I love music, but I’m no good at writing about music (or about anything else for that matter :D). Sure, I can play the drums, even fool around a little with a guitar; but I’ve never learned anything about music formally, instead simply picked up things by the heart and ear—and fingers and wrist and all.
I tax thy patience with the above throat-clearing statements, O patient Reader, because I’ve sat down to write a few lines on how thrilled I am to know that the Shillong Chamber Choir is going to perform at the India Music Summit, Jaipur early October.
But I can’t write about the Choir.
I love their music, but I have no words to describe their music and how it moves me. Even if I knew something about music, I wouldn’t dare try. How can one convey the romance and immensity and magic of a clear, starry night in the language of astrophysics?
I won’t even try to describe what kinds of music the Choir performs. It just doesn’t feel right to place any brackets of ‘genre’ around wonderful musicians like these; they sing just about anything they set their hearts and minds on…and they sing it with indescribable beauty and passion.
The Choir has performed across India, across the world. And they come from Shillong, my hometown.
And now, I listen to the Choir’s rendition of ‘When a child is born’…and soar away on the ethereal voices and the timeless wonder and joy and hope they echo:
“…And all of this happens because the world is waiting, Waiting for one child Black, white, yellow, no-one knows But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter, Hate to love, war to peace, and everyone to everyone’s neighbour And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever… It’s all a dream, an illusion now It must come true, sometime soon, somehow All across the land, dawns a brand new morn This comes to pass when a child is born…”
It does me. Music inspires me, transports me. I’m always playing music in my head, and tapping rhythms on any readily available surface, and so forth. Learned doctors, who wish to remain anonymous, have confirmed that music is as essential to my sanity (such as it is) as is oxygen to my life.
And that’s why I’m attending the India Music Summit 2019, that’s going to happen in Jaipur October 4th to 6th 2019. You can take a look at what’s being planned at the Summit here.
Like last year’s Summit which I attended, this year’s Summit too promises to be much more than a series of concerts at a fine venue by great musicians from across the world in a variety of genres —though that alone would be ample reason to attend!
To be at the India Music Summit is to be enveloped in and carried away on the waves of a gentle, infinite sea … on a timeless voyage through time, the essence of rhythm, guided by harmony and cadence and melody and rhapsody and mood and passion and sheer joy. During the Summit the music fills day and night, it welcomes in the warm glow of dawn and soars deep into starlight, it resounds in the halls and serenades the gardens and lawns. The musicians not only play and sing for you but share their anecdotes and experiences and knowledge and insights with you… and when you take a break from time to time to stretch a limb or to guzzle calories to fortify body and mind, there the musicians are, wandering around the lawns just like you, beside you at the buffet tables, ever ready to exchange a smile and namaskaar and friendly word or three…
Everything is so wonderfully informal, yet the music is so incredibly pure, so rigorous, so utterly perfect. The Summit’s got a vibe like nothing I’ve ever experienced elsewhere.
When a dear friend murmured that among the 100 or more musicians that will grace the 2019 Summit are Vikku Vinayakram, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Taufiq Qureshi, any little hesitation I had about attending simply vanished.
She also mentioned the name of a pianist–drummer prodigy I’d never heard or even heard of earlier: Lydian Nadhaswaram. Great God YouTube granted me a darshan of Lydian’s virtuosity: click here.
I mightn’t be a great drummer, but there are times when I can claim to have a good sense of timing… I’ve already bought my tickets for Jaipur :).
Hope to meet you at the Summit, upon the enchanted Sea of Music.
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