When sitar, tabla, tanpura, harmonium and vocals get together, magic awaits you. But when four accomplished women musicians with a single-minded cause get together to sing and play these instruments, a soul touching experience awaits you. Duets and collaborations are not new in Hindustani Classical Music. So what’s special about Srujan: Swar Saaz Rang, a concert, in which senior vocalist Ruchira Kedar, respected sitarist Sahana Banerjee and noted tabla player Sawani Talwalkar will play together and also perform their solo pieces?
“A female vocalist and a female sitarist playing together is rare. This is so because of the technicalities involved. Usually, a female vocalist sings in B Flat pitch, but when she has a duet with a sitarist, she has to sing in three pitches higher than normal (like a male singer) to match the sitar’s sound. A sitar is usually played at C Sharp pitch. It’s a plucking instrument, what we call a tantrakari bol. So when I am collaborating with Sahana, I have to change my style of singing,” says Kedar.
Agrees Banerjee, adding, “The difference in pitch is why female vocalists and sitarists don’t play together. But we wanted to try out and see if it works. We had one baithak recently where Ruchira and I had a duet. The video was received well. The audience present there also appreciated it.”
A new audience
“The idea is to try and engage with the new audience. As artists, we have observed that new audiences are not coming in as they should be; we have senior citizens as our audience or those people who have grown up listening to music. In my age group and my circle of friends, people are mostly working in IT. They are not aware that people can take up classical music as a profession. If my contemporaries in music field and I have to sustain ourselves in this field, then we need audience. So this is just an attempt to find out if we can get good response if we tweak our presentations a bit...” adds Kedar.
The vocalist from Gwalior-Jaipur gharana is quick to add that the Srujan concert series is by no means an attempt to dilute the classical music tradition. Says she, “We are very sure that we don’t want to dilute our music. We are going to mainly present traditional music like khayal, thumri, kajari and then few pieces of folk music. It’s just that we will be presenting them in shorter segments. It’s evident that the audience’s attention span has reduced. We are too immersed in social media. Even in concerts of two hour duration, people keep checking their mobile phones. How do we counter all this? To create a new audience, you also have to think about them. So this is our middle-of-the-way approach.”
Banerjee agrees that musicians cannot be as rigid as the gurus in the past. The sitarist who shifted to Pune eight years ago and has many housewives and students coming in from abroadto study the sitar, says, “If someone comes to me to learn how to play the sitar and I tell them, ‘Suno, you have to do the riyaaz for 15 hours’, then they might not agree. Currently, everyone is interested in doing well in academics and if some of them also want to learn music, we cannot expect them to learn it the way it was done in the past. If they have two hours for riyaaz, it’s up to us to engage them fruitfully. For some, music is a passion, not a profession.”
A collaboration and not fusion
When two more artists get together on stage, the audience expects ‘kuch khas’. But sometimes the concerts fail to create the magic. “When the audience says, ‘mazaa nahi aaya’, one reason could be that the performers or collaborators didn’t know each other well. When you collaborate with an artist/s, you need to know their music, their temperament etc. If you don’t take the pains to understand each other, then how can you communicate through your music? The programme will become mechanical,” points out Talwalkar.
Her father and guru Pt Suresh Talwalkar is good friends with Pt Ulhas Kashalkar, who is Kedar’s guru. “I have known Ruchira for sometime now. Sahana and I have performed together at a few concerts in Mumbai. So there is an understanding of each other’s music,” she adds.
Besides the three musicians, painter, Deepa Anand too is a part of the programme. On the day of the performance, she will be capturing the swars and layas on her canvas.
Although Anand is a visual artist, she has a deep connection with music. “My father is a singer, and so are my sisters. I also learnt singing, but later gravitated towards fine arts. However, music does find its interpretation in the canvases that I paint. On the day of the programme, I will try to not be too abstract, but capture the energy and vibrations that I will feel,” says she.
Talwalkar, who is part of another all women ensemble (Kaushiki Chakrabarty’s Sakhi), says, “When women get together, you know how it is. There is lot of fun, camaraderie in discussing music, our clothes, food et all. While women are usually easy going and accommodating, we can also be vindictive. That’s why I think as artists we need to understand each other and keep aside politics.”
On the stage
The artists hope that this experiment succeeds and that they can look at holding a concert series soon. When asked if they would like to break boundaries and perform at NH7, Talwalkar laughs and says, “The idea is appealing, exciting even. But I don’t know if we fit in the optics — like looking the part? Currently, the focus is on how you look, how you dress, how you talk...Now is the age when you have to market yourself. We are expected to have a presence on YouTube and FB. I know of a few artists who are uploading their videos, circulating them. My parents are classical musicians, so when I was growing up, it was a different life that I saw. And, now this is different. We are trying to do something different with Srujan...let’s see. We are just three performing artists. Even if we plan and rehearse, something different happens on stage.”
In that case, how much of the concert is rehearsed and improvised? Says Kedar, “We know the raagas and the compositions and the time frame in which we need to play them. The magic happens in between. Something that is unrehearsed. At each of our rehearsals, we have done something new.”
This calls for cheers for a new beginning!
ST Reader Service
‘Srujan: Swar Saaz Rang’ will take place on June 23, 6 pm at MES Auditorium, Bal Shikshan Mandir, Mayur Colony. Event is free.