Duets – the very word evokes images of love ballads from Hindi movies. The successful pairing of Lata Mangeshkar with Mohammed Rafi or P. Susheela and T.M. Soundararajan left an indelible mark on Indian movie music. Here is a song by Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar from the classic Hindi movie Aandhi.
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Duets are not uncommon in classical music. In Carnatic music, the last fifty years have seen numerous successful pairing of singers. Radha-Jayalakshmi were one of the pioneering duos from the 1950s. They were followed by others such as Soolamangalam Sisters and Bombay Sisters all the way to present-day pairs of Ranjani-Gayatri and Priya Sisters. By no means have duets been confined to female singers.
In fact one of the most popular duos in the current crop of Carnatic musicians are the Malladi Brothers. They presented a concert that was highly emotive and melodious on November 15th as part of the Nadasurabhi Annual Music Festival 2013 in Koramangala.
The opening piece Sarasijanabha, an Ata tala varnam in raga Kambodhi, set the tone for a rich classical fare. This was followed by E paniko Janmincitinani in raga Asaveri and Tulasamma in raga Devagandhari, both compositions of Tyagaraja. Asaveri is an ancient raga, a derivative of raga Thodi and often heard in the beginning of a classical concert. Ragas Ramapriya (Korinavara) and Shankarabharanam (Emineramu) were the mainstay of the concert before the brothers moved on to present a Ragam Tanam Pallavi (RTP) in raga Jaganmohini. What makes the Malladi Brothers stand out is their clean presentation of songs, clear diction, emotive appeal even while working well in tandem. The houseful crowd at the auditorium was a testimony to their popularity. The accompanists HK Venkatram (violin), Tumkur B. Ravishankar (mridangam) and Guru Prasanna (kanjira) provided strong support and demonstrated their own musical acumen in their solo presentations.
You can hear the music of Malladi Brothers (link here). Contrast their music with that of Radha-Jayalakshmi (link here). Their styles are very different, but they give you a good idea how Carnatic duets sound on stage.