Gundecha Brothers | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Gundecha Brothers 

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Dhrupad is the purest, most austere style of northern Indian classical singing. Rooted in Vedic chants, it dates back to the 15th century, and its ancient grace is its strength: subsequent styles like khayal, ghazal, and even qawwali are flashier and less somber, frequently incorporating wild flights of vocal fancy. In a typical dhrupad performance the alaap--the beatless introduction--is the longest section. The two singers slowly and painstakingly improvise around the raga's tonic, dipping below it in long, resonant tones and then creeping above it in the same manner, usually making their way across a two-and-a-half-octave range. Eventually the tones shorten into shimmering staccato barrages that grow increasingly intense and instrumental sounding, suggesting rapidly plucked sitar notes. These quavering tones then morph into subtle melodic phrases, which the singers explore and dissect like Sonny Rollins ripping apart a lick on his horn, trading long phrases and developing each other's ideas. Finally the pakhavaj, a mellow-sounding double-headed clay or wood drum that predates the tabla, kicks in fixed cyclical rhythms, and the singers at long last sing the raga's full text. From there they go on to improvise some more, repeating specific words or syllables, and sometimes launch into a fast final section, depending on the mood of the particular raga they're performing. The Dagar Family are the form's most celebrated practitioners, but Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha, who perform at the U. of C. this weekend, are among the best of their disciples. They'll be accompanied by another brother, Akhilesh Gundecha, on pakhavaj. Saturday, 7 PM, International House, University of Chicago, 1414 E. 59th; 708-725-2025 or 708-747-4180. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Vallabh Kargarthra.

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