Friday Review

Bridging the divide

Prasant Samadhar.   | Photo Credit: 29dfrPrasantsamadhar

A spectacular show at Kolkata’s Science City Auditorium brought Prasant Samadhar, now a celebrity singer of the Mumbai’s music industry, as the beacon of Samagam. It was presented by Boon Companions and Prasant Samadhar.

The event was based on a variety of forms like Rabindra Sangeet, baul, jazz performed by well-known artistes of each genre. These were linked by Prasant’s enchanting renditions of classical compositions (khayal, tarana, sargam, hori, chaiti) replete with lyrics and rhythm-based crisp elaborations. The euphoria resulting out of his sur-filled versatility, coupled with matured easy charm, was contagious.

Evidently, Prasant Samadhar, whom I knew as an extremely extrovert yet brilliant scholar of ITC Sangeet Research Academy (1996-97), has been on a mission to bring classical music on the same popular stage as light music by breaking all the barriers of class and genre. Despite being groomed by traditionalist maestros like Mohan Lal Mishra, Chinmay Lahiri, Ulhas Kashalkar and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi; despite having the privilege of performing with a galaxy of classical artistes like Vidushi Girija Devi, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, his passion drove him to fusion and World music.

Way back in 1995, these terms were unheard of in Kolkata’s music circles. How could a young boy in his early 20 get away with such blasphemy, I wonder. “True; this was not a cake walk. I was the first classical vocalist in Kolkata to have performed classical compositions in a fusion format with bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, keyboard and tabla at IIT Kharagpur. During this debut I juxtaposed raga-bandishes with film songs and ghazals with renowned percussionist Sivamani,” says Prasant.

His concept was very much appreciated by listeners and in 1997 a corporate house offered him to perform in 11 major clubs; in a row. “I had to seek permission from the SRA authorities. After due permission from the prefect’s office, I performed at the prestigious Calcutta Club, and then at the Lake Club. But my thumping success at these two platforms led me to a point where I was asked to choose either the traditional path or quit the Academy. Since my schooldays I always felt that classical musicians need to increase its easy acceptance; especially among the youth. To do so I was ready to dance while spouting taans traversing through the three octaves! So, I tried to reason out; but since no one was familiar with this concept, it was very difficult to make the authorities understand its significance and my key-motive to bridge the yawning gap between classical music and the masses. However, after much effort my suspension term was reduced to two months; but by then I was heartbroken. I shifted base to Mumbai.”

This was a giant leap for a carefree 23-year old with limited means who would laugh at any pretext, flawlessly mimic anyone, sing anything with sparkling clarity and compose catchy parodies in a jiffy; but his dogged devotion soon saw him perform with legends like A.R. Rahman, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Louis Banks, Ranjit Barot, Karl Peters; represent India at the SAARC in Russia; sing in more than 20 Hindi films. His band performed at the Zee Cine Awards; he groomed participants in various music reality shows like “Indian Idol”. But his vision to see classical music at par with popular music always compels him to perform with his band Namah. The band makes use of traditional musical instruments like sitar, tabla, mridangam, drums and creates world music in a brilliant amalgamation of khayal, sargam, tarana, thumri bandishes with sufi, Rabindra Sangeet and folk music.

“This allows me to mingle and learn a lot from the maestros of all these genres. I am now intending to popularise this concept in the rural areas with the blessings of Louis Banks and Girija Deviji. They have been supporting me since my initial days – even when I was ostracised by the classical music fraternity for introducing this creative format. Albeit my ideas were not accepted then, but now my colleagues, even seniors are adopting this format. I feel very happy and blessed.”


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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 5:10:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/bridging-the-divide/article8532699.ece

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