Yaman, if you look at it from a historical perspective, may be the most popular musical scale of all time. The heptatonic raga, which is often taught to beginners studying Indian classical music as it is considered the easiest to grasp, is known as Kalyani in the Carnatic classical tradition. Both of these are analogous to what Western music calls the Lydian mode, which can be found in everythingfrom ancient Greek music to the theme for animated TV show The Simpsons.
Each of these interpretations of the scale —Hindustani, Carnatic, and Western —are visible in AR Rahman’s sublime rendition of ‘Aao Balma,’ on the third season of Coke Studio. As live fusion pieces in the tradition of the show go, this one is a monster. There’s Prasanna on the guitar, playing Kalyani in his signature Carnatic-meets-jazz-fusion style. There’s the young and unfairly talented Mohini Dey on the bass, providing a throbbing, heartbeat-like rhythm that makes one bob their head. There’s the unparalleled Sivamani on percussion, adding swishes, whooshes, and rolls on a variety of instruments, including a fascinating electronic fingerboard that operates as a continuum of percussive sounds. There are the amazing, note-perfect vocals, delivered by Padmabhushan Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Murtuza Mustafa, Qadir Mustufa, Rabbani Mustufa, Hasan Mustafa, and Faiz Mustafa. And last but definitely not the least, there’s Rahman himself, his fingers gliding over a grand piano with nonchalant elegance and characteristic grace.
The song, a traditional bandish, opens with him, building up the dreaminess that one generally associates withYaman (or any raga in the Kalyan thaat, to which it belongs). As the vocals, with lyrics that talkabout beckoning a lover, are introduced, the piano relegates itself to being an accompaniment, setting the mood of the song. As the beat kicks in, it shifts into funk mode, with joyous, staccato chord-bursts that add unexpected brightness and colour to the refrain. The remaining, mid-range frequencies are then filled in by Prasanna’s wonderful, octaved guitar leads, whose mastery of glissando complements the notes in Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan’s sargam perfectly.
With Sivamani in the vicinity, a solo is to be expected, and the master showman doesn’t disappoint. His jugalbandi with Prasanna is a thing of beauty and the high point of this beautiful rearrangement of a bandish that is traditionally played in mid-tempo teen taal. This is followed by Prasanna taking centrestage one last time, lending the composition a Carnatic influence that makes it truly unique and one of the most memorable songs ever to have appeared on Coke Studio India.
As it rises, so does it fall. After hitting a marvellous crescendo, where the entire studio joins in for a rousing final chorus, the arrangements whittle down back to Rahman on the piano providing a fitting, cathartic end. When the song ends and you don’t hear a burst of applause, you feel dumbfounded. Is this any way to react to
such a transcendental piece of music? Luckily, you, the listener, are also in possession of two hands. You know what to do with them.