She won a BBC Award for World Music in 2005 for her breathtaking Sense Records album Pure, and now Kaushiki Chakrabarty is back with a follow-up every bit as stunning as that live album. Kauskiki is a triple CD set, the second and third volumes again being live recordings, performed at India’s Saptak festival and centred around two epic, weaving renditions of classical Indian ragas, Kaushiki’s pure yearning voice swooping round tabla, harmonium and tanpura backing. ‘Backing’ being the key word here, as the instruments are expertly played but sparsely set in order to provide the merest space, emotion and rhythmic backdrop for Kaushiki’s impressively poised vocals.
But it’s the studio recordings that make up the first CD which are the real revelation this time round. These are larger ensemble pieces featuring the full range of Indian classical instrumentation, and Kaushiki has chosen an impressively wide range of tunes from the North and South Indian repertoires, a range which serves to accentuate the emotional range of the singer, and (perhaps crucially for a musical form often seen as staid) her youth, as she playfully pushes her vocals back at the staccato prompts of violin and tabla on the varnam Raga Swarashtam, and delivers lively flights of melody over the rhythmically intricate, almost Qawwali style taran, Raga Nat Bhairav. Is there even a hint of a giggle from Kaushiki and she unravels her high-speed improvisation against the frenetic tabla rhythm on the latter track? If so, this underlines the young singer’s innate ability to humanise often very serious and reflective traditional songs while remaining true to the years of classical training that honed her cool, natural approach to singing. The popularisation of this emotionally stirring music continues through a uniquely articulate performer.
This review first appeared on www.flyglobalmusic.com