A dance drama performed by Malhaar

For lovers of Indian classical music and dance, the Malhaar Centre for Performing Arts in Jumeirah Lakes Towers is a welcome addition to Dubai’s vibrant cultural scene. The Centre, which opened in February, offers training in Indian classical music and dance as well as courses in theatre, art and craft. It also hosts performances and workshops by famous Indian maestros and upcoming homegrown talents; workshops on music and poetry appreciation, fitness sessions with live music; and free concerts on the weekends.

The Centre is the brainchild of Jogiraj Sikidar, who has trained in Hindustani classical music under well-known gurus for more than 25 years. Sikidar moved to Dubai over a decade ago to work as a creative director with a television company. He founded Malhaar, the UAE’s first Indian classical music ensemble in 2009, and has now decided to devote all his time to training through the Malhaar Centre for Performing Arts. Sikidar spoke to the Weekend Review about his passion for Indian classical music and his vision for the Centre. Excerpts:

What was your motivation to start Malhaar?

When I moved to Dubai, I found that there was a lack of awareness about classical and folk music from India and the general perception was that Indian music is only Bollywood music. People who wanted to be involved with classical music did not know how or where to start. So I decided to form a choir where we could sing together, and we called it Malhaar after the raga connected with rain because rain is always welcome in the desert. Like me, most of our members had full time jobs, and we would meet after work, and on weekends to sing and learn from each other. The group now has over 150 members, which include Indian classical vocalists, instrumentalists, and dancers, visual artists, theatre persons, writers, composers and stage designers, and we have presented many successful shows that celebrate the rich art and culture of the Indian subcontinent through music, dance and theatre with everything from conception of the idea and research to the costumes, sets, and original compositions done by our members.

Why did you decide to open the Malhaar Performing Arts Centre?

UAE residents of all ages and nationalities are interested in learning Indian classical performing arts, but cannot do so because of lack of professional training facilities here. During our shows we have been constantly inundated by requests to start teaching. Given Malhaar’s large pool of talent, it was a logical step to open a training centre, but we spent three years researching the needs of the local community and developing courses that suit them, before taking this step. This is a labour of love, and we take pride in the fact that the Malhaar Performing Arts Centre is run by artistes who have put their heart and soul in the project.

What is your vision for the Centre?

Our vision is to provide holistic training in Indian performing arts to students of all ages and skill levels. We expose our students to all art forms which deepens their understanding of the one they have chosen. Our aim is not only to provide training, but also to groom our students to become complete performing artistes in the true guru-shishya [teacher-pupil] tradition. Our faculty members have learnt their craft from legendary Indian maestros and they are the finest performing artistes in the UAE, so they are well-equipped to nurture and guide their students. The training is enhanced by our programme of workshops with maestros, live performances, collaborations with local artistes, and other events happening throughout the academic year. The idea is to learn from mentors, observe the maestros and perform with peers. We have already welcomed legendary musicians such as Pandit Jasraj, Shubha Mudgal, Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty and American sitarist Josh Feinberg to the Centre for concerts and workshops. Our ultimate vision is for the Centre to be a sanctuary where people can explore the depth and variety of Indian classical performing arts in a relaxed, welcoming environment.

What courses do you offer?

Our music courses include Hindustani and Carnatic classical vocal music, instruments such as tabla, harmonium and the flute, ghazal, Sufi and devotional music, Bengali music, and foundation music for younger children. We teach Indian classical dance forms such as Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Odissi. We follow the syllabus of India’s premier music institute, the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya and we also mentor students for undergraduate courses. We also conduct classes in musical theatre and drama, and painting and craft courses. We have also designed courses that promote parent child bonding through joint music or dance lessons, and romantic ghazal classes for couples. We host the Bickram Ghosh Fusion Studio with the famous percussionist visiting every month to share his skills. We are also collaborating with local schools to conduct training at their premises, and present Malhaar style productions with their students.

What can you offer to those who do not want to join long term training courses?

Our students range in age from four to 72, and we can tailor our courses to suit their needs. For music lovers interested in fitness, we offer Bollywood fitness classes accompanied by live music. We also host sessions on music and poetry appreciation that will help music lovers to have a better understanding of the nuances of different forms of Indian classical music and the lyrics. We are collaborating with UAE-based group Bazm-E-Urdu to conduct sessions that explain the meaning and pronunciation of Urdu lyrics in Bollywood songs. We also plan to organise retreats to exotic locations that combine music and dance workshops led by famous gurus, and exploration of folk art forms with local performers and craftsmen. We also host a variety of events that are open to everyone.

What are these events?

The Viraasat (legacy) series features intimate lecture demonstrations by maestros, and Mausiqi (music) is a series of chamber concerts by well-known artistes. On weekends we host Unwind Saturday, a free event that features talks and performances by musicians, dancers, painters, filmmakers, writers and other artistes. We also organise a monthly event titled Whitelight Unplugged, where seasoned performers and budding talents jam together on a full moon night, giving the audience a chance to see the creative process live. Most of our performances and sessions are either free or very reasonably priced to ensure access to all.

What is the Malhaar Music Club?

This is a unique club for aficionados of Indian classical music and dance that offers members a privileged gateway to all of Malhaar’s offerings. These include monthly themed music concerts, discounted tickets for selected concerts and theatrical shows in town, VVIP invitations for Malhaar’s musicals, special workshops with celebrity performers and preferential entry to Malhaar’s classes and high demand celebrity concerts and arts appreciation workshops. Those interested will also get the opportunity to perform for the club members, and we will arrange mentoring sessions to help them prepare for the performance.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.

Malhaar Centre for Performing Arts is located in Tiffany Towers, Cluster W, Jumeirah Lakes Towers. For more information write to info@malhaar.ae or call 056-4334258.