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Bollywood Brass Band with Jyotsna Srikanth review – Indian roots and romps – The Guardian

Kings Place, London
The Bangalore-born violinist gave a masterclass in Carnatic music before letting her hair down to explore modern movie magic as part of the Songlines Encounters festival
The Bollywood Brass Band has moved on. After proving that a London-based brass and percussion band can successfully rework great Indian film music without using vocals, they have now teamed up with one of the finest exponents of south Indian Carnatic styles, the violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, who argues that soundtracks from her home region are more adventurous than Bollywood, because they use a greater variety of scales and ragas. The result was a brave, if uneven concert that covered not just south Indian film music but its classical roots.
It began with a magnificent set from Srikanth, who learned to play Carnatic violin in Bangalore before studying western classical music and jazz and moving to London. She sat cross-legged on a small dais, flanked by two percussionists playing the mridangam hand-drum and morsing jaw harp, and concentrated on gāyaki, a violin style that copies vocal music and makes extensive use of gamakas, carefully controlled, swooping slide notes. Her confident, driving playing matched improvisation with passages of rapid-fire and quieter melodic passages, and the ragas included work by Maharajah Swathi Thirunal, a remarkable 19th-century composer who ruled what is now Kerala.
Then came the band, featuring six brass players and up to five percussionists, driven on by a dhol, the double-sided Punjabi barrel drum. They started with Kajra Re, a stomping Bollywood hit from 2006, performed in sync to a dance sequence shown on a screen above the stage. It was great fun, but sounded incongruous after Srikanth’s exquisite classical set. But then she returned, now standing to play her violin, for an intriguing collaboration.

A thoughtful, brooding arrangement of another classical composition by Thirunal showed how violin and massed brass could work together, and after this they headed into the film material. Dance and fight scenes from the 1948 epic Chandralekha were treated to new compositions by the band, and followed by an exquisite treatment of the romantic Kehna Hi Kya, by AR Rahman. He may be Bollywood’s best-known composer, but was included because he comes from the south. At the end, a rousing arrangement of a score by the prolific south Indian film composer Ilaiyaraaja allowed Srikanth to improvise furiously against the brass and drums. The inevitable encore of Rahman’s Jai Ho, sadly performed without a film clip from Slumdog Millionaire, was the only piece that needed a vocal boost.

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