Shobha Gurtu | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Steeped in highly formal tradition and ceremony, the world of Indian classical music is overwhelming to most Westerners. The subtle distinctions that mark the music's myriad variations are downright perplexing, and something called the raga dictates everything from its complex rhythmic circles to the time of day it's heard. While classical music is primarily instrumental and stresses the performer's creativity and virtuosity within these rigid constructs, light classical forms are less technically rigorous and typically place a greater emphasis on lyrical poetry. Light classical forms like thumris and ghazals revolve around romance--usually from a female perspective. While thumris employ some raga structures, ghazals, popular throughout the Middle East, draw upon less rigid folk forms. Shobha Gurtu, one of India's greatest singers of thumris and ghazals, possesses a gorgeously clear and powerful voice that interprets traditional material with astonishing elasticity and beauty. Her sole Western recording, an eponymous album released in 1990 by the German CMP label, vividly testifies to her breathtaking talents, particularly her lyrical and melodic abilities--she composed the sumptuous "Paar Karo Kartar." While much of the music's art may be lost on Western audiences, Gurtu's spellbinding voice easily makes up for such losses. From a purely sonic standpoint, she sings with remarkable fluidity. Her voice glides over instrumental shapes and fills gaps like water caressing stones at the bottom of a stream. She'll be accompanied by tabla and sarangi, a fretless bowed instrument with an exceptionally wide finger-board that mirrors the intoxicating nasal quality of Eastern singing. Saturday, 6:30 PM, Arts Center, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; 708-415-2620.

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