If you love listening to music – and I believe everyone loves music, it matters not what kind of music it is — you’d know that there’s this very special and powerful thing that exists in some music, a thing that lights up in your mind and heart when you are listening to the music; a thing that is like pure ecstasy. It awakens you, inspires you, excites and moves you to the point where you feel a sense of supreme joy, pure intense awareness, the wild, mad, uninhibited passion of junoon, utter liberation from all the stuff and nonsense of daily life…when you transcend time and lose the sense of Self, yet, strangely and paradoxically, you feel more close than you have ever been to the entire universe.
It’s this mysterious, timeless, supremely powerful thing that makes great music; it’s the ability to find this thing and convey it that makes great musicians great. To experience this thing is like awakening into a Realm of infinite possibilities, of power and bliss, of union with the One in All and the All in One. For great musicians, every performance is an exploration, a quest for the gateway to this Realm. Hindustani classical musicians sometimes speak about looking for ‘Saccha Swar’; the ‘Note of Perfection’… maybe that’s a nice description of the gateway.
And how does one find and follow the path that leads to the gateway of Saccha Swar?
Perhaps only the great musicians know; perhaps even they can describe the path and their quest only through their music, not by mere words. This much is clear, though: the path itself has to be laid down individually, with the paving stones of endless learning and practice, riyaaz and saadhana; the path must be walked alone, it must be smoothed through deep discipline and dedication, illuminated by humility and openness and selflessness…
At this point, O long-suffering reader, I abandon my pitiful
efforts at describing what I cannot describe.
Instead, I quote wonderful musician Aruna Sairam from an interview I came
“…Ultimately, when you speak of a raga, it is an emotion. And therefore the musician that engages with this raga is making himself or herself very open, emotionally—and very vulnerable to everybody else who is in that space. This means that you have to trust, and you have to love, yourself and everyone else. And in that trust you put out your music, and the moment you express it, without inhibitions, the audience gets it, everybody around you gets it, and they in turn return that love manifold back to you…”
Aruna Sairam is going to perform at the Music Summit, Jaipur. We’re going to join her, and many great Path-finders like her, in their explorations towards Saccha Swar; through them and with them, we too shall glimpse and experience the Realm of Perfection.
This is sentimental. Because music makes me sentimental.
I write this with the feeble authority of one who has taught himself to play percussion by ear. I must hastily add: I also play percussion by fingers, palms, and feet.
I write to say I was utterly swept away by the ocean of music created by the many ustaads who performed during the MTV India Music Summit, organized by Musiconcepts at the Fairmont, Jaipur from 12th to 14th October.
I dare not try and describe what they played or how they played or why their performances were so wonderful, so moving, so magical. That is best left to the countless others who are more qualified and knowledgeable than me in matters musical.
But this much I bravely declare: the music I heard during the Summit unshackled my mind (it is of no relevance whether the mind was already unhinged); it carried me off to float effortlessly into realms of utter harmony, where, on the waves of timeless rhythms and riffs and cadences and chords, I transcended – if only for a few days – the mechanical world of space-time that I think of, and usually dwell in, as Reality.
Among the maestros who performed at the Summit were Shujaat Khan on sitar, Ajay Prasanna on flute, Amit Choubey on tabla, Ambi and L. Subramanian on violin, Aruna Sairam and Suresh Wadkar on vocals, Prasanna on guitar…. to name just a few. We heard Indian and Western classical, jazz and rock and world music, pop and devotional…
And more than once, at the end of some performance when I opened my eyes to the sound of applause and cheering as the last ethereal notes faded, I remembered something that the great jazz drummer Max Roach once said: that a great musician makes music the way a lover makes love.
