Friday, December 09, 2005

Oh Sivamani, What a let down!

It was the early 90's (must have been 1990). The scene, the Western Music Finals of the Mardi Gras cultural festival at I.I.T Madras. The last but one band to go up on stage is a band called "3.00 A.M" fronted by I.I.T's very own Prasanna on lead guitar. However my attention is drawn to the drummer dressed in white shirts and pants who is already dishing out mini solo's on the modest drum kit there ever was. Soon the name Sivamani is in the air. This was the first time I was watching him and I knew instantly why the crowd was going ga-ga over him. For the rest part of the band's show Sivamani played the drums like a man possessed grabbing solo's whenever he could in the middle of songs. Playing numbers like Rush's "Freewill" and Santana's "Open Invitation" (also played encore) 3.00 A.M went on to win the competition (although in my opinion they deserved 2'nd place). But that was Sivamani in his good old heydays.

Over the years I have read about him and also watched him but nothing could compare to that Mardi Gras performance at I.I.T. I then watch him at the A.R.Rahman's mega concert at Toronto. Sivamani was not in charge of the drums that night but he had an impressive set up of drum and percussion equipment on stage almost burying his huge figure. He had also changed his playing style (that's how I have seen him ever since) from a sitting position to a standing one. It didn't look cool. Well it could have if there were some real playing. Another drummer shared the limelight that evening, even during a tabla/mridangam-drum "jugalbandi" session. Moreover his stick antics were becoming too stale.

I then remember watching him on T.V where he played with Shankar Mahadevan in a concert in Singapore. Again stale stuff. His solo's were getting nowhere. Drum solo's tend to gradually ascend to a climax but the guy seemed to anticlimax repeatedly during his solo's and this can be a real turn off.

So when I was told that he did a 20 minute solo as a finale for Illayaraja's recently held concert I watched with fanatic enthusiasm for three consecutive Sundays (it was telecast in parts) hoping I could see something close to his performance many years ago at Mardi Gras. But what a let down it was. So little from such a huge set-up. The guy anticlimaxes again and again and after a while I totally gave up on him. He hardly touched the cymbals or the snare and I can't imagine what a drummer can do without the snare drum. This guy must watch what Neal Peart of Rush pushing 50 can do now instead of wasting his time on stick gimmicks and "saavu melam".

I even watched the frustration on Chithra's face when a beat (actually not poorly timed) was jerked in between, when she would just finish her charanam and get back to the pallavi again on the classic "Ninnu Kori Varanam" film song.

Not that he is incapable of putting on another great performance but he'd better remind himself that the drums is best for ROCK.

But then does that mean we don't have another drum hero. Is all hope lost? No, not in this country of percussionists and drummers. I have been reading quite a bit on Tirlok Gurtu but I am yet to see or hear his work. But there's a new kid on the block and his name, Arun Kumar. I think it's high time we give more time, appreciation and credit for other drummers in the country too. Check out the new fusion album from the violin duo Ganesh-Kumaresh called "Colours of India" (more on that lovely album later). Arun is the drummer and you'll know what I mean.

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