Whether one looks at percussion instruments, wind instruments or string instruments, one will still find exponents in India who are keeping their art alive at a time when Bollywood and EDM has taken over most playlists. Saaz-e-Bahaar, a two-day music festival in the city, is celebrating this rich heritage of Indian instruments, with performances by maestros such as sitarist Shakir Khan, shehnai player Hassan Haiderand, tabla expert Yogesh Samsi and violinist M. Narmdha.
“I cannot emphasise the importance of baithaks such as this enough in today’s time. When I was young, we used to have so many chamber music concerts. Now, most people either go for bigger programmes or simply plug in to their digital devices to listen to music,” says Yogesh, who remembers his days as a tabla student under the eminent tabla exponent Alla Rakha. “He was an extremely giving teacher and because of the connection with my father, Pt. Dinkar Kaikini, I was treated like his fourth son,” he recalls.
However, according to the tabla exponent, a lot of the work being done in today’s time around the tabla in the name of fusion is mere experimentation. “The tabla is one of the most versatile and developed percussive instruments. Exponents like Zakir Hussain have used this quality of the tabla to blend it with different genres. However, he did so only after years of research both about the instrument and the genres. When people do that without that level of research and dedication, which is often the case, then it is just another experiment,” he shrugs.
Yogesh is not the only person who believes that the current crop of musicians needs to focus more deeply on their craft. Hassan, too, says that shehnai exponents are few and far between nowadays. “The shehnai is one of the most beautiful musical instruments, and one of the most emotive ones. There is a huge audience for it, but not enough exponents. People like my father, Ustad Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan or Ustad Bismillah Khan gave their entire lives to their craft. Sometimes, tears would come to my eyes just listening to them play. But, nowadays, everyone just puts in a couple of years of training and then tries to perform professionally. The real sound of the shehnai is gone,” he laments.
The shehnai maestro adds that government incentive would go a long way in helping preserve the craft, since many don’t have the means to teach students without monetary backing from the government. “Programs like the upcoming festival are definitely helpful, but they are not enough to keep the music of the shehnai alive. When Bismillah Khan was admitted to the hospital in 2006, the government poured in money to save his life. It was a great thing that they did. Today, can they not spare some money to save the shehnai?” He signs off with this poignant question.
On April 7 and 8, 6 pm onwards, at Godrej Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point