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Breaking myths

ANJANA RAJAN
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CHAT It is the followers who make a tradition survive and thrive, say the Gundecha Brothers. ANJANA RAJAN

Power of two: The Gundecha Brothers, Umakant and Ramakant. PHOTO: Shyam Rajan
Power of two: The Gundecha Brothers, Umakant and Ramakant. PHOTO: Shyam Rajan

T he Gundecha Brothers represent India at its oldest and newest. The Bhopal-based Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha, illustrious exponents of the Dagar tradition of Dhrupad music, combine their university education and their flair for technology with abiding devotion to one of the most ancient and meditative music forms of India. Whereas Dhrupad is sometimes seen as a rigid precursor to modern Hindustani music as represented by Khayal, their range of work illustrates their open approach. Besides their popular duet concerts, in which they are known to sing poetry from various segments of Indian literature, they have composed music for documentaries and some time ago received the Rajat Kamal for the music of the film ‘The Raga of River Narmada.'

Besides, they composed music for Chandralekha's path-breaking choreographic solo work, ‘Sharira.' Recently in Chennai for the music season, they, along with their students, also sang for a performance of ‘Sharira' during the legendary choreographer's birth anniversary celebrations. Excerpts from an email interview with the brothers:

Recently when you performed in Delhi, you were accompanied by a female disciple. Is this someone we can look forward to in the coming years as one who will carry on the tradition?

Yes, we are very happy to see this happening. About four-five young female Dhrupad singers are emerging, trained in our gurukul at Bhopal. Aliya Rasheed from Lahore, Amita Sinha Mahapatra from Santiniketan, Roopali Jain, Astha Tripathi and Arti Soni from Bhopal have already started giving performances. Some more girls are also coming up in the near future, including Florence from France, Deborah from Belgium, and Jennifer from the U.S.

Why are there fewer women Dhrupad singers than men?

Because there is a myth that Dhrupad is meant for male singers. We want to break it. Also because of the family tradition; Dagar family did not teach their female members. Besides this, there have only been a few male Dhrupad singers. In the past, Dhrupad singers did not make enough efforts to pass it on to the next generation. Now the scene is changing. Our teachers Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar and late the Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar (Rudra veena player) took pains to teach students outside their family.

How many of the gurukul's students are doing serious study of music at present?

Fortunately, Gurukul is doing very well. About 25 students from around the globe are learning Dhrupad full-time. In addition to the above mentioned singers, Sanjeev Jha and Inoue So from Japan are also performing now.

There was a time when Dhrupad was considered a waning tradition. Today with festivals of Dhrupad, and the popularity of performers such as you, this cannot be said. What is your view of the state of the field?

We are proud of our teachers for the present state of Dhrupad. Today we can see Dhrupad in the mainstream of Indian classical music. It is part of all the major music festivals in India and abroad. We are confident of seeing a bright future.

How would you assess your gurus' and your own contribution in popularising Dhrupad?

We do not think that it is our job to assess our contribution. But full credit for our success goes to our great teachers, Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar and the late Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar.

You are known to have sung the works of contemporary and earlier poets in Dhrupad style. Would you consider this as expanding the frontiers of the genre? Any other compositions of this sort that you have undertaken?

Yes, we tried for the first time in Dhrupad style to sing the poetry of Tulsidas, Kabir, Nanak, Padmakar, Nirala, Prasad and Mahadevi Verma. Surely, it has helped us to make the reach of Dhrupad wider and to let people feel that Dhrupad music is not rigid and non-creative. We are working on a project of Pushtimargeeya Sangeet also. In future, we plan to undertake some more such projects. Any tradition of music can survive and make its fruitful presence only when it is actively contributed to by its followers. Not only should the tradition be followed, but the followers should also make the tradition. Then and only then will tradition be meaningful.

You are products of a modern education system but also of a musical guru sishya parampara and seem to combine the best of both worlds. However, the demands of the current education system and society in general seem to be much greater on students today. How does that affect your teaching and the results you are able to achieve with your disciples?

Almost all the students, are doing Dhrupad full time (vocation). We think only then it is meaningful. Such professional training can be given only through guru-sishya parampara based on careful listening of music. No normal music school can achieve that with their present format.

Today… Dhrupad (is) in the mainstream of Indian classical music. It is part of all the major music festivals…


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