ICYMI — Classical Music and You!

Indian Jam Project
Indian Jam Project
Photo: © indianjamproject.com
Indian tabla
Photo: © Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath

I’m sure most of you guys and girls are YouTube junkies. Who doesn’t enjoy watching all the latest videos and uploads? And what a variety we’ve got, too. There’s something on every topic under the sun. And one of the most popular topics under that sun is music — shining brightly on every laptop, computer, iPad and mobile’s ‘sky’ (read ‘screen’). I’m pretty sure you’ll have come across a number of bands and solo artists on YouTube who have gained immense popularity by creating Indian classical adaptations of Hollywood and Bollywood songs. Of the many, a group that calls itself the Indian Jam Project, scaling YouTube views and likes, uploads videos of classical versions of Hollywood movie/television theme songs that they create using melodious and awe-inspiring music instrumentation. Ranging from Game Of Thrones to Harry Potter themes, their innovative take has been highly appreciated. Toronto-based artist Shobhit Bhanwait recently sent social media into a frenzy when he uploaded an amazing tabla cover of Calvin Harris and Disciples’ How Deep Is Your Love.

So what does this tell us? Perhaps that these artists feel it’s cool to dabble in classical music and present it to the world. Give popular tracks an interesting twist and create something incredible. Showcase what’s natural to us, our heritage, and make a mark for ourselves on global platforms. And they most definitely are receiving a great response from all around the globe! (Psst! Have you seen the number of shares and likes they have?!).

Anoushka Shankar playing the sitar
Anoushka Shankar
Photo: © DidierCherel (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

What I’d like to point out is that these singers and musicians wouldn’t take to classical music if they thought it was outdated or only for our beloved grandparents to listen to. The best way to stand out is to do what you do best and not ape another. For example, being born and brought up in London, it would have been so easy for youth icon Anoushka Shankar, world-renowned sitar artist and exponent, and daughter of the legendary late Pandit Ravi Shankar, to take up any other genre of music. But she chose to stick to her roots and propagate Indian classical music universally. She was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2003 in the World Music category for her third album Live At Carnegie Hall and was the youngest-ever and first woman nominee in this category.

Classical music isn’t restricted to the virtual platforms and stage performers. Ever noticed while playing the all-time favourite game Antakshari, we easily remember and sing all the old Hindi film songs in an instant and not the recent churn-outs of the industry? Well, that’s probably because a majority of those old numbers were set in beautiful and versatile classical ragas that gave each song a strong foundation for it to grow in our minds and last for decades. Evergreen classics like Naino Mai Badara Chayi (Mera Saaya) and Khilte Hai Gul Yaha (Sharmilee) have glimpses of the Raag Bhimpalasi while the R. D. Burman classics like Mere Naina Sawan Bhado (Kudrat) is set in Raag Shivranjani and Kyu Nayi Lag Rahi (1942-A Love Story) in Raag Khamaj.

Deepika Padukone in the song Deewani Mastani from the movie Bajirao Mastani.
Deepika Padukone in the song Deewani Mastani from the movie Bajirao Mastani.

Some of the recent movies have lovely compositions based on classical music as well. For example, Tauba Tera Jalwa from Dev D., which is in Raga Bageshri and Shankar Mahadevan’s Sapnon Se Bhare Naina in Raga Bhairavi. More recent films like the Marathi movie Katyar Kaljat Ghusli and the Hindi blockbuster Bajirao Mastani were widely appreciated for their music. With tracks set in ragas like Raag Kedar, Raag Puriya Dhanashri and Raag Bhupali, the songs develop a taste for classical music in the common man.

Many of our schools have our national song included in the assembly period. Here is an interesting trivia about this milestone composition — of the many versions , one of the most popular which was telecast on Doordarshan and had maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar on sitar, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma playing santoor, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi for vocals, Ustad Zakhir Hussain playing the tabla, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia for the flute among many others, was set in Raag Des.

Did the names of the ragas baffle your mind? That would perhaps also happen if I wrote this article in Greek or Latin. An unknown language is always confusing. Understanding classical music is as cool as knowing an exotic foreign language and being able to converse with those who speak it. It has been a long-held notion that classical music is for the classes and not for the masses. Only a select few know of and understand Shastriya Sangeet while the rest remain blissfully oblivious to the various facets of this ancient form. While a part of this theory is true, I cannot wholeheartedly agree that the common man (and woman) remain entirely secluded from classical music.

The reach of Indian classical music has defied international boundaries and limitations. The allure of the celestial feeling of Indian classical music has drawn a number of foreigners to the country to learn and pursue this art form. These artists did the reverse of what usually happens in India — Indians going in search of opportunities to foreign lands. They were fascinated by what our country and culture had to offer, they dedicated their lives to learning these (alien) art forms and their lives are now success stories. Saskia Rao-de Haas, a Danish cello artiste, has achieved playing the intricate nuances of Indian classical music on her modified cello. Her performances are known to be endearing and sincere. Shankar Tucker, of American origin, is another popular name in the world of music. He plays Hindustani music Swars on the clarinet instead of chords and is a disciple of maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. His claim to fame is the popular online music series on YouTube and Soundcloud called The ShrutiBox that was launched by him. His videos have over 12 million views and 1,00,000 fans.

We are surrounded by classical music everywhere. It just needs you to tune into it. It’s an opportunity to create moments of bonding and exhilaration by connecting with another person on a musical level. .It’s an opportunity to reconnect with our heritage. It’s the opportunity to connect with the ‘U’ through ‘Music’!

In the coming issues, I will take you on a heritage tour of classical music.  I hope my insights and experiences, opinions, trivia and GK keeps you musically enriched and happy always. Do write in if you wish to read about anything in particular about Indian classical music.

Musically yours… Ashwini.

Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath

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Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath

Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath is the eleventh generation of her family to be dedicated to the ancient art form of Indian classical music. She has performed in India and abroad, has music albums to her credit and successfully runs her classical music academy all over Mumbai.