The classical step

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The classical step

Sunday, 21 April 2019 | Shalini Saksena

The classical step

Classical artists tell SHALINI SAKSENA how it is crucial to keep tradition alive through concerts

For any art form to thrive — classical or contemporary music — the basic rule, to be true to that particular art is necessary for it to survive for time immemorial. To keep it alive, over the years various platforms have been organising concerts all over the country to promote classical music in a manner that not only keeps India’s rich culture and tradition going but also to ensure that it resonates with the youth today.

The HCL Concerts, an initiative by HCL to conserve and promote India’s art and cultural heritage, hosted its 4th mega concert. The three-day festival held in Delhi, Gurugram and Noida brought together an ensemble representing a wide range of music genres, including fusion, semi-classical and pure classical music jugalbandis. The aim of the concert was to give people a glimpse into the spellbinding performances of master artists and to re-engage the audience with their rich cultural traditions.  In the past, there has been spellbinding performances by legends like  Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. This year Shubha Mudgal, Ustad Shujaat Khan, Ustaad Rashid Khan, Rakesh Chaurasia, Kaushiki Chakraborty, the Manganiyars, and Purbayan Chatterjee mesmerised the audience with a scintillating performance.

Devu Khan of the Manganiyars, a folk music from Jaiselmer and Barmer says that they are a community who have been singing for generations in palaces of kings during festivals, marriages and or birth. In return, they were given camel, horse, silver and money.

The community’s instruments include dholak, hartal, tamacha and sarangi, Khan says and tells you that every 36 km the land changes so does the folk. “We have a saying; Every 36 km even the badshah changes. However, the ragas and the sangeet remains unchanged. “Classical music is the son, folk is the mother. In other words, classical music was born out of folk,” Khan says.

He tells you that their songs and dohas are about everything under the son — from births to marriage songs to songs of heroes. “Manganiyars are folk singers. It is in our blood. I teach music to our community children. But they are more interested in music. I tell them that just because they want to learn our tradition doesn’t mean that they don’t need education,” Khan says who has been performing the world over.

“I have performed over 150 shows till date. This year, I am already booked to perform in the US, Malaysia, Australia, Saudi Arabia. Our music is such that wins hearts wherever we go,” Khan tells you for whom music is religion.

Kaushiki Chakraborty who hails from Bengal is one of the leading female vocalists of India. She has been referred to as the next big phenomenon in Hindustani classical music.

She says that a lot has changed since she learnt from her father, veteran vocalist Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty and what is happening today. “In the last 15 years the world has changed much more than the changes we out witnessed in 50 years. Even the way music is presented has changed — from cassettes to CDs to downloads — everything has changed. The craft and the content has not changed but the presentation and how it reaches to people has changed. Whether this change is necessary can’t be commented on but for practicing artists it is important to understand the requirement, dynamics, the platforms and the mediums and the interrelations and interdependence,” Kaushiki explains.

She tells you that this means that the artists need to remember that they are reaching out to an audience who has no knowledge of classical music and then design their presentation in a manner that is relevant today.

“It would be inappropriate to say that purity of music is going for my kind of music. My question is: What is purity of classical music? This music is greatly influenced by Persian, Arabic and Middle Eastern music. It was a great time of transition during the Silk Route giving way to Khayal. If this had not been the case we would still be in the Dhrupad and Haveli era. Today, fusion is another transition. Whether we like a change is another thing but this is the obvious direction that a living art form is taking. What we need are the right kind of people with the right kind of sensibility, guidance and knowledge who will bring in the right element without affecting the soul of the craft,” Kaushiki says.

She opines that we need to use the digital platform to reach out to a much wider audience. “We should see the potential this offers. We can even reach out to rural India. Who knows what talent lies in the village,” Kaushiki says.

Purbayan Chatterjee, a sitar player from the Senia Maihar Gharana — a school of classical Hindustani music established under the princely State of Maihar by Baba Allauddin Khan says that digital age is changing the world at a fast pace. “This mega concert in its fourth edition is changing the audience. Over the years, there has been an increase in the footfall of youngsters. The wonder of digital platform and social media is that it is democratic. Through the success of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga or even Indian artists we see it is a parallel universe. Getting a stage is no longer an issue,” Chatterjee says.

According to him in the world of pop and rap, our country’s culture is rich. “But in the last couple of decade we have been caught up in the global culture. In the world of globalisation and commericalisation we have been exposed to different genres of music. We only knew film and non-film music. Now, we know lot more of music and Bollywood has become a melting pot where all kinds of genres. Our popular and traditional cultures have come together. Folk artists like Mame Khan have become popular in Bollywood and the industry has made films on classical artists like Baiju Bawra on one hand and on the other on rock stars. In the next 10-15 years the Indian audience will come of age and appreciate good music,” the 42-year-old says.

For him it is heartening to see when youngsters walk up and say that they were not aware that classical music could be what he played. “Tradition in a way is ever changing. When people say that they didn’t know that classical music could be fun, it is a compliment. It means his perception of tradition has changed,” Chatterjee says.

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