Many of the musicians at the Summit demonstrated (and how!) the truth of this maxim in their performances: blending boundless curiosity with childlike delight, self-control with confidence; tempering blazing passion with tenderness, raging desire with empathy; taking us soaring to celestial heights of ecstasy, utter abandon, and then gently, respectfully, bringing us back to earth…
They performed with love, pure and unselfish. The love resonated as much in the joyous, crystal-clear choruses of the Mizo Cardinal Choir as in Usha Uthup’s husky, throaty, sending-shivers-down-the-spine crooning; in the devotional songs of Mazhar and Javed Ali Khan and of Pandit Chhannulal Mishra; in the innocent, lilting violin-cello-piano melodies of the Ramakrishnan Trio comprising Aaliya, Naima and Nisha; in the divine flute duets with which Suchismita and Debopriya Chatterjee dispelled dawn’s chill and welcomed the rising sun.
And if the Summit was shaped and held together by these many delicious and diverse strands of music, their impact was hugely enhanced by the interludes during which the maestros shared their musical knowledge and insights with us, through relaxed baithaks and conversations filled with anecdotes and banter. It was amazing how, with seemingly no effort or intent, these little one-off sessions developed a dynamic and logic of their own, with the ideas and musings and music in one session reflecting and being built on in another, till they became threaded together into a single string of multi-faceted, many-hued gems of gyaan.
There was so much of value, so much to listen to and revel in, so much to learn. Here are just a few random strands drawn from rapidly fading memory, in no particular order (the interpretations and translations, and any inaccuracies in them, are entirely my own):
Shujaat Khan, fondly recalling his father Vilayat Khan, and also Bhimsen Joshi who would often visit their home:
“Once, while listening to me as I was doing my riyaz, Joshiji began to chant the refrain of what sounded like a bhajan. Of course the bhajan blended perfectly with the raga I was playing, but I was unfamiliar with the lyrics. They went something like this (sings):
Lakshmi Maaaa Ryg Gyu – Poo
“After we finished, I asked Joshiji what the bhajan was. He replied, with a chuckle, that having momentarily forgotten the actual lyrics, he had instead sung out the address of his residence in Pune: ‘25, Lakshmi Marg, Pune, Maharashtra’…
Shankar Mahadevan, talking about his work with Bollywood songs and explaining—through songs—why we must, and how we can, respect, preserve, build on, and popularize our incomparable musical heritage—Hindustani, Carnatic, and all their many regional streams—without compromising on the rigour and purity of their classical systems and structures.
Shujaat Khan on sitar, sliding almost mischievously from a lovely contemplative Hindustani classical piece to a Bollywood pop tune. And leading us, with his wizardry on the strings, on a voyage along a river of liquid notes during which we experience the closeness of music to nature, to life, to Creation.
Ambi Subramaniam with his violin bearing us smoothly, blissfully, across the realms of jazz, world music, Carnatic raga.
Chhannulal Mishra effortlessly switching from Hindustani raga to Carnatic raga, providing glimpses into the one deep ocean whence both great rivers of traditional Indian music originate…
Sufi Kathak dancer Manjari Chaturvedi, speaking passionately on her ‘Courtesan Project’ to erase the social stigmas attached to the tawaifs (courtesans) and give them the respect and credit they deserve as supreme exponents of dance, music, drama and literature:
“Today, it has become so convenient for us to depict the tawaifs as ‘victims of sexual exploitation’ because they were women who performed in the nawabs’ courts. This is wrong! By the same token, we ought to be depicting as ‘victims of sexual abuse’ the men who performed in the nawab’s courts! The truth is, the tawaifs were great artistes, they were ustaads. And ustaad is a gender-neutral word! We only denigrate the tawaifs, we diminish and devalue their achievements by looking at them through the narrow prism of gender. Their music, all music, should be judged by its intrinsic value and quality, not by the gender or social position of the performer…”
“NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, carry ‘golden records’ containing sounds and images intended to depict the diversity of life on Earth for any extraterrestrial intelligence that may come across them. The records contain music from many countries: the song selected from India is the raga ‘Jaat Kahan Ho’ sung by khayal singer ‘Surshri’ Kesarbai Kerkar. Today Kerkar is still remembered in NASA’s golden disc on distant Voyager…but she is forgotten by us…”
The memories of the conversations blur and coalesce; presently they will fade and disappear altogether.
The music and passion endure, enthrall.
High on music, captivated by this mighty war drum, I tried echoing the driving beat of the Fairmont Gatekeeper…and succeeded in driving away a number of guests