Sameer Rao started his love affair with the bansuri at the age of 11. A disciple of Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Sameer’s love for the instrument comes from the fact that he is “attracted by the simplicity of the bansuri”. This Bangalore-based graded artiste of All India Radio, a recognised name in the classical field and in the world of fusion music, has collaborated with artistes such as saxophone player George Brooks, cellist Matthew Sharp and vocalist Sonia Loinsworth.
Music at home
My father, V.N. Laxminarayana, had a large collection of music albums and I grew up listening to various genres of music. Soon, I developed a taste for music. We used to listen to Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, J.S. Bach, Mozart, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna…
I found a flute at home and started playing by ear, tunes such as ‘Sare jahan se acha’ and ‘Jana gana mana’. My father noticed my interest in the instrument and enrolled me in a music school in Mysore where I met Pandit Veerabhadiah Hiremath. I started learning Hindustani classical music from him. He used to sing and I would try to imitate the same phrase on the bansuri. I was fascinated by the sound of the bansuri. I tried learning the tabla for a little while, but unfortunately, for various reasons I didn’t continue.
Gurus and their influences
When I was with Pandit Veerabhadriah, I was playing the Gayaki Ang style. In 2002, I went to Mumbai to learn from Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and adopted his style of playing, which includes the Dhrupad and Tantrakari Ang. When I was learning in Mysore from Pandit Hiremathji, it was the Gwalior gharana that we were following but when I went to Mumbai to learn from Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, it was the Maihar Gharana. So, when I play, I try my best to keep a balance of elements from the Dhrupad, Khayal and Tantrakari Ang. But, what I play is mainly influenced by my guruji, Pandit Chaurasia. So you can say it’s his school of bansuri playing that I belong to.
Fusing music started when I was at the Gurukul in Mumbai. A few of my friends and I joined a fusion band called ‘Conversation’. There were Hindustani, Carnatic and Western musicians. We all learned a lot of new things from one another’s style of music. It was in Mumbai that I met Devissaro and he invited me to Thiruvananthapuram to work with the Daksha Sheth Dance Company. I met his son, Tao, and keyboard player, Yakzan and became a part of a band called Samatma. I love working with musicians with different styles and ideas. I have worked with Carnatic musicians, Jazz musicians, Western classical musicians… I have always enjoyed it. I think it’s a wonderful experience learning new things while keeping your identity. Fusion, to me, is when you mix two beautiful colours together, the result should be even better than the original colours used. You can’t just do anything and call it fusion.
Solo and jugalbandhis
I play a lot of classical solo concerts and jugalbandhis. I do a lot of jugalbandi concerts with Carnatic musicians. I try to learn their calculations and their way of improvising on different ragas. Apart from playing the ragas from Hindustani stream, I sometimes play Carnatic ragas too in my concerts. I also accompany my guru in his concerts.
Fusion vis-à-vis a classical concert
Earlier, there used to be more young people attending fusion concerts and more elderly people attending classical concerts. The trend has been changing and one can see a lot of young people attending classical concerts and enjoying it. It is our responsibility as musicians, to make our music interesting for the audience.
The bansuri challenge
Well, unlike a sitar, a sarod or a tabla, you don’t have to tune the bansuri. You just have to ‘tune yourself’ if you play the bansuri. As the bansuri is made of bamboo, it responds to nature. If the weather is hot, the pitch of the flute goes high, and if it is cold, the pitch comes down. So in order to stay in tune, you need to do your riyaz regularly.
Training with Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia
For every flute player, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia is equivalent to God, so naturally, I also wanted to learn from him. Guruji is dedicated when it comes to teaching his students. Even with his busy schedule, he makes it a point to spend time with his students. At times he comes to the class directly from the airport. His teaching techniques are wonderful. Usually in his classes, he plays a phrase and we repeat it. Though it’s a group class, he keenly observes each and every student and provides individual attention. The only thing he demands from his students is dedication.
Language of music
Music is my love, my life, my passion, and my profession. It’s a simple language through which I can express what can’t be expressed in words. Music has the ability to change your perspective. It can really give you a new dimension to see life.
Up and coming
I will be coming out with my solo album pretty soon. As of now I have not released any albums of my own. There are many albums in the market which have my flute in the tracks.