Friday Review

Another Sopori RISES

Zubin Mehta with Abhay Rustum Sopori after performing a composition during a concert 'Ehsaas-e-Kashmirâ' (Feel of Kashmir) at Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar. Photo: PTI   | Photo Credit: mail pic

Versatile is the one word that best describes Abhay Rustum Sopori. He’s a young santoor virtuoso, conducts folk and Sufi ensembles, is the first recipient of the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar, and has collaborated with international musicians such as Moroccan lute maestro Haj Younis, Iranian santoor player, Darius Saghafi and American Dulcimer player Malcom Dalgish.

Besides, Abhay has composed music for the international award winning film, ‘Ziyarat’ and has more than 35 albums to his credit including a double CD pack titled ‘Vishudha,’ featuring duets with his father, and ‘Triveni.’ He has also released a live classical ensemble on YouTube.

Naturally, for Abhay has learnt music under the guru-sishya parampara from his grandfather Pt. Shamboo Nath Sopori, hailed as the ‘father of music’ in Jammu and Kashmir, and his father Pt. Bhajan Sopori, the legendary santoor maestro and music composer.

In this interview, he talks about his latest work, and the state of the santoor today. Excerpts:

Do you often feel burdened by the 300-year-old legacy of music in your family?

Not really! I do acknowledge that there is a certain amount of pressure – but this is the pressure of expectations. People want to know what I will do to carry that legacy forward. However, it is this pressure and realisation, which in turn has shaped my personality and development as a musician. I feel a sense of responsibility and pride in representing the Sopori family and the Sufiana Gharana. There is obviously an element of comparison but I don’t think that it is valid – after all my work is a derivative of the work done by my father and grandfather and those before him. My focus is on trying to further refine the work that is already done and what additional dimensions I can add to extend the boundaries that already exist.

Did you always aspire to be a musician? How is your playing different from other schools? of santoor?

In our family, learning music is compulsory. The decision to pursue it professionally is left to the individual. From early on, I was clear about what I wanted to do. Three things drove this decision: firstly, my interest to pursue music; secondly, the desire and responsibility of taking this tradition forward ; and finally the expectations of the people around me, especially in Jammu and Kashmir.

There are just two major schools of santoor playing: the Soporis and those who play only the traditional Sufiana Mousiqui of Kashmir. Outside of this, there are certain santoor players, but no full-fledged traditions as such.

The first thing that sets our Gharana apart is that we practise and perform both Hindustani classical and Sufiana Mousiqui. The other adheres to only one of the two genres. The second, and most important, difference is with particular reference to the playing of Hindustani on the santoor. My style – the Sopori Baaj – has been developed by my father. It is the only style that fulfils all the essential requirements of the Hindustani tradition and is completely on par with other string instruments such as the sitar and the sarod in terms of the rendition of ragas.

You recently performed along with Zubin Mehta in Kashmir for the Ehsaas-e-Kashmir Concert in Srinagar. Tell us something about that experience.

Fantastic! A really memorable day; an experience of a lifetime. The honour of having the maestro, Zubin Mehta, agreeing to conduct a score composed by me, was surreal! Also sharing the stage and conducting with him is an honour few get. We faced some challenges though. The Western classical orchestra follows sheet music. And the Kashmiri folk musicians can’t read sheet music at all. Moreover, the folk composition involved certain traditional rhythmic movements, which are completely alien to Western classical music. Similarly, the idea of playing with a large orchestra comprising mostly ‘alien’ instruments was an anxious one for the locals. Therefore, the idea of getting both sets of musicians together was an exhilarating yet terrifying prospect.

Tell us a little about You conduct the ensemble of the ethnic Kashmiri musicians that you conduct. . Tell us about that.

Let me clarify that I do not have a ‘band.’ I work with proper orchestral ensembles, which are arranged musically as per the requirements of the composition at hand. This can comprise several, otherwise disparate, elements such as Western or Indian classical instruments, folk traditions, Jazz, Blues and synthesisers and samplers. The Folk Music Ensemble is a rare presentation introduced by my father in the early 1970s after he returned from the U.S. and named it ‘Soz-o-Saaz.’ It drew from the rich folk traditions of Kashmir but was presented in a stylised orchestral setting. It is this idea that I have taken forward using complex presentations involving large ensembles of 60-70 musicians. I also have on the agenda, a series of concerts in the US, including a fund-raiser for Kashmiri Pandits living in camps in Jammu.

Any hobbies?

Years ago I used to sketch. Now, I try to take out time for cycling with my nephews or playing some indoor or computer games. If I am not doing my riyaz or composing music, then I am working on my computer.

On the Web

I am actually Abhay is working in on building my his own online portal, where one can to see his my albums directly and not through an Indian music company, as he finds in Indian as I find their contracts exploiting exploit a musician’s work. He says, “I have worked with companies such as like Virgin EMI , one of the leading music labels of the world, and it’s been such a wonderful experience. to work with them. Here I haven’t received my share of royalty. My online portal will initially release my albums and the moment it gains the momentum, I’ll fix a board which will honestly include deserving musicians of all age groups.”


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