Sawani Shende (left) and Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil
FOR the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to catch the newly-launched InSync music channel early in the morning or late at night. The brainchild of violinist and event organiser Ratish Tagde and his company Perfect Octave, the channel shows what it appropriately calls ‘music to experience’, focusing on Indian classical music, ghazals, Sufiana, folk, fusion and specific film music based on classical ragas.
So far, I have been mainly able to watch the Hindustani classical programmes, besides a few film and devotional songs. And the first reaction is that this is the first television channel which promises to regularly show the best talent the country has to offer. Besides well-known names like vocalists Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mohan veena exponent Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and flautist Rakesh Chaurasia, what’s really creditable is that it provides a perfect platform to a lot of younger or lesser-known names.
It was a special delight to hear singers Sawani Shende on raga Charukeshi, Vijay Koparkar on Todi, Gayatri Joshi on Bageshri, Ruchira Kedar rendering Kedar and Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil singing a Kabir bhajan, and sitar player Vinayak Chittar play Bhatiyar. All of them are extremely talented, though probably not as well-known as some of their contemporaries. And InSync is an ideal channel to showcase their potential.
The channel obviously maintains the right balance between the known names and the lesser-known ones. Plans are to organise 40 to 50 shows over the next year, and telecast them.
Over the past decade or so, there have been individual programmes, channels like etc and shows like Idea Jalsa which have contributed to showcasing Hindustani classical music. But this is the first time followers will receive a daily dose of their favourite genre. Its focus on young artistes is truly welcome.
FOR some strange reason, there has been a rather erroneous impression that the future of Hindustani classical music is bleak, and there aren’t enough young musicians to carry forward the legacy of the earlier masters.
The truth, however, is that one finds more than adequate talent across the country. Some of them are below 30, and others in their 30s and 40s. They have their own small groups of followers, but are yet not as recognised as some of their contemporaries.
When you talk of musicians below 50, known artistes that many people instantly think of are vocalists Rashid Khan, Jayateerth Mevundi, Sanjeev Abhyankar and Kaushiki Chakraborty, flautists Ronu Majumdar and Rakesh Chaurasia, sitar players Niladri Kumar and Anoushka Shankar, santoor player Rahul Sharma, sarod players Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan, and tabla player Anuradha Pal, besides some other names. All of them are prolific and some of them absolutely brilliant, no doubt.
But then, there are also so many musicians who are just not known among the majority of audiences. They play at smaller venues and less-glamorous festivals, often in the presence of only 50 to 100 people. They don’t get the media footage that the others do, even though they are equally talented.
This trend can clearly be attributed to the way things have been functioning in the Hindustani classical music scene for quite some time. And much of this has to do with the ‘star culture’ that has permeated the system, and the tendency of some musicians to market themselves better.
Whether it’s the organisers, record labels or the media, the overall tendency — barring a few healthy exceptions — has been to highlight only a select few. Let’s specifically take the existing classical festivals as an example.
Every October till the following February, many large music festivals and some big one-off events are held in various parts of India. Most of these concerts are extremely well-attended and offer the highest quality of music. But if one notices the line-up of artistes, one sees more or less the same names repeatedly. In a bid to attract more audiences, organisers ensure that each festival features at least three or four ‘crowd pullers’.
While it’s absolutely fair if they think that way, and while it’s always a pleasure to hear the known names every time, one would be even more delighted if some of the lesser-known and younger musicians are given a chance to perform at these extravaganzas. Instead, they get the smaller festivals or individual concerts which attract limited crowds and lesser publicity.
Talking of publicity, one instantly thinks of the role of the media. Barring a few publications, coverage of most younger artistes is restricted to listings of their concerts, followed perhaps by a short one-paragraph bio-data, Here too, some of the better-known names are given more prominence, as their pictures are larger and they are interviewed too. ‘Star children’, or children of famous musicians, get more mileage.
As far as television is concerned, barring InSync channel and the occasional programme on Doordarshan, and shows like Idea Jalsa, most music television is hell-bent on only showing Bollywood or popular music, or over-dramatised song ‘n’ dance reality shows.
The same goes with radio. There was a time when classical fans looked forward to All India Radio recitals, but now, the time devoted to Hindustani classical has come down, and the lesser-known artistes rarely get a chance. The media thinks in terms of only one genre, which is Bollywood.
To come to recorded music, the industry has been going through a rough patch. Most of the bigger labels, and even some smaller classical-specific companies, have cut down on the number of new Hindustani releases. They are banking on the rich catalogue they have accumulated over the years, specially focusing on the older masters and some of the more recent stars. Their recording of younger artistes has been rather erratic, and even when done, marketing has been low-key.
While this is the general state of affairs, some musicians get more footage because they are public relations champions, or because they dabble in fancy fusion projects to attract attention. One also hears of the existence of lobbies and groupism, in that some musicians try to push only a select few disciples or followers, or are so strong in certain cities that they try to ensure only musicians from that city get opportunities. Those in the thick of things are aware of such incidents, and the ones to suffer most from this is the young, upcoming artiste.
THERE have been some positive signs too, as some concert organisers have made concerted efforts to promote younger musicians. Pancham-Nishad has been organising the Aarohi festival for over a decade, and has featured some really good artistes. This year’s line-up featured vocalists Dhanashree Ghaisas, Aditya Khandwe, Krishna Bongane and Sonal Shivkumar, sitar player Chintan Katti, sarod exponent Pratik Shrivastava and tabla players Ojas Adhiya and Yati Bhagwat. Not one of them is famous, but yet, they are really good.
Similarly, Banyan Tree Events started Swara: The Tree of Life two years ago, with the aim of having one younger musician and one senior artiste each evening, in concerts held in the smaller cities. Some years ago, Durga Jasraj’s Art & Artistes organised a day-long concert in memory of late sarod monarch Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, where the focus was only on young musicians.
Besides these, there are many other organisations and venues which do their bit to promote lesser-known artistes. Understandably, the scale of these events is much smaller in comparison to the big-star festivals, but at least they play their role in giving a chance to people whom one normally doesn’t hear.
A couple of other instances come to mind. To begin with, at the recently announced nominations for the Global Indian Music Academy (GIMA) awards, it was heartening to see some different names like vocalist Sangeeta Bandopadhyay, flautist Paras Nath, sarod player Abhishek Lahiri and tabla player Parthasarathi Mukherjee in the list of Hindustani classical nominees. This was alongside some of the biggest names on the circuit.
Recently, one also came across some publicity material sent by Lucknow-based Sangeet Milon for its ‘Classical Voice of India 2013’ competition, inviting entries in three age groups up to 24 years, to sing either khayal or dhrupad/ dhamaar.
Spic-Macay, one of the main bodies which has been educating youngsters about Indian classical music, has initiated ‘Naad Bhed’, a national reality show on television in association with Doordarshan and All India Radio, inviting entries in both Hindustani and Carnatic music. Efforts like these will surely help discover talent in Hindustani music, just like Indian Idol Junior did for children singing film songs.
What one sees in all this is that while there has been some strong individual effort in this direction by certain organisers and groups of people, in the overall perspective, things have been haphazard or sporadic. On the one hand, it is natural to push the stars and better-known names, and one isn’t complaining against that. But on the other hand, it is important to pay greater attention to the equally talented, yet less fortunate lot of younger talent. InSync channel is a great move in that direction, and one wishes more people follow suit.