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Ethereal soundscapes: Rahul Sharma takes the santoor beyound its established associations.
Ethereal soundscapes: Rahul Sharma takes the santoor beyound its established associations.

HARSH KABRA

Musician, composer and performer Rahul Sharma on his attempts to embrace newer genres and reach out to audiences.

Back in 1996 at a concert in Norway, as santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma walked up on stage, he was followed, somewhat tentatively, by a soft-spoken economics graduate in his early twenties. That he was none other than the maestro’s son, who had trained with his father since the age of 12, had done little to help him make up his mind if he wanted to follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps. He wasn’t even sure if he was the right person to take forward the family tradition of Kashmir’s 100-stringed folk instrument that his father had reinvented into an ethereal delight of Indian classical music. Rahul Sharma has since come into his own as a new-age musician, composer and performer of repute, helping the instrument embrace newer genres and reach out to wider, more varied audiences. He recently released “Meeting by the Nile”, the third of his ‘Confluence’ series of collaborations, this time with the Egyptian Oud maestro Georges Kazazian. Excerpts from an interview:

Over 40 albums at the age of 37…what’s the secret?

Composing is my first love. To me, music is a way of expressing my ideas and philosophy. Be it classical music or fusion collaborations, I’m always looking to do more. I wanted to take the santoor beyond its association with nature, romance and relaxation. Fortunately, the music companies I’ve worked with have believed in my kind of music.

You like exploring the interconnectedness of music, philosophy and spirituality.

Indian classical music has a spiritual connect. Exploring ideas musically gives me a high. For example, my album ‘Zen’ owes itself to my reading of Osho’s philosophy. The album ‘Time Traveller’ was the result of my fascination with the time machine and the sci-fi movies I’d watched as a child. ‘Antariksh’ was a space album I launched when Chandrayaan was going to the moon.

In impatient times full of distractions, where does classical music stand?

The world has shrunk, thanks to the Internet. In India too, audiences have started accepting different genres of music. Although film music forms much of the music market, there are many young people who enjoy listening to world and fusion music. We, being ambassadors of Indian classical music, are taking this forward by collaborations. There is indeed a market.

What inspired the ‘Confluence’ series?

It all began, in 2000, when Atul Churamani, earlier with Virgin Records and now with Saregama India, suggested pairing the santoor with another instrument. Atul suggested Clayderman, whose music I’d heard when I was in school. To my surprise, Clayderman agreed to work with me although I was just starting out. I composed the entire album and its success paved the way for Confluence II, again with Clayderman. Confluence III is with an Egyptian maestro. Music from Egypt is very catchy, the scales very haunting. Following the piano, we chose the Oud. Despite being a stringed instrument, it has a deeper sound and a lot of pace, which the santoor doesn’t.

How different were the two experiences?

Richard is trained differently and reads when he plays. So notation is a must and there is little improvisation. Kazazian is closer to the style of Indian classical musicians, who can play an entire concert without any notation, as their music is in their minds and they derive their own ideas from what they’ve learnt. Egyptian music also has a strong element of improvisation. In fact, I adapted some of Georges’ compositions.

Why haven’t you taken further your association with film music?

My first movie ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’ was a learning experience… it was all about going with the director’s vision, matching up to his thinking and giving him tunes that he felt were the best… It was a humbling experience to work with Lataji and Ashaji in my very first film. The music worked and the same banner offered me ‘Hum Tum’. However, I had to decline it because I thought composing music for films would hinder my concerts and albums. Today, I’m better prepared to handle both films and santoor. However, I am happier doing my own thing. Films can happen once in a while.

Given the quality of contemporary film music, do you feel you belong there?

The quality of film music is in keeping with the quality of films being made today. We don’t have films nowadays that have scope for music. It is more about sound, less about melody. If the lyrics are going to be like what you hear, the tunes can’t be classy. If filmmakers make films that have scope for music, the music scene will certainly change.

Considering you grew up in Mumbai, is Kashmir a strong influence on you as well?

I’ve spent a lot of my childhood in Kashmir. I love the folk music of that region. I feel passionately about Kashmir and am saddened by what is happening there. Although things have improved a lot, it is still not the Kashmir we knew. I hope things change.

Email: harshkabra@gmail.com

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