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Meet some of the most exciting and edgy contemporary independent musicians who are poised to redefine the idea of music

Sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar’s daughter, Anoushka Shankar, has hardly been on such lists in the past. Whenever she would perform with her father, before he died in 2012, one could see the struggle in her attempts to present something thought-provoking.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Updated: December 26, 2019 7:52:22 am
Sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar’s daughter, Anoushka Shankar, has hardly been on such lists in the past. Whenever she would perform with her father, before he died in 2012, one could see the struggle in her attempts to present something thought-provoking.

Soumik Datta, 35

The title track of a recent EP, titled Jangle (Urdu word for forest), opens with a rhythm played on the Latin American bombo drum, an ancient instrument traditionally used by Amazon tribes to celebrate nature and the rainforest. Soon, there is an array of synth sounds along the piano. Straddling the two spheres — old and new — is a hook in raag Miyan Malhar on the sarod by London-based Soumik Datta. Four other pieces in the EP — a haunting, raging call to preserve our environment — cement Datta’s place in the current music scene, not just as a sarod player but also as a composer. A musician engaging with the environment, and the politics around it, through his art is a rarity when it comes to classical music. Datta’s is a promising endeavour, something we will be looking forward to.

Datta plays the sarod, but often while he is not sitting down. Unlike most sarod players, he has the instrument strapped to himself like a guitar and looks like a cross between an Indian classical musician and a pop star, strumming away with a compelling whim, improvising, thinking and travelling along with the melody. The sarod sings, hollers in joy, and wails, too. London-based Datta plays the first-ever electro-acoustic sarod, which he has created by adding a combination of mics and pick-up mics to an electric sarod. These help him create a combination of traditional and processed sound. He learned from a significant name in sarod — Buddhadev Dasgupta of the Shahjahanpur gharana. According to Carnatic classical vocalist Aruna Sairam, who had collaborated with Datta on a jazz project two years ago, Datta has been one of the most interesting artistes she has worked with. “He is extremely innovative and great fun as a musician,” she says.

Anoushka Shankar, 38

Sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar’s daughter, Anoushka Shankar, has hardly been on such lists in the past. Whenever she would perform with her father, before he died in 2012, one could see the struggle in her attempts to present something thought-provoking. It would seem that she found it difficult to enter the meditative world of classical music. Anoushka may not be the most gifted performer, but she has turned out to be one of the most hardworking musicians, with five Grammy nominations, a feat not many can boast about. With her sitar legend father not around anymore to suggest, teach and mould her music, her world of swaras is only her own now — intense and intimate. A mother to two, she has been busy with back-to-back tours, a year after she split with her filmmaker husband, Joe Wright. For her, the last seven years have been filled with a blend of heartache and happiness, poignancy and playfulness. In her recent video, Bright Eyes, Anoushka seems to delve deep into her personal life, along with German-Turkish singer Alev Lenz. She strums the majestic and poignant Bhairavi, the raga used in a slew of separation songs and creates a hook that hits the heart hard. Her composition skills are immaculate and her concerts quite an experience. She speaks her mind about the issues she feels strongly about, improvises, finds her own space musically, takes inspiration from her own life and includes it in her music and attempts to reach spaces that few musicians do. With Anoushka planning a handful of tours next year, her new work is likely to be a treat.

Omkar Dadarkar, 42

When one collates Hindustani vocalist Omkar Dadarkar’s training in music, its extensive nature gives a glimpse into Dadarkar’s quest for learning various contours of the art form. He began by learning from his parents, Marathi Natyasangeet exponents, Shrikant and Shubhada Dadarkar. He then learnt from Pt Ram Deshpande, iconic vocalist Manik Verma of Kirana and Agra gharana, and Pt Yeshwantbuwa Joshi of Gwalior gharana. In 1999, he also received advanced training from Pt Ulhas Kashalkar, followed by training in purab ang gayaki (the semi-classical style of the Banaras gharana) by thumri queen Girija Devi. The deep sonorous voice, steeped in tradition, and improvisations that can baffle, make his performances unique and exemplary.

Abhishek Raghuram, 34

Abhishek Raghuram is an artiste of rare pedagogy. He is the grandson of iconic mridangam player Palghat Raghu and related to the famed Lalgudi family on his mother’s side. He is also related to ghazal singer Hariharan. But lineage can help only till your first stage performance. What is interesting about Abhishek is that, at an age, when classical musicians are just about establishing themselves, he comes across as a mature artiste with an extraordinary vision of music and musicality. Sometimes, during his performance, a taan, a particular phrase, may seem out of grasp even to some more senior musicians. His gusto and enthusiasm at a concert are infectious. He has trained under Carnatic vocalist P S Narayanaswamy. His open approach to music and serious training has held him in good stead. In the coming months, one is likely to notice more of Raghuram, who is establishing himself as a once-in-a-generation performer who can redefine the course of Carnatic music.

Anupama Bhagwat, 45

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan had once said of sitar player Anupama Bhagwat: “When Anupama began her recital, my interest started piquing. It was after a long time that I was hearing a female instrumentalist playing with such commitment and dedication. I was pleasantly surprised to hear her”. In the annals of Indian classical instrumental music, women singers have always been more feted than women instrumentalists. The truth is that there is no difference: anyone can play and sing anything as long as there is hard work involved. Over the decades, false impressions about gender have been built due to patriarchy and the social norms of a particular era. But the truth of Khan’s statement lies in the fact that she is one of the finest sitar players from a relatively younger generation at this point. She trained under Bimalendu Mukherjee (Pt Buddhadev Mukherjee’s father) of the Imdadkhani gharana and attempts the Vilayatkhani Baaj that one finds only in a few artistes. Her sitar playing combines a rare combination of technical mastery and evocative lyricality. Her precision during performances at Darbar Festival in London and all over Europe as well as in India have established her as a sitar player of repute and an artiste to watch out for.

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