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Monday, 21 June 2021

Classical Finale: Grammy winner Vikku Vinayakram closes India by the Nile with percussion show

Three generations of a famous Indian drum family performed on one stage in Gomhoria theatre in Cairo on 16 March, marking the successful closing of the 7th India by the Nile festival

Maria K., Tuesday 19 Mar 2019
Vikku Vinayakram
3G: Vikku Vinayakram along with his sons Selvaganesh and Umashankar and grandson Swaminathan (Photo: courtesy of India by the Nile)

The South Indian percussion show 3G, starring 75-year-old Grammy winner Vikku Vinayakram along with his sons Selvaganesh and Umashankar and grandson Swaminathan, was the concluding concert for the India by the Nile festival in 2019.

On 16 March, the internationally famous drummers performed in El-Gomhoriya theatre in Cairo, in the presence of HE Ambassador of India to Egypt Rahul Kulshreshth and the Egyptian audience known for its love for Indian music.

The annual India by the Nile festival is held by the Indian embassy in Egypt, and Teamwork Arts is careful to include classical Indian art in the schedule of every edition. Since 2013, the festival has been hosting some fine classical performers, such as singer Shubha Mudgal, sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, renowned violinist L. Subramaniam, and Aditi Mangaldas and her Kathak dance group.

This year, inviting the audience to contemplate what is classical Indian art today, IBN presented two special projects. In dance, the special treat was Bishwas, an Odissi style production by Srjan ensemble, performed in Cairo on March 10 and Alexandria on March 11. In music, the percussion show 3G shared the beauty of classical South Indian rhythms with the audience of Alexandria (March 11), Port Said (March 15), and, finally, Cairo.

The main instrument featured in the concert was the ghatam; a clay pot drum from South India. The ghatam may look exactly like an ordinary Indian clay pot, but it is made specifically as an instrument with brass, copper and iron filings added to the clay to attain a characteristic sound and pitch.

The program on 16 March saw Vikku Vinayakram and his son Umashankar playing an array of these finely tuned clay pots. The drum patriarch has been popularising the ghatam worldwide since the early 1970s, when he joined the historical music project Shakti to play along with John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain. 

Another speciality was the kanjira, a small South Indian frame drum covered with lizard skin. On the kanjira, Swaminathan represented the youngest generation of the family.

Selvaganesh, who played a set of hand drums, anchored the show, speaking rhythmic syllables and translating them for the audience. Having replaced his father in the Remember Shakti band since the 1990s, Selvaganesh has a rich experience in representing the music of South India internationally. The sound of the band was also enriched by the tones of morsingh played by A. Ganesh.

The program opened with Shiva Tandav, a composition celebrating the divine masculine energy of dance. It then proceeded to a piece in which the audience was invited to keep a rhythmical cycle of 7.5 beats by clapping while the drummers created elaborate patterns.

Sometimes the musicians would speak in Konnakol, which is a language of rhythmic syllables used in South Indian music. To make Konnakol more understandable, the band would translate these abstract words into illustrations of daily life activities, such as driving in traffic or conversations between husband and wife. Alternating between dazzling high-speed solos and humorous explanations, the 3G band lead the listeners into the world of South Indian music, making them a part of their musical family for the evening.

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