Just back from the Orient et Occident festival in Estonia, Pt. Nayan Ghosh talks about fusion music and mastering two diverse instruments.
Pt. Nayan Ghosh is, perhaps, the only Indian musician known for his superlative command over two diverse instruments: the sitar and the tabla. His father was the legendary tabla maestro, Pt. Nikhil Ghosh, and the legendary flautist, Pt. Pannalal Ghosh, was his uncle. Nayan Ghosh had his first solo tabla. broadcast at the age of four in 1960 He draws from ‘an enviable repertoire of the Farrukhabad, Delhi, Ajrada, Lucknow and Punjab styles at his tabla recitals. Recently back from Estonia, where he performed at Orient et Occident, an international music festival, with his 13-year-old son, Ishaan, he spoke about his long career and his musical influences. Excerpts from an interview:
Tell us about your Estonia trip.
We presented a classical recital at Orient et Occident in Tartu. I also collaborated with the Chinese flautist, Hu Yulin. The response was overwhelming. The huge turnout indicates the growing interest and excitement for our music in these places.
You play two instruments. Has this ever confused your audience?
(Laughs) There was a time, about 25 years ago, when music lovers would ask if I was related to the other Nayan Ghosh! But, by the grace of my Guru, I think I have been able to establish myself.
It is not difficult to play a sitar solo and then accompany someone on tabla, but the transition from a tabla solo to a sitar solo is a bit demanding.
However, I prefer not to switch from one instrument to the other on the same platform.
You run the Sangit Mahabharati in Juhu. IIT-Bombay has appointed you Distinguished Guest Faculty to teach music. How important is teaching?
Teaching students at various levels of talent, age, abilities and languages across the globe, in fact, taught me a lot. While trying to help a student, I found new avenues opening up for myself. I believe teaching is an important source of learning apart from fulfilling one’s responsibility in continuing a legacy.
Is ‘fusion’ a much misunderstood term in India?
Ideally, fusion is created when two musical streams assimilate for the emergence of a third kind. That rarely ever happens in concerts today. I am reminded of the great composer and conductor, Dr. Victor Paranjoti, who was successful to a large extent, in creating a new music of the East and West through his works for his Paranjoti Choir in the 1960s. While it might be exciting to interact in such joint musical ventures, often the focus and purpose of making great music is lost just by marketing it as a ‘fusion concert’.
Why are classical instrumentalists often inclined to sing during their recitals?
Ustad Vilayat Khan started the trend of singing briefly during his sitar recitals. But he had a valid reason. He sang to justify the khayal or thumri, which originated from the vocal repertoire. I know hundreds of people, including myself, who would wait for those two minutes of his molten and highly tuneful singing in addition to his electrifying sitar recital. I believe that If the composition is rare or novel, one should definitely sing it to bring forth its aesthetic expression and lyrical content and this should enhance the totality of the music rendered. But we often find instrumentalists singing very ordinary and run-of-the-mill compositions which are most avoidable.
Why does every aspiring tabla player in this country aim to be Zakir Hussain?
Zakir bhai is indeed a phenomenon of our times. It is not surprising that young tabla players are inspired or influenced by him but cloning will only give them a temporary impetus.
After all, who’s interested in a second-hand Zakir Hussain?