Mohan veena maestro Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on playing with the Langa and Manganiar musicians of Rajasthan.
Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt defies the feeling that only musicians living in the Capital get assignments that keep them busy performing across the world. The Mohan veena maestro, keeping his quiet headquarters in Jaipur, is about as much of a globetrotter as any city slicker could be. Convinced as he is that music is a universal language, he constantly crosses borders, combining his mellifluous slide guitar — redesigned and rechristened by him as the Mohan veena — with diverse instruments, from the American banjo to South India's gottuvadyam (Ravi Kiran's chitra veena), from the Carnatic violin to the Arabian ouch, the Mexican guitar to the Chinese Erhu.
This weekend he comes to New Delhi with a presentation from closer home: the Mohan veena in collaboration with the soulful Langa and Manganiar musicians of Rajasthan. As he croons a bit of “Kesariya Balam” and “Hichki”, one can hardly wait for waves of music to start filling the air this Saturday. Excerpts from a chat with the maestro:
You have been out of the country for a while…
I just went to the U.S. for about one-and-a-half months. I went to about 20 cities. I also went to Canada, Switzerland and Finland. I have also recently been to Copenhagen, for Womex. This is a music event where only organisers from all parts of the world come. From thousands of CDs, they choose about 30 artistes to perform for them. Only the top people come there. It's not for the general public, it's for promotion. It leads to recordings, bookings, etc.
What did you perform there?
I presented the work I did with the Langas and Manganiyars. It was earlier made into an album called Desert Slide. This is a blend of Rajasthani folk musicians and myself. It blended very well. Fusion is always associated with Western music, but this is fusion of Indian classical music and Rajasthani folk music. We will be travelling with it all over the world. I first started this project about three years ago. We have already performed it in Paris and in the city of Ivora in France as well as in Portugal. In India we have performed it in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Jodhpur, Jaipur. We have a show in Delhi on December 18.
Was it difficult to adapt your music and instrument to the music of the Langas and Manganiyars?
A little bit of work we had to do, but whenever I work with musicians from other genres, whether it is with Chinese or European or Carnatic musicians, it is not difficult, because the language of music is universal. For a classical musician, it is very relaxing to work with musicians of other styles.
In this case, for example there is the raga Mand which has come to classical music from Rajasthani Maand. Then the “Hichki” song features Keeravani Bhairavi. Another reason I was comfortable with the music is that I am from the region.
The performance includes khartal, which provides very good layakari, the kamaicha, which is a bass sarangi, and the dholak, and along with me will be Ramkumar on the tabla.
Any new albums coming out?
I have two albums just released. One was released in America. It is called “Sleepless Nights”. I have collaborated with Matt Malley, who lives in Los Angeles and plays the bass guitar and keyboards. It's doing very well. We got very good reviews in Australia. It is more in the romantic mode.
Another album is called Grove Caravan, which I made with a Jazz musician Glen Halls from Edmonton.
Your range of musical collaborators is extremely wide. How do you choose your partners?
Usually it is proposal either from the recording company or from the musicians themselves. Among Indian musicians, I have played with Lalgudi Jayaraman, Ganesh-Kumaresh, L. Subramaniam, Ravi Kiran, and others.
Many of today's musicians have converted their acoustic instruments into electric ones. Have you ever felt the need to enhance the volume of yours?
Up to recently I had not, but now I have started using a pickup. It gives you control over your sound. If we depend on regular mikes, sometimes the tone becomes very sharp, then we have to keep telling them to do this and that…
But a pickup also changes the tonal quality of the instrument
Yes, I am trying to control that — the tone setting. We have to use the equaliser. We can make it very sonorous.