For centuries, Indian classical music has been considered as one of the most complex and complete music systems that ever existed. Very few musicians have been able to master its various facets of divinity and effectiveness, among them is vocalist Kaushiki Chakraborty from Bengal. We chat with the artist on her visit to Mumbai for a performance at the tenth edition of NCPA’s Bandish festival.
Daughter of veteran Hindustani classical vocalist Pt Ajoy Chakraborty, Kaushiki is much more than just a classical singer. In her illustrious career, she has lent her voice to a number of Hindi, Bengali and South Indian films. Her song Lagi Lagi with MTV Coke Studio has been a monumental hit across India and Pakistan. She had also collaborated with film composer Shantanu Moitra for his album Song of the Himalayas.
“I do all my projects with utmost happiness. I haven’t done any project to make a difference, but because I believed and connected with them. I have enjoyed different types of collaborations and I want to learn from all my associations,” says Kaushiki, who will be performing a few Bandishes — melodic compositions of morning and afternoon ragas.
The 38-year-old has charmed global audiences with her Khayal (Imagination) singing. The North Indian classical vocal genre Khayal demands a great understanding of raga and an ability to improvise, all while remaining within the confines of a particular raga. And being the torchbearer of the Patiala gharana tradition that was popularised by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Kaushiki feels that her learning has been in phases.
“I have learned from my parents, and whatever I have learnt from baba has been the primary source of my music. I learnt new things when I started performing, because you don’t cut paste what you learn at home. You start understanding the audiences and perform according to their response,” shares the singer. “Performing with other musicians and at times listening to them also helps me learn. Most importantly my collaborations with harmonium, tanpura, and other world music spaces have taught me a lot. Everything is an opportunity to learn,” she shares.
The singer debuted at the age of 16, and her first public appearance was with tabla player father-son duo Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain, as well as sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan. Her work got her the Jadu Bhatta award in 1995, Outstanding Young Person award in 2000, Sangeet Natak Academy’s Ustad Bismillah Khan Puraskar in 2010, and BBC Award for World Music in 2005 that earned her international recognition.
Kaushiki has been revered for experimenting with her singing, which she believes comes from a great deal of comfort with music. “When you have a close association with music, you are confident in your space so you are not scared to experiment. Of course it takes a lot of training and riyaz, which is ultimately the most important for a musician to experiment,” she reveals. She adds that it depends on how one connects with the format and coordinates with fellow musicians.
In her performances taans take a lot of space and keep the audiences emotionally intact with her singing. When asked if it is more about her skills or the emotions that help her, she says, “If you are an artist, you are emotional. Life is an overlap of everything that happens to you, and it reflects in some or the other way in the art you do. All the emotions that we go through in life stay within us, and get transformed in a very subtle way when we make music,” she explains.
While most musicians prefer to rehearse before the final performance, Kaushiki thinks otherwise. “Rehearsals are not important, but daily riyaz is. Ninety percent of concerts are impromptu, so overall preparation is important regardless of when the next presentation is. Many times it has happened that as I have reached the auditorium, the artist before me is presenting the same raga that I planned to perform, so you have to change the raga at the very last minute. So for a particular concert, rehearsals and preparations are out of question, but practice as a musician is necessary. It’s a given thing,” she explains.
Being one of the most sought-after voices, Kaushiki has been compared to many veteran female singers, but she remains unaffected and rather wants to focus on her music. “I generally don’t respond to that. It is amazing, but I am happy where I am. I sing for my happiness, and I have been into music for so long that I am very much settled in my own space. I would rather focus on my music, for which I am being accepted and showered with compliments,” she concludes.