VOCALIST Pandit Arun Kashalkar is probably one of the best-kept secrets of Mumbai’s north-eastern suburbs. The 74-year-old is an exponent of khayal singing and his gayaki is a beautiful synthesis of three leading gharanas — Agra, Gwalior and Jaipur. Yet, Kashalkar, an ‘A’-grade artiste with the All India Radio and a regular performer on Doordarshan, is not a known face in the city’s mainstream cultural scene. However, this Saturday evening, the Secret Masters Sessions Encore, organised by First Edition Art, will showcase Kashalkar’s gayaki with the aim to make amends as well as bring in new listeners.
Taking a break from teaching his students, Kashalkar says, “I might be known in the music circle, but it is essential for an artiste to connect with a young and wider audience. The popularity of any art form is necessary. But with popularity, art tends to be superficial.”
Sprightly and spirited, the septuagenarian vocalist believes that the Secret Masters Sessions series, which started last year, are a significant step towards acquainting the newer audience with different forms of classical music. The series, which steps into its second year with the upcoming concert, is now called Secret Masters Sessions Encore. The series continues to question how some wonderful musicians could have remained in our midst, hidden and unknown to most people including many serious music lovers as well as the cult of the celebrity musician that has harmed the Hindustani music ecosystem.
The training of Kashalkar, who hails from the Yavatmal district in Maharashtra, in classical music started at the age of 5. In the years that followed, he trained under a number of reputed vocalists such as DV Panke, Rajabhau Kogje, Gajananbuwa Joshi, Ram Marathe and Babanrao Haldankar. His artistry that comes from decades of training, incorporates the best elements of the Agra gharana, such as the rhythmic nom-tom aalap, as well as draws on the Jaipur gharana’s strengths, such as its two-note and off-beat taan patterns, and the Gwalior gharana’s melodic swings. “Through years of training, I have developed my gayaki, which is true to the forms of classical music.
It needs to reach music lovers. That’s one way of preserving our musical heritage,” says Kashalkar, who has a command over a wide range of ragas, including rare and complex ones from all three gharanas.
In April 2016, Kashalkar performed at the inaugural session of the Secret Masters Sessions series at Mumbai’s Karnataka Sangha. Founder of First Edition Art, Devina Dutt, lets out what led to that association. “We heard him at a private gathering in someone’s home in Mulund and were struck by how rich, refined and different his music sounded compared to a lot that we as avid concert-goers had heard over the years. We came to know of his incredible four decades of taleem with some of the foremost gurus of India and his own introspection which had created a very personal style. The words ‘secret’ and ‘master’ sprang out at us and we decided we would present him in a full-length solo evening concert.”
The inaugural concert of the series turned out to be a success. It was followed by three more concerts featuring vocalists Narayanrao Bodas, Jayashree Patnekar and Sharad Sathe. “What excited us more was that we had listeners of all age groups, backgrounds, a cross section of the city of Mumbai,” says Dutt. This year, too, the same four musicians will perform for the Secret Masters Encore series, which will be presented by Indian Music Group at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. The First Edition Art is seeking partners to take it to other cities.