Rahul Sharma loves variety and, therefore, works on different genres of music, writes RAKESH MEHAR
Pass him on the street, and you would probably notice the sculpted jaw or the impressive physique rather than the slender, musically inclined fingers. You would be forgiven for wondering if he's the next fresh face on television or the one setting the local ramps on fire. "Repackaging is necessary nowadays," he admits. "Content is the first priority, but sales also matter. If an artiste is saleable and can become an icon, then that's great." And so you have Rahul Sharma, who can not only mesmerise you with his smile, but also grab you and hold you to your seat with the magic he creates on the santoor. Ideas like repackaging might shock the purist, but they seem to fit just right in a journey that hasn't followed the normal rules of the classical music tradition. "It was never really inevitable for me to become a santoor player," says Rahul. In fact, he didn't pick up the santoor until the age of 12. Even then, his interest was primarily in composing new music. "The santoor was always at the back of my mind, but my mother wanted me to go abroad to study, so I learnt economics and music at the same time. In college, I realised that the santoor is an awesome instrument and since I had a guru at home I started playing it seriously." Rahul began by giving concerts with his illustrious father, Shivkumar Sharma.
Move with the times
To this day, he doesn't consider himself a classical musician, but rather a musician who multitasks, simultaneously working on Indian classical music, fusion projects and new age albums. While he doesn't consider it necessary to dilute the classical traditions, Rahu finds it wise to change with the times. "Forty years ago, there was only one radio station and it was a big thing to be featured on it. But today there are more than a hundred channels and it is good to repackage oneself." For those who argue that such repackaging erodes the quality of music, Rahul counters: "A musician can't live unless he is satisfied with the music he plays. And why would listeners return if they are not satisfied?" About the pressures of comparison, Rahul says: "Those are always there, but does that mean you shy away. What is life without a challenge? Besides, it took 50 years for my father to become an icon, and it has been only 10 years since I began establishing myself. So the comparison is silly, but inevitable." One of the primary pillars of support for Rahul has been his father's trust in him. "My father would not have brought me onto stage if I didn't have potential. A guru knows what a student is capable of and how far he will go." And, Rahul has certainly come far. At an age when most people are still finding their roots, he has already shown enough spark and talent to catch the eye of the best musicians, playing with the likes of Zakir Hussain, Richard Clayderman and John Mclaughlin. "It is very humbling, and you learn a lot not just about music but also about life. Many of the music greats are such simple people for whom the ego hardly matters. It is very inspiring to see where they come from and how far they've reached, and meeting them ignites that passion in you too," he says.Looking to the future, Rahul believes that he sees the popularity of the santoor growing despite the lack of traditional moorings that other more conventional instruments enjoy. The santoor is now an integral part of every music festival. As for himself, Rahul is content pushing the boundaries of his talent with creations such as "Maya, The Illusion" and "Ladakh: In Search of Buddha".