Purbayan what do you feel about jugalbandi concerts.
Last week, Kolkata born, Mumbai based sitariya Purbayan Chatterji played a scintillating duet with Grammy nominated, 2017 Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Chennai-based flautist Shashank Subramanyam. The occasion was the finale concert of the 5th Shimla Classical Music Festival. Of an age, both have collaborated several times together musically despite their different training.
Hailed as one of the finest flute players in the world today, the talented Shashank Subramanyam has performed for more than 32 years (his first concert was when he was 6). Despite not coming from a family of musicians, as is common to most maestros, he is remarkable for his highly developed fingering techniques, as well as mastery of dual octave production. Another novelty is that he also plays the bass flute which is a North Indian instrument, which has 8 holes not 6.
Chatting with both musicians was relaxed and informal.
Shashank, how difficult is it playing a Carnatic music concert with a North Indian musician?
I feel in North Indian music, the instrumentalists have over the years developed their own specialised techniques; the beauty of North Indian music is that each instrument has its own style of playing, its own distinctive compositions. Our instrumental music in the Carnatic style follows the voice much more than in the North Indian music system. Another difference is the style of presentation - Carnatic music concerts of course can be prolonged also, but generally are compressed in a shorter format, fitting all aspects in a smaller time frame. But despite the differences, the theory of music, the unfolding of the Raga with the confinement of rhythm remains the same.
Purbayan what do you feel about jugalbandi concerts.
Music has to be presented subtly, you should not go out there and display all you know. With co artists, making music together is like having a conversation – if you both talk together, no one is heard. If there is something you disagree with, you should go to something else. If the other person has said it all, silence is better than repetition.
Shashank your take on jugalbani concerts?
I have been so fortunate to play so many jugalbandis with artists from the North Indian tradition (maybe 7-800 concerts)– on sitar, sarod, sarangi, slide guitar, mohan veena, vocalists. One has to achieve flexibility to play with different instruments, and have knowledge of the other’s music, to create a blend. Luckily the knowledge I gained from my Guru Pt Jasraj on Hindustani music gave me the required ability to understand how it functions. An artist needs to be in a totally comfort zone about his art, and be flexible. Collaboration is not about what you think it should be, it’s about combining two values together to create something of even greater value.
With Purbayan, collaborating has always been a wonderful experience, we have played for more than 13 years, and travelled all around the world, playing duets, trios. He is a very creative artist with a wonderful sense of rhythm which is so essential in Carnatic music. Our record “Rasayana” has sold very well too.
Purbayan tell me more about your evolution as a musician?
One goes through different stages. Also, different venues demand different types of music. For example, at corporate shows I am asked to play the theme of “The Good The Bad The Ugly”; I am OK with that too. In my album Sitarscapes I have played the song “Sagar kinare”; I see no harm in that, it’s a beautiful tune. Even my Guru, the great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan has played Greensleeves and other popular numbers. Obviously I won’t play that at a classical music concert! There is no such thing as inferior or superior genre; its only good music or bad music. I do believe as an artist you have to respect your audience- neither should you say here I am, here’s my music, take it or leave it; nor should it be Ok here I am, here’s my soul, take it. It’s a balance one has to learn as a commercial musician. Sometimes the audience itself doesn’t know what it wants. I should play what I feel is good music; not play what I think will appeal. Ultimately people understand soulful music. No one can hear Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and say he is boring. I have seen nowadays as Indians we have pride in ourselves, Made in India is becoming a brand to be proud of. Our classical music is being lauded even amongst the younger generation now.
Shashank, some North Indian Ragas like Desh, Jaijaiwanti (Dwijawanti) Kedara (Hameeri Kalyan) are always presented only as light pieces by Carnatic musicians. Do you agree?
Well yes and no. I don’t quite agree with this fully; Jaijaiwanti can be presented as a major or minor Raga, Hameer Kalyani (Kedar) is always presented as a major Raga. Bihag is usually presented as a light Raga but not always, as is Yaman Kalyani. So one can’t really generalize here!!!
Purbayan, in your opinion what is conducive to making the best music?
Musicians make the best music when they go on stage thinking they have absolutely nothing to prove. Music is made in the moment – all you have to do is to go there and enjoy it, and once you are doing that, great music will follow if you have the requisite training and practice. Don’t worry about the last phrase or what is to come next. The audience plays a major role but often artists create a big separation between themselves and the audience. I try to train my mind to think myself and my audience the same.
If I am enjoying it, my audience is enjoying it. It’s like praying – if you make a big ritual of sitting to pray, you are creating a separation between yourself and the Divine. Actually you are trying to connect with the Divine part of yourself, so there is no separation.
The audience certainly connected with the music, which was a spontaneous vibrant unself conscious outpouring from both artists!