and seem to play a music game.
During one part of the program, Hussain soloed on his two Tabla drums, his hands flying at tremendous speeds. The rhythm cycle of 16 beats is kept on course by the sitar player and drones clapping to a kind of three-four time, except that the third beat is shortened and accented by turning the hand over and slapping with the back of one hand.
A second session introduced an obscure Raga melody researched by Shiv Batish, Ashwin's father, who is writing a book on Raga compositions in the English language.
The two are obviously professionals and even to Western ears, the classical sounds were inspiring. Students of the sitar who played the drones (Tambooras) behind the two musicians were Francis Finnigan, Garry Harmon and John Taylor. They alternated their appearances.