New Hues of Hindustani

Anjali Jhangiani
Saturday, 20 October 2018

Indigenous avant-garde artists are seamlessly fusing Hindustani Classical music with new-age Electronic genres to make it more appealing to a wider audience across the globe. Anjali Jhangiani updates you on the recent innovations

Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought when it comes to Hindustani music — the purists and the ready-to-experiment. Hindi movies have made us familiar with the first type of artists, remember Vikram Gokhale as Pandit Darbar in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam who scoffed at the young Sameer’s (Salman Khan) untrained ways, or the more recent Kumud Mishra as Pandit Vibhuti Sharma in Rock On 2, who chided his son for ruining the art of Indian music. Needless to say, you find versions of these characters in real life too, who would cringe at the mere thought of fusion. 

The latter type includes a host of new-age artists who are looking for ways to introduce Hindustani music to the world in their own unique style with electronic music. Through their fearless experimentation they are transcending genres and delivering Hindustani music in neat compositions with an element of familiarity and differentness to audiences who instantly get hooked on to this melange of sounds. 

We speak to such artists to find out more about their art and innovation. 

Last year, Ritviz’s Hindustani Dance Music track titled Udd Gaye could easily be called the anthem for the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. But it wasn’t just a big thing at the music festival, the track became wildly popular among audiences of all ages within hours of its release on social media. “A lot of people said that the song is an ear-worm and they can’t stop listening to it. Some even said that the song helped them get over a lot of issues which they faced internally. Some people didn’t understand the lyrics properly so they made their own interpretations of it (ha ha),” laughs Ritviz Srivastava, the 21-year-old ‘party starter’ from Pune who will be perfoming at the festival this year too. 

Coming to what Hindustani Dance Music is, well, it’s more than just electronic beats juxtaposed with Hindustani Classical instruments. “I received formal training in Hindustani Classical music as a child. I started when I was about six years old. But once I got to my teens and started learning how to produce electronically, I was drawn more towards Hip-hop and dance music. So eventually, I would try to infuse my classical influences into the process while writing music. This fusion is being called Hindustani Dance Music now,” he describes.

Don’t mistake him for a kid from the block who got lucky with the massive hit. Years of hard work, training and practice have gone into formulating the song that people heard on repeat for days on end. 

“I was trained in two different forms of Hindustani Classical vocals. I learnt Khayal from Maa, and Dhrupad from Pandit Uday Bhawalkar when I was 10 years old,” shares the artist who started making compositions even before he hit his teens. “It’s important to experiment in order to create new possibilities, which I think people are now recognising and working towards. This transformation is a slow one however, because people get too attached to one idea,” he says. 

The creative process for making fusion music is pretty much the same as composing within one genre — all you need is a thorough understanding of the kind of music you want to make and the passion to come up with original content. When he fuses Hindustani music with EDM in this case, he is wary of making sure the listeners get a fulfilling taste of both the genres. “I don’t really think much while creating music. It’s not a formula-driven process for me, at least on a conscious level. My job is to deliver feelings and that’s all I take into account while making music, that’s how it works. Give feelings the attention your song deserves and balance is created,” says Ritviz, adding, “I’ve not been part of many collaborations when it comes to making music. But there’s a couple of fun collaborations in the works which I’m really excited about. Can’t talk about them yet though!”

Hindustani Trap is a form of Trap, derived by using Indian sounds, scales, rhythms and anything that has an Indian origin. Based out of Bengaluru, the dynamic duo, comprising producer/ percussionist Rohit Gandhi and guitarist-DJ Anil Prasad, go by the name Argenil. They have created a bridge between Indian sounds, culture, ethnicity and global sounds used in Trap/ Hip-hop. “We, as musicians, were first introduced to these Indian sounds before anything else, so our idea is to make this a global experimental sound. It’s exclusive to us just because of the way we use it in our compositions. It could be a small blend or a whole song derived from it. The important part is to add that vibe to it that would make it a signature thing,” says Rohit. 

The duo have received nothing but applause for their music from audiences. They use a variety of Indian instruments like the flute and shehnai, as well as Western instruments like the violin. 

Rohit, who has been a percussionist for more than a decade-and-a-half, has his mother as his sole inspiration who is an octapad player. He plays the dholak, dhol and a number of other percussion instruments. “We have no professional training as such but we’ve definitely got our roots from the right place,” says he. 

