(As published in India Currents)
Silicon Andhra’s new CD on the works of Annamacharya, the Telugu pada-kavita pitaamaha (grand old man of song-writing) brings home the group-singing Thyagaraja Aradhanai feel to Karnatik music. Mostly sung by two students of the Trinity Center for Music, Saratoga, CA, the blended chorus multiplies the devotional feeling emphasized in the kritis (pious verses).
The CD debuts 12 poems, which have been set to tune for the first time. the music is by Lalgudi Srimathi Brahmanandam, a veteran violinist and sister of violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman. Brahmanandam’s musical acumen shines through in this CD. The compositions have been directed musically by her daughter Anuradha Sridhar, the Director of Trinity Center for Music.
The opening number, “Viruladandala Thodi” joyfully welcomes the Lord into the home in Ananda Bhairavi. A flute, percussion, and keyboard evoke a folksy charm which paves the way to the Karnatik metric and sollukattu. A violin-mridangam-cymbals combo starts “Inthakante mari ledu,” where the high and low notes of Sahana ring true, extolling the virtues of “Nirantharamunu nee naama japamae” (incessant chanting of the Lord’s name) in Khanda Chapu. The beauty of this verse is further enhanced by the concluding arrangement of the music—punctuating just the words “Inthakanthe marile … du” with a mridangam-violin-flute succession.
Brahmanandam’s superior Charukesi arrangement is well-suited to the refuge-seeking mood of “Endari Ventala.” The pure violin prelude to the Varali “Cheppave nannu manninchi” is diverting. An unexpected Hindustani tune to “Yemana vacchunu” in Hamir Kalyani successfully transitions the listener from wondrous questioning to adulation, further underscoring Brahmanandam’s instinct for rousing the bhakti feeling. The choice of ragamalika with sublime music interludes for “Aarthuda nenu” makes this hymn hummable,
The goal of the CD is to cultivate a repertoire of Annamacharya songs for bhajans. However, the continuous chorus-style singing feels a bit overwhelming at times. A nice break from pattern comes with a soothing solo “Jeevudinchukantha” in Kamboji, sung by Ananya Ashok. Singular music notes establish the swaras like drops of water creating ripples in this number. The rest of the CD presents duet-singing with a technical finesse and clear enunciation by Ashok and Apoorva Krishna, to guide the listeners along.
Three kritis—“Koluvaro Mokkaro,” “Keshava Daasinaithi,” and “Anduke Ne Jinthinchedanu”—have been set to surprise ragas. In addition to opening up the menu of kritis now available for concert/bhajan singers, the CD highlights the superior percussion skills of Shriram Brahmanandam and Ravi Gutala. Ashwin Krishnakumar’s flute and Sridhar’s violin are silky and melodious, like additional vocalists.