‘Performing in a concert today is a challenge’

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 17 January 2019

Begum Parveen Sultana explains the challenges of performing in concerts in today’s time and why there are no short cuts to success. The vocalist is performing today at Vasantotsav

She was barely seven or eight, when her father would lock her in a room, so that she could listen to the stalwarts from the music world without being disturbed. “Seventy five per cent of your training comes from listening, listening to good music and vocalists. What you absorb and imbibe is eventually reflected in your art,” says Begum Parveen Sultana, who is in the city to perform this evening (January 18) in Vasantotsav, in association with Sakal. The three day music concert, which is presented by P N Gadgil and Sons and powered by Ravetkar Housing, will have, besides Begum Parveen Sultana, Pt Shaunak Abhisheki (vocals) and Ustad Moinuddin and Momin Khan (sarangi) performing on the first day. 

“As a classical vocalist, I have to be on my toes all the time, especially in today’s scenario, where there is nothing that can escape a music connoisseur’s ears. The internet ensures that every bit of information about music and musicians is amplified. People are now well-versed with music, they read books on the subject, read up blogs, watch videos and so on and based on all this information, they choose to attend a music concert. That’s why I say, performing in a concert today is a challenge, and I love to accept a challenge,” says the vocalist, who was trained by her father, Ikramul Mazid and then by Pt Lahiri. 

The Patiala gharana vocalist known for her clear and pure notes also gives us a peek into the clarity of her thoughts. She says, “As a musician, I must know myself very well. I need to have a strong opinion about myself. I must know why I am performing, I must please my guru and I must please my audience who comes from a long distance to hear me, and also pay a good sum.” 

She is a strong adherent of Indian classical and semi-classical music and if she does sing for films (like Pakeezah, Kudrat and the most recent one 1920), they have to have the melodic base of raaga. “I am known for my shastriya and upashastriya music. If I sing film songs, then I choose those which are based on raagas. I don’t make any compromise on this aspect. I have been learning and performing music for 45 years now, so I don’t take shortcuts to glory, nor would I advise anyone else,” says Sultana, who is a recipient of Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi award.

The vocalist then ticks off all that is required by an aspiring musician to flourish in the industry.  “As I said earlier, my father would encourage me to listen to records of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan Saab, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan Saab and Pandit Ravi Shankarji. If I wanted to listen to light music, he would make me listen to Lataji (Mangeshkar). He would say, ‘Beta, aap inhe acche se suno...concentrate karo and then tell me what you liked’. He would tell me I could learn how to sing in sur, how to use words, how to throw them for effect, from these maestros. Those memories were fantastic. I must also say that these episodes have nourished me. How many kids these days are groomed in this kind of atmosphere? They barely learn for a year or two and they are off to take part in music shows,” she rues. 

“Today no one wants to put in efforts or do riyaz; they don’t want to polish their skills. That’s why singers these days are not consistent nor do they last long. Classical music is a life-long sadhana, it’s a guru-mukhi vidya. You can’t really go far unless a guru holds your hand, shares and teaches you his life lessons. If you don’t practise for one day, then you put your learning back by 15 days at least. By riyaz, I just don’t mean exercising your vocal chords, I mean stretching your mental horizon too,” Sultana makes a point. 

However, the vocalist is all praise for technology, if it’s used only for your training and learning. “It was not always possible for us to afford to buy gramophone and records. But on YouTube, you can listen to any vocalist or instrumentalist. You can listen to me in a private mehfil or doing riyaz. It has made learning easy and accessible for all. This is something fantastic. Technology is helping every industry, not just music,” says Sultana and concludes.

On the first day of Vasantotsav, watch the performances of Padma Shri Ustad Moinuddin Khan and Momin Khan (4 pm), Pt Shaunak Abhisheki (6 pm) and Padma Bhushan Parveen Sultana (8 pm) at Pandit Farms, Karvenagar 

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