In conversation with santoor artist Rahul Sharma and classical vocalist Ustad Rashid Khan who are performing at Banyan Tree’s Barkha Ritu in the city tonight
The deep bond between Indian classical musicians and Barkha ritu (monsoon) is well known. The season inspires perhaps the most memorable compositions. To present some such mesmerising melodies, Banyan Tree annually holds a national music festival called Barkha Ritu. The fest, which is in its 16th year, will travel to eight different cities and is dedicated to Pt Kumar Gandharva. The Pune performances will take place tonight at Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha, Kothrud where musicians Rahul Sharma, the santoor and fusion band and vocalist Ustad Rashid Khan of Rampur Sahaswan Khayal Gharana, will perform.
Here’s chatting up the duo:
Born to legendary santoor maestro Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma, Rahul, who has collaborated with many musicians, believes that there is no dearth of those appreciating good music. The artist who plays the 100-stringed Kashmiri santoor, has done around 60 albums in various genres. One of Rahul’s important collaborations is Namaste India.
Does the knowledge of one instrument help a musician learn and excel at playing another instrument?
I began with the harmonium but I think learning vocals really helps to express oneself as an instrumentalist. Before I began playing the santoor, I played around with the keyboards, harmonium, piano etc and that really helped.
You weren’t sure about pursuing music initially. What made you change your mind?
As is the case with every teenager, I too was confused. But better sense prevailed and although I loved composing my own tunes, I had to get into the discipline of practising and learning the santoor, which I loved.
What influence does your father have on you as a musician and mentor? What is it like to play with him?
Well, he is the one who introduced the santoor to the world, so obviously today any santoor player playing on stage is influenced by Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma. I am fortunate to have him as my guru, and the process of learning continues. Having said that, I like to experiment in my own way too, which I often do.
What is it about the santoor that sets it apart from other stringed instruments?
I love its tonal quality and it has great scope for world and collaborative music.
Among the Western and Bollywood music-crazy youth, are there enough classical music enthusiasts?
Well, as a musician, I dabble in fusion, Bollywood, classical and world music and I think the world is becoming smaller today, so as an artist, I can really reach out to listeners in any part of the world. In India, there are listeners for all genres of music.
You have taken the santoor to a global platform and collaborated with other musicians too. Why is it important for a musician to collaborate with a musician from a different genre?
Well, I collaborated with Grammy winning artists such as KennyG, Deep Forests, Eric Moquet, Richard Claydernan etc and some of our CDs made it to the US Billboard charts jazz top sections. This obviously was something new for the santoor and brought in some new listeners. So for me, collaborations are a way of creating something not done before.
Magic in the voice
The great grandson of legendary Ustad Inayat Hussain Khan Saheb, the founder of the Rampur Sahaswan Gharana, Rashid Khan has developed an exceptional expertise in the use of sargams and sargam taankari. He is known for infusing emotions into his melodic elaboration.
What are the most important characteristics of this gharana?
The gharana finds its origins in Ustad Mehboob Khan, the chief khayal singer in the royal court of Rampur state (in present Uttar Pradesh). His tradition was followed by his son Ustad Inayat Hussain Khan and in turn by Inyat’s brothers-in-law — Ustad Haider Khan and Padma Bhushan Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan (first recipient of Padma Bhushan Award). Thus all the singers were connected with each other and the gharana was named after their ancestral place, Sahaswan, in present Badaun district. The Rampur-Sahaswan gayaki (style of singing) is closely related to the Gwalior Gharana, which features medium-slow tempos, a full-throated voice and intricate rhythmic play. The gharana style is also known for the diversity and intricacy of taans (rapid-fire elaborations), and tarana singing.
How would you define the khayals and taankari used in your singing style?
I define khayal by my own thoughts, keeping in the character of the raga perfect. Taans are bits and pieces and fragmentation of imagination woven into the character of the raga. One has to keep in mind the temperament of the raga so that the taankari does not look like an add-on but more ornamental.
How did you achieve your signature style of infusing emotional content into the melodic elaboration?
One needs to feel all kinds of emotions — pain, happiness or sorrow. If a dancer can portray bhaav through movements, it’s easier for a singer to emote through singing by feeling the lyrics and the swar of their music.
Do you think young listeners are aware of the gharana and Hindustani music?
I am happy to find youngsters making up the most of the crowd at my concert. As far as gharanas are concerned, I have stopped believing in restricting music to a particular gharana. The more one imbibes from different gharanas, the more impeccable s/he becomes as an artist. But yes it is of utmost importance to be trained under a particular gharana for a style to be developed. I find children pretty aware of this.
Do you think the association with Bollywood further helps promote classical music?
If you look into the history of Indian cinema, you would primarily find that, after the silent era, there was more of classical music used in the form of background score. Popular music came into being at a much later stage. So I would say that it helps both grow.
What are your views on fusion music?
I like to infuse my music in my own way — fusion is all about collaborating with the right kind of music for me.
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Catch Barka Ritu at Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha, Kothrud tonight from 7 pm onwars. Bookings available at www.bookmyshow.com