A breath of fresh air

Rakesh Chaurasia. Photo: Special Arrangement  

He is young, a well-known flautist, an enthusiastic collaborator and a widely travelled musician, who also enjoys his time in the gym. Rakesh Chaurasia belongs to a family where body-building and bansuri make for an unusual combination. His grandfather was a professional wrestler. His 77-year-old globally-celebrated uncle Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, who spent his early years in the ring, still unwinds watching an action film after a concert or long hours at his gurukul in Mumbai.

Rakesh is now gearing up to scale Mount Everest — which is how he describes his upcoming concert with Ustad Zakir Hussain. “Performing with him is nothing less than reaching the summit,” he laughs. “My anxiety is at its peak.”

A stage with just the ustad and him has been a long-standing desire. “He is a rhythm wizard. But more than that he’s been a facilitator of genre-bending exercises, a vociferous supporter of new thinking and one who lovingly handholds passionate youngsters,” says Rakesh. The annual concert series titled Aadi-Anant, he feels, is a wonderful initiative by the National Centre of Performing Arts that allows for musical time travel.

As for his own journey in sound, Rakesh says he is fortunate to have been raised in Vrindavan by none other than Krishna. “What else could I have asked for when I decided to trail the call of the flute? To be groomed by the inimitable woodwind artist, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia,” he says.

He not just trained under panditji, but performed along with him at prestigious venues across the world and watched him up-close create magic with the modest bamboo instrument. “His adventurous approach to the repertoire and effortless technical skills are admirable,” points out Rakesh. “But he never allowed me to record his luminous notes and elegant phrasings even to follow during my early practice sessions. ‘Hear and reproduce them in your own way. Don’t replicate’, he would warn. ‘Keep playing the same note till it comes from your soul’. I now realise the significance of his advice.”

Like every other inheritor of a legacy; a famous name, he began to experience the weight of mounting expectations even before he set out on an individual path.

“You obviously take pride in the association because that is your foundation. You draw your inspiration from it. But it’s not easy when you are constantly being compared to a legend so soon in life. Sometimes you wonder if it’s a losing battle.”

It is during such times that Rakesh draws strength from his riyaaz, since the Indian system of musical instruction is a blend of discipline and freedom. His guru’s open-minded approach to creativity is a confidence-booster too.

“He is as much a showman as a classicist. He can expound a raga for four hours and come up with haunting film tracks such as in Silsila, Chandni and Lamhe. Or comfortably collaborate with western musicians such as John McLaughlin and Jan Garbarek.”

Like his uncle, Rakesh wants to experience music in all its diversity. Besides performing classical concerts, he has worked extensively with renowned Bollywood composers such as R.D. Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. He is also part of several multi-genre ensembles in India and abroad. He has recorded quite a few albums, including a recent one with mandolin U. Rajesh and pianist Anil Srinivasan.

“What you learn while working in a studio comes in handy when performing live and vice versa. Similarly, what you gain when functioning in a group you bring to your solo renditions. These outings lend an edge to your presentation, whatever be the format and setting,” he explains matter-of-factly.

Talking about the challenge of making music in the digital age with its shrunken borders, Rakesh says, “You need to think in terms of wider appeal. To be interactive. To connect with an audience that is distracted, restless and on the move.”

So what are being termed today as innovations and experiments are actually relooking at ragas in the context of contemporary sensibilities. “For just a breath of fresh air,” he quips.

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Printable version | Sep 15, 2021 5:41:11 AM |

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