KATHMANDU, March 30: Music and songs are two different things. Words, or lyrics, compliment music to express diverse feelings. But on the other hand, music alone can be expressive enough without a single word describing feelings; it can portray expressions. In fact, music transcends all languages and barriers.
Take for instance the legendary Bengali musician Ravi Shanker whose magic on sitar has received global accolades. Or take Mozart, whose prolific compositions for piano during the classical era are still well received.
Nearer at home, Santosh Bhakta Shrestha is doing the same thing with his instrument Esraj, a bowed instrument found mostly in east India.
“No words can suffice to describe the deep expressions Santosh’s Esraj weeps in each stroke of the bow. But Santosh not only expresses pain and tribulation of existential angst with the intricate classical music instrument but also sheer joys and exhilaration discovered in life’s interesting turns and twirl.”
Shrestha believes that romantic lines and poetic words are not always mandatory to express feelings, and an instrument alone can make much difference, if played aesthetically. His new album “Aroha” that has arresting sounds of Esraj is a true example.
The esraj is an instrument consisting of a neck similar to sitar. Both instruments have similar looking frets for playing notes, with a small gourd on the top for balance, and its body covered with goatskin.
There are usually 15 taranhas (resonating strings). Three of the main strings are fiddled to cover a range of three octaves. The pitch is almost that of a cello.
Esraj is said to have originated in India two centuries ago. The Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Thakur is said to have popularized this instrument in Bengal through what is now known as Robindro Songeet.
In Nepal, Esraj arrived some 100 years ago. Mohan Prasad Joshi, a classical musician who studied under the noted musician Ganesh Lal Shrestha, who headed the first Nepali National Broadcasting Station, in turn gave esraj lessons to Santosh Bhakta Shrestha, who is the only professional player of the instrument in Nepal today.
Accompanied by promising musician Nava Raj Gurung on tabla, Shrestha’s take of Raga Jogkaunsh and Raga Jaijaiwanti in “Aroha” expresses a feeling that simply can’t be put into words and are no match to the world of studio music in the classical idiom, that is.
Both ragas are night ragas, played especially during the evening time in summer season that has spiritual vibes and has an ability to captivate emotional and sensitive moods.
The movements in raga like Jogkaunsh have been carefully taken care of. Most of the alaps are played in slow pace so as to keep the flow of the classical tunes going, and Shrestha has equally worked hard in pitch variations.
Aroha thus makes one of the finest collections of eastern classical music. Needless to mention, his earlier works like The Feelings, Pagoda, Vajra, Koselee, Creation, Heart Sutra, and Yatra were equally contemplative and offer different tastes and moods in each composition.
Shrestha, who has also won accolades for his live performances, both at home and abroad, adapts well to the folk, fusion and even jazz music as he continues to mesmerize the audience in regular jazz and classical music festivals alongside internationally acclaimed musicians, who are spellbound by his music.
Shrestha’s new album, which he has dedicated to his father, the late Krishna Bhakta Shrestha and his Guru Mohan Prasad Joshi, has four compositions on Raga Jogkaunsh and Raga Jaijaiwanti besides his take on the famous Aarati (Raghupati Raghava). Dominated mainly by the arresting sounds of Esraj, the equally complementing neo-classicist form of tabla by Nava Raj Gurung makes the album worth listening to.
Gurung acquires the neo-classicist form from his father, the legendary Ram Hari Gurung, (disciple of Ustad Amir Hussein Khan), who propounded this style during his appointment as a musician to the then royal court of Nepal in the early 1990s.
Produced and promoted by Srijana Duwal Shrestha, wife of the instrumentalist, and manufactured by Sac Music, Shrestha’s mastery of the instrument and the dedication that has ripened in recent years is clearly audible in “Aroha”.