Two of the biggest names in Hindustani classical music will be holding court in unison in Dubai this Friday. Ustad Rashid Khan, vocalist par excellence, and Pandit Bickram Ghosh, musician and tabla player whose penchant to go beyond known parameters to plumb the depths of soulful fusion music is legend, will be offering UAE audiences a rare opportunity to sample some of their best offerings.
Khan’s hallmark has always been a full-throated voice with an intricate play of melodies — all delivered in a slow-to-medium tempo. Whether it is the lilting ‘Yaad Piya Ki Aaye’ or the evergreen ‘Aaogey Jab Tum’, Khan has been a standard-bearer of that rare breed of classical vocalists whose commitment to gaayaki (style of singing) is as entrenched as their dedication to delivering each and every single note in its purest form. Whether it is his presentation of vilambit khayals (delayed, slow rendition), fusing Hindustani music with lighter genres or collaborating with a western instrumentalist Louis Banks, Khan stands out with the strong emotional overtones of his vocals.
And, talking about emotional overtones, there has scarcely been a musician — a tabla player and percussionist to be precise — in the contemporary Indian musical landscape whose overplay of soulful musical bonds has gone on to explore uncharted territory with such amazing dexterity as Ghosh has done, time and time again. For instance, who could have imagined that the timeless horizon of ‘Mor Bhabonare Ki Haowaye’ (composed by Rabindranath Tagore) could be expanded even further with the power play of a mridangam (a percussion instrument of ancient origin) as Ghosh has done in Tagore Lounge?
Gulf News tabloid! caught up with both the maestros just ahead of their Dubai sojourn. Following are excerpts from a freewheeling chat.
‘Experimenting comes to me naturally’
From a child who would wake up and practice music at four in the morning to being one of the most accomplished classical musicians, what has been that one key ingredient in this illustrious musical recipe of Ustad Rashid Khan?
Khan: Almumarasat, walmumarasat wamazid min almumarasa: Practice, practice and more practice.
There is so much of an emotional overtone in almost all your renditions, making each note a study in intricate melodic interplay ... can you elaborate on this.
Khan: Well, music in itself is the easiest way where a person can put in all kinds of emotions. The lyrics of a composition, the music of the composition have to be felt and characterised to make every single note an emotional interpretation. Whenever I sing any composition, I feel the connect of the myriad of emotions in my real life. So this might be a reason why the colours of each of my compositions are so different.
You have had a fair bit of interplay with music directors from mainstream cinema. And even there too your gaayaki has unfailingly maintained a seamless mastery. What is the secret behind this?
Khan: [Laughs] You probably do not know that I am a master chef too and some of my recipes are supposed to be secrets. On a serious note, I do not categorise music. For me, singing in any genre is supposed to be done with the same intensity and focus like that of a bowler whose only aim is to take wickets.
You have collaborated with various vocalists and musicians and produced fusion music ... How satisfying have these experiments been?
Khan: Experimenting with anything comes to me naturally. Whether it is fusion cooking or fusion music, I enjoy doing something new always. My association with various kinds of musicians was by God’s grace very fruitful and interesting.
You will be performing with Pandit Bickram Ghosh in a joint concert in Dubai this weekend. Your thoughts looking ahead at it ...
Khan: My association with Bickram dates back to the time when we were teenagers and the musical collaboration actually grew with us as we matured over the years. Planning to have a fulfilling concert in Dubai and definitely looking ahead to entertain our audience.
‘For me, fusion isn’t confusion’
Whether it is the finale of the 2010 Commonwealth Games or sharing the stage with names such as Sting, Phil Collins, Bob Dylan and Nora Jones, you manage to raise the bar every time you perform … How has this been possible?
Ghosh: Whatever work I do, my primary aim is to give it due attention and be sincere to my craft. Once you give it due attention you start noticing the details. Along with this, what is important is good training and to have listened to enough good works. So you learn as you go along and the universe begins to open up to you with its secrets.
You have also collaborated for music in commercial cinema and it has been a very seamless exercise right through. How did you manage this?
Ghosh: I had travelled the world, performing with Pandit Ravi Shankar, and during those tours, I took in a lot from the world around me. Secondly, I have always been a film buff. In all these, I have been soaking up a lot about background scoring. In fact, I have an Oscar contention with my composition ‘Jal’, in association with Sonu Nigam. Also, the fact that I was a student of English literature helped me a lot in understanding cinema.
Since you have done so much of fusion music, how challenging is this concept of mixing traditions, genres?
Ghosh: The world today is a melting pot. You can no longer compartmentalise cultures. When we were growing up, an LP record was our only source if we wanted to listen to western music. Now everything is available on the digital platform. And cross-pollination of cultures will happen — not just with music, but food, fashion … everything. The challenge is to do it [fusion] with a sense of aesthetics. Fusion isn’t confusion. You can fuse cultures, but you must fuse it with respect and dignity.
What was more challenging — the germination of the idea for your first album Rhythmscape or presenting Rabindrasangeet in a new avatar with Tagore Lounge?
Ghosh: As a project, definitely Rhythmscape was very challenging because I did that album at a point of time when hardly anyone knew me. I was walking into uncharted territory. But by the time Tagore Lounge happened, I already had a fan base.
You will be performing with Ustad Rashid Khan in Dubai this Friday. Your thoughts, looking ahead at the concert …
Ghosh: Rashid and I have known each other since we were 15 or 16. As far as this concert is concerned, it will be a classical-fusion concert, where Rashid’s part will be bandish-based [a fixed, melodic composition], while I will soundscape around it, we will interact and I will be bringing in some of the gurus for this show. Yes, I’m looking forward to it.
Don’t miss it!
Surtaal: Ustad Rashid Khan and Pandit Bickram Ghosh live in concert
Venue: Emirates International School Auditorium, Jumeirah, Dubai
Date and time: December 13 at 8pm; doors open 7.30pm
Tickets priced from Dh50 to Dh500 available at www.q-tickets.com or call 050-629 0048.