While the popular notion is that Hindustani Classical music has mostly been a rigid genre, it is now opening up to various kinds of fusion. “In our opinion, fusion is the next big thing. Probability of creating different vibes when it comes to fusion is infinite. That’s the beauty of it. A lot of bands, producers from India are now experimenting with Indian sounds and trying to take the culture to the world which is definitely a great thing. The intention is to make it a global trend,” he says. 

According to them, Hindustani Classical music is just another term for Indian music. And maintaining a palatable balance between Hindustani music and Trap in their compositions, they say, depends song to song or concept to concept. “The balance also depends on the video. In some songs, you’ll hear a major Indian vibe and in some songs, you might just hear small things like Indian percussions or instrument licks. But the sound is definitely defined and the listener will definitely be able to identify our style,” says Anil. 

The title of their exciting new EP is She Did It, which is also the title of their track in collaboration with American rapper Eddie. “We took a good six months to make this. Half the stuff was composed when we were in America with bits and pieces of the Rap and we had to finish the whole thing back in India. Lot of back and forth cause the song to represent who you are and your vision, so perfection was the topmost priority. We tried a bunch of rappers and singers for the songs but it took us a while to get that perfect fit. Even though we had a vision of our sound, it was quite challenging to make that perfect blend. We had multiple versions of the songs before we could actually see the finish line, so we finished about 10-12 songs and then picked the top five which made the EP,” he shares. 

Ask the members of the New Delhi-based band Shadows and Light to tell us about their experimental genre, and they say, “We don’t like to call it experimental. We prefer to call it Contemporary Classical. It’s what comes to us naturally, and since we come from different musical backgrounds, our scope of genres is wide. We focus on the melody and the narrative of the pieces and then build on it. The music can sometimes begin with just a piano riff or a vocal melody that inspires the rest. Every song of ours is unique.”

Their music is often described with adjectives such as evocative, cinematic, soulful, engaging and calming by their fans, friends, and critics. “We feel proud that our music appeals to a wide age range — youngsters to the older generation. It allows us to add variety to the venues and performances we do,” says Pavithra Chari, who was trained in Hindustani Classical under celebrated vocalist Shubha Mudgal, and Carnatic music. The band also includes Anindo Bose. 

“I have been trained in Hindustani Classical since I was a child and I continue to train under my guru Shubha Mudgal. My training has definitely helped develop a strong foundation — I always seek inspiration from the raags I learn and the techniques that help me maintain good vocal health,” says she. 

While Anindo arranges the music and produces the songs at the Plug ‘n’ Play Studios, Pavithra writes the lyrics and composes the melodies. “Sometimes we also compose for each other in a song. The songs are layered with a lot of electronic soundscapes, ambient effects, loops and drum grooves with plenty of moving bass lines but the core  is centered around traditional keyboard sounds of the piano/electric piano. There are acoustic/electric guitar parts as well that we add to certain songs. We also use a lot of vocal harmonies and percussive sounds to add to the core vocal melodies,” says she. 

Pavithra believes that Hindustani Classical music is an immensely vast discipline, in regard to structure and direction. “I also feel that it has various perspectives to it, and is highly adaptable to other genres. In the past, there have been many incredible fusion compositions that have been inspired by Hindustani Classical music. We have the internet so it’s easier to listen to them now. I don’t feel that it is a rigid genre at all. In fact, it gives me a lot of grounding as well as scope for improvisation and creation,” she explains. 

While making their music, they focus on the melody and the emotions are expressed through the lyrics. The tracks are not manufactured, but allowed to flow and progress naturally. Pavithra claims that the most challenging part of the creation process is to maintain a balance to give the audience a wholesome flavour of Hindustani music. “At times, it takes many days and even months to work on it but we are willing to put in the time,” she shares.

The band will be performing at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in December. During the last three years, they have collaborated with some incredible artists including The Berklee Indian Ensemble, Karsh Kale, Warren Mendonsa, Stanley Jordan, Benny Dayal, Shubh Saran, Aman and Ayaan Ali Bangash, to name a few. “Our experience with each artist has been immensely rewarding and full of learning. The best part is that for most of the collaborations, we have had these great musicians re-interpret our existing compositions. That has really made us feel humbled and at the same time, helped us create a niche and develop our sound. At the moment, we are very excited for our video collaboration with the Berklee Indian Ensemble, for our song Dua, coming out in the next two months,” she says.

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