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M S Amma – a redefinition of baani?

R. Suryaprakash

I have wondered for long, what is the baani of MS Amma…Any student, practitioner or a listener of Carnatic Music would be obsessed with this magical word, “baani” from the day of his or her initiation into this art-form. Carnatic music by itself has several specific sets of guidelines on the notes and how they should be embellished in the context of each phrase, but that is pure theory. The veritable masters of this art-form have either consciously or unconsciously managed to affix their personal stamp on their rendition of this seemingly water-tight system, thereby giving rise to the various “baanis” or styles.

MS Amma has done a great service to this evolutionary process by being different from all the other Masters – by not affixing any personal stamp, i.e., not creating any baani!! She rendered music in its pristine form and thus it has become the ideal and absolute baani. Being the disciple of the doyen, her music had natural trappings of the glorious Semmangudi tradition, in fact the quintessence of the music of Dhanammal and TNR too, but her presentation was always her own…simplistic, straight from the heart.

The toughest thing in this world is striving to be simple! To be more specific here, our vocal music demands a great variety of contextual embellishment of notes, sound logic, a sense of balance, sruti and laya perfection, great care in the articulation of lyrics composed in different languages and many more, from the practitioner. Any performer will have some limitation in carrying out all of those tasks with clarity. The vocalist will then have to resort to manipulations to work around the deficit, which becomes his or her individualistic style of presentation and thus a “baani” is born.

M S amma was endowed with a voice, limitless in range, richness and melody. She had an ocean of a repertoire and razor-sharp musical instinct. Her repertoire was flawless as she had imbibed the best of the music of the Great Masters at an early age. She had a natural flair for singing manodharma sangeetham with complete raga bhava. She had the acumen for mathematical calculations in swaraprasthara but exercised great restraint while engaging in those, quite wisely so. She sang from the heart and with such inimitable passion and devotion. Her Bhakthi to the Ultimate was her own personal trait. She did not contrive to emulate any particular artist or please the audience for commercial gain. She had all the freedom in the world to present absolute music without the need of any vocal manipulation and thus represented the terminus ad quem of “baani”. Hers was simply ideal music.

 
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