Gem Tones "Kalaimamani" Kadri Gopalnath


World / Asia - Pacific Rim
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Gem Tones (MP3), MP3 (£4.74)

Kadri Gopalnath hails from Mangalore in Karnataka. He plays the South Indian brand of the subcontinent's classical music known as Karnatic music - sometimes encountered as Carnatic or Karnatak - and he plays it on the saxophone. This is music conceived in melodic creativity and re-creativity based in ragam (the archetype of the younger northern raga) and bedded deep in Hinduism. To be truthful, the qualifier 'classical' tends to be inserted as a sop simply because the music's better known, and younger Hindustani or Northern Indian form usually has the 'classical' tag appended. Karnatically speaking, the qualifier is obsolete. This is music of the marketplace, temple and music conference. As Gem Tones reveals, it is a most welcoming music. No degree in music or understanding of its organisation is needed to get this music under your skin.

This single-note, melody-based music - chords and harmony feature only incidentally - is yoked to a far more highly sophisticated concept of rhythm called thalam (rhythmic cycle) than the West has ever produced. As M R Sainatha demonstrates, the mridangam - a two-headed barrel drum - can create symphonies in rhythm.

"What we're playing is Karnatic music," explains Gopalnath. "It's melodic composition in essence. This is universal composition. We don't respect the personal composers. We respect the traditions. We can play compositions by more than a thousand composers and we have famous composers such as Tyagaraja or Dikshitar who are part of our universal education. All South Indians know the songs and can sing together."

This music defies the West's patrician and popular conceptions of what 'classical music' is. For a start, it has an unfathomable antiquity, capable of withering upstart European and Arab claims to cultural venerability. More tellingly, it blurs western conceits and conceptions about what 'classical' really means. A saint-composer such as Tyagaraja (1767-1847) - two of whose compositions appear on Gem Tones - retains a contemporary feel and a time-honoured popularity that any western composer past, present or future would envy.

Although the Indian subcontinent is home to a rich assortment of musical instruments, the South has shamelessly absorbed foreign influences. Nowadays, it is impossible to conceive of Karnatic music without violin accompaniment - albeit tuned and held to suit an Indian outlook - such as A Kanyakumari plays. Her 'European' violin and the clarionet (clarinet) are now long-established solo instruments in the South. But the saxophone, that is Kadri Gopalnath's contribution to the South's never-ending process of cultural assimilation.

(Ken Hunt is a full-time writer and broadcaster who writes about music for, amongst others, the All Music Guides,, Classic CD, Folker!, fRoots, Penguin Books, Pulse! and The Rough Guides. Kadri Gopalnath is one of the musicians who appeared in his Indian subcontinent thematic billing at the 1997 Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt.)

by Ken Hunt


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