In conversation with melody queen Shubha Mudgal

Insider’s view: Shubha Mudgal says marketing has become an important part of music industry  

Shubha Mudgal is respected in the world of classical music as much for her music as for her fierce support for causes she holds dear – be it artist copyright issues or transparency of dealings with artists. Her latest offering, a book of short stories called “Looking for Miss Sargam: Stories of Music and Misadventure” personifies Shubha beautifully. It is self deprecating and highlights the inner workings of an artist’s world. Each of the seven stories brings out a valid issue in the world of classical music – be it the inescapable importance of marketing, the ephemeral lure of foreign concerts, the non saleability of classical music recordings, the allure of awards or the dominance of Bollywood.

In conversation with melody queen Shubha Mudgal

On her bond with Delhi

I have had a very long association with Delhi, I moved to Delhi in the 1980s and it was here that I was able to learn from some very eminent scholar musicians and Gurus. Pt Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, the founder of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, I also learnt from Naina Devi ji, who was in Delhi then, and taught me for several years. Also, I got the opportunity to learn from Pt Vasant Thakar, who was a very revered figure at the time. It was in Delhi that I first started singing in small festivals that featured young musicians, including the Navodit Kalakaar Samaroh that used to then take place. I can proudly say I am a Dilliwallah, despite the fact that my husband lives in Mumbai, which is my home now, and I now shuttle between the two cities.

Delhi has been very kind to me. There are several organisations doing a lot to make Delhi musically vibrant. But I feel we need many more performing spaces for Indian music. Delhi is home to many musicians, some are very eminent, but there is also a large population of young musicians who have decided to take music full time. A lot of time and money is spent on construction, but audio engineers are rarely consulted on what is the best equipment for Indian music. Even if the sound equipment is installed, no care is taken to maintain it, or replace things. That’s why, very often, in many places in Delhi one needs to hire sound equipment from outside. Neither is the equipment available nor is there trained staff to handle it. I think it’s high time the NCR region gets better auditoria. The Metro in Delhi has made mobility much easier, but for musicians carrying instruments, there are problems.


You have commented that writing a book was not easy; it required riyaaz. What made you write this book?

I had worked on a story that I hoped could have been dramatised, but it didn’t happen. So, I had it lying around and I then thought of writing a book of short stories. This was the first story of the book – “Aman Bol”. In fact, I wrote more stories than the seven stories which have been published.

It was fun writing this book. I am an avid reader and there is amazing, intense writing out there. I actually feel very lucky to even be published. I thought my being a singer may actually go against me. People may say she is a singer what does she know of writing. I hope the narrative is gripping enough for readers.

There are some uncannily real people and situations in the book! In each of the stories, one can almost recognise someone familiar...

This is totally a work of fiction, none of the stories are modelled on any real life person or incident. Being a part of the world of music for so long, I have an insider’s view as my life for decades has been with musicians, but there are no direct correspondences with any real person or incident.

Marketing in the world of classical music is a recurring theme; it appears in many stories. Is it really such a big issue?

Absolutely. Marketing is such an important part of our industry today and it forces you to project yourself in a certain way. Costumes, add ons to your regular attire have become a part of the world of show business. I refer to this in the first story “Aman Bol”. Would one be a lesser Sufi singer if one dressed in a different way; I don’t know, but certain things are now expected. I am not hinting this is wrong in any way. It’s just become a way of life. Marketing of oneself has become a part of the world and it’s an issue that artists are forced to grapple with.

There is a seamy side to the world of classical music that you have alluded to in each story...

I have tried not to pass any judgements. I have created stories that reflect the times we are living in. Whether it’s talking about organisers or artists, or attitudes. In each of the stories there is a darker side of the world of music being shown, but you may not see it or you may just laugh it off. There are ups and downs in each artist’s life – whether it’s in getting accepted, the hard work and discipline required – the constant balance of trying to make a decent honest living from music. I have not hidden any of this. Even the greatest names have had to struggle. I would again like to reiterate that there are no real life incidents or people; it’s pure fiction.

The only facts in the book are the high and lows in an artist’s life which each of the stories talks about. These are in my life too and I have been happy to have this life.

Miss Sargam appears in some of the stories; who is she really?

Miss Sargam is not a main character in any of the stories. She appears, now and again, symbolically representing the life of any artist anywhere in the world. In one story she is referred to as having become successful in popular music and is now going back to classical music, in another story she can sing in both male and female voices.

I see her as symbolically dealing with the rapid changes an artist anywhere in the world has to adjust to. She is trying to adapt to changing times, re-invent herself, and immerse herself in different highly complex, evolved systems of music to enrich herself and her own knowledge. Because she appears as an Indian anchor, in this book she is Miss Sargam but actually she could fly anywhere in the world!

The story on Bollywood, “Making of a star” is sad, and not as funny as the others.

I, personally, have been treated with huge respect and affection in the few times I have sung for Bollywood.

But yes, people in positions of power in Bollywood do sometimes have a sense of patronage and condescension.

In “Manzoor Rahmani”, you talk of the importance of an award for a lesser known musician, the hierarchy amongst musicians...

For Manzoor Rahmani, a ‘khandaani’ musician, his legacy was his music. Yet today that’s changed. The legacy he wants to leave behind for his children is an acknowledgement of his music through a Padma award.

He is prepared to share the fiercely guarded musical compositions he inherited to get an award. For a musician, traditionally, these were treasures. They were considered your wealth. This is a much larger issue of what our priorities have become. For me, it’s very sad. The priorities have changed so much. Again, there is no judgement being made – Manzoor voluntarily gave away the music in the hope of getting an award.

The hierarchy in that story does exist in the world of music, it’s real.

Tell us about your forthcoming concert in Delhi.

I am performing at the Parampara festival, organised by Natyatarangini. It’s always a pleasure when an artist invites you to perform at a festival that they have been organising for many years now.

The highly renowned Kuchipudi Gurus Shri Raja Reddy, Smt Radha and Smt Kaushalya Reddy have invited me for this festival earlier as well, but it’s been several years now.

(Shubha Mudgal will perform on August 30 at Parampara Series 2019, Kamani Auditorium, New Delhi, 7 p.m.)

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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 6:14:40 PM |

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