Music Review: Jana Gana Mana

Posted on August 17, 2007


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Listening to the latest effort from the team behind Vande Mataram…

AUG 19, 2007 – IT SEEMS, AT FIRST, a daunting prospect that a compilation of songs would require you to stand stiff at attention through its entire duration – the album being Jana Gana Mana (conceived by Kanika Myer and Bharatbala; music produced by AR Rahman), and consisting of renditions of our national anthem by the country’s foremost musicians – but, at the risk of courting blasphemy, there is possibly a way out. Think of the anthem not as an intimidating expression of patriotism so much as an intimate outpouring of passion. (And what is patriotism if not some form of passion?) Think of it as a love song to a beloved nation, a devotional chant to a sacred entity, even a musical meditation on one’s motherland – and you’ll find that sitting down may be completely appropriate, perhaps even necessary to deal with the emotions that wash over you when DK Pattammal, in that singularly brassy timbre that has coloured so many patriotic songs in the past, launches into her clarion call of Jaya he, Jaya he, Jaye he.

And when AR Rahman sings the same lines – towards the end of the collective vocal version, where each singer renders a portion of the anthem, each voice piercing through a hazy cloud of ambient sound that suggests a heavenly choir in deep meditation – it’s a soothing caress, a serenade. Could this be an indication that what the anthem stands for has changed down the years, down generations, that what was once a unifying rallying call has now mutated to an individual declaration of love for one’s country? That’s one way to look at the renditions by – if there ever was a time for a deep breath, it is now – Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Vikku Vinayakram, Nityashree, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash, Pt. Jasraj, Lata Mangeshkar, Ustad Sultan Khan, SP Balasubrahmanyam, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Rahul Sharma, Dr. Balamuralikrishna, Shobha Gurtu, Ravikiran, Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Ghulam Murtuza Khan, Ghulam Qadir Khan, Bhupen Hazarika, Saddiq Khan Langa, Pt. Kartick Kumar, Niladri Kumar, Sudha Raghunathan, P Unnikrishnan, Jagjit Singh, Rashid Khan, Asha Bhosle, Kumaresh-Ganesh, E Gayathri, Begum Parveen Sultana, Pt. Ajoy Chakrabarty, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, Hariharan, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Shruti Sadolikar.

Each performer leaves behind a private stamp on this most public of properties. Listen to Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia negotiate the anthem with his flute; the absence of the words we know so well leaves you with simply the contours of the raga roots of the composition (in Bilawal/Shankarabharanam, though there are sketches of other ragas too, notably a stirring Todi by Begum Parveen Sultana). Notice how Pt. Bhimsen Joshi rounds off Taba subha name jage, squeezing microtones into what is usually a staccato three-note climb. And, in the most unexpected (and valuable) addition, see how Rabindranath Tagore’s original rendition has the words rolling off his tongue in the manner of a sagely benediction. It’s the same piece over and over, and yet each time it’s different. Each one of us has a unique equation with our nation, and this fascinatingly unique album is a reminder of that.

Copyright ©2007 The New Sunday Express

Posted in: Music: Non-Film