Hindustani classical vocalist Nirali Kartik is a powerhouse of a performer. The high-octane vocalist and member of the popular band, Maati Baani, knows that while remote collaborations aren’t easy, the show must go on because music has the power to comfort people, especially in times like these. In lockdown, her band got 17 musicians together, from nine different countries, to perform a soul-stirring song called ‘Karpur Gauram’, invoking the God of Destruction, Shiva. This, however, is not the first time that Maati Baani has done a remote collaboration on a project.
As the world struggles with the new normal while the pandemic rages on, Kartik works her way to encourage young Indian classical musicians to perform for their audience every week, as a collaborative effort with the label Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea. In an interaction with indianexpress.com, she talks about this initiative of hers, about performing artistes adapting to the changing scenario, and how Hindustani classical music has the power to calm a restless mind, among other things.
In 2015, when your song ‘Balma’ came out, we saw that it was a remote collaboration of different artistes from around the world. What was the experience like?
It was our first remote collaboration with 11 artistes from five different countries. We didn’t have a map of how to go about the process, as in what to tell the artistes, where to start from, etc. We took around eight to nine months to make a three-and-a-half-minute song! But once we saw the final result, and the experience itself was so enriching, that we got addicted to remote collaborations. Although it requires a lot of patience to collaborate remotely, it gives us access to some of the best talents across the globe.
Now, because of the pandemic, many performing artistes are taking the same route. Be it actors, dancers, or musicians. What do you have to say to that?
Every artiste out there is trying to adapt and find their way around technology. Of course, they miss the energy and the human connection but they have found a way to adjust to it, to remotely perform and entertain their audience. In the past few months, artistes and fans have needed each other more than ever. Artistes and talents from different backgrounds have come together to make live concerts and sessions as engaging and as exciting as possible. Every artiste wants to stay connected to their fans by offering live gigs which can be attended by the audience from the comfort of homes, and they are doing so in a socially responsible way. It took some time to process in the beginning, but I am sure live streaming is now going to go a long way.
How do you think live streaming helps musicians, especially right now?
In the past few months, we all have tried to evolve with the unprecedented lockdown. We have encouraged and motivated ourselves and others to perform for each other and perform for our fans and listeners sitting at home. Due to the current nationwide lockdown, Indian classical musicians across the country were looking for opportunities to continue performing for their audiences. Their boundless energy to offer their music directly to the living rooms of their audiences prompted Brooke Bond Taj Mahal to extend its 30-year old association with classical musicians to create ‘Sur Ke Saath’, a line-up of 24 artistes performing live over two months. I have been closely working with the brand to curate artistes for a performance every week, and this is an incredible initiative to support these artistes. I am grateful to be associated with it and I look forward to the audiences also extending their support for the upcoming episodes.
Music is here to stay and adapt with whatever medium that is available and live streaming is now going to go a long way.
But, is it weird to perform for an audience that you cannot see/interact with?
I don’t think so. It’s different for sure. It’s a joyous feeling being able to connect with the audience and your fans in real time. I agree you can’t feel the energy, the cheering, but knowing that these many people have taken out time to attend the live concert is satisfactory enough. It only says that people love music and it’s making a difference in their lives. And if you actually notice, people comment, like, and give all kinds of reactions when we are performing. It’s because they know we are reading their comments and basis that we get our motivation to keep performing. The connection between the artistes and the audience is surreal during e-concerts. This brings me a sense of joy and happiness and pushes me to show up for them every single time.
In the lockdown, you have been working with more than 24 Hindustani classical music artistes. Tell us about that experience.
Well, being the ambassador of a brand that has been associated with classical music and musicians for over 30 years, we had to innovate, support and provide a platform and an opportunity for them to continue performing for their audiences. In March, when the lockdown was announced, Brooke Bond Taj Mahal launched the concept of live online Indian classical music concerts featuring gifted Indian classical musicians serenading audiences with specially curated compositions from the confines of their homes. These live performances being showcased on ‘Sur Ke Saath’, are being streamed on the official Taj Mahal Tea Facebook page. Curating and meeting such talented musicians week-on-week, has been an enthralling experience and during such times, I urge people to support Indian classical music by coming to the Facebook page every Sunday morning at 10. Their passion inspires me as an artiste every day. In fact, we had two really talented artistes — Sapan Anjaria and Debasmita Bhattacharya — who performed live on June 28.
How do you think Hindustani classical music, more than any other genre, helps people in difficult times?
Since the beginning of time, classical music and ragas have formed the base for music across genres including pop and Bollywood, which has in turn, made them an integral part of our lives and kept us tied to our roots. The part of music’s role in our lives is to provide us comfort and calm our souls, especially in times like these. In Indian classical music, ragas constitute specific combinations of tonic intervals potentially capable of evoking distinct emotions. An artiste has to first immerse herself to bring out the correct mood of the raga. Once this happens, the raga becomes a medium that connects the artiste to the audience, hence, what an artiste feels while performing is exactly what a keen listener would experience. A raga has a tremendous scope to touch the inner being which helps soothe, calm, heal and also entertain the audience at the same time.
What do you have to say to budding musicians on how best they can spend their time at home?
It is important to use this time wisely as such times may never come back for artistes and creative people, wherein they can indulge in creation. It’s a great time to focus on the practice regularly, to listen, to learn from what contemporary artistes are doing; to listen to the maestros, to learn new ragas, to improve on your strengths and work on your weaknesses.
I also believe there are good and bad days, but this strong urge of fulfilling your passion will drive you every day to take out even 30 minutes to practise/do riyaz.
Before the pandemic, as a performer, what used to be your biggest high, versus now, when home concerts have become the norm?
The preparation of being on stage is something I miss. I have certain pre-concert rituals. Before a few days of performance, all my energy is directed towards it. I miss that. What I like about this time is, as a musician who is always travelling, I always felt I didn’t find the time to explore rare and difficult ragas. Now, I am not just learning them, I am also trying to compose bandishes in these ragas. For instance, the new song with my band Maati Baani is based on a raga that I hadn’t learnt before. It’s called Raga Shahana. I love to create and there has never so much time before.
Tell us about your band ‘Maati Baani’. How did it come into being?
Kartik, my husband, and I come from completely different music backgrounds. He has a great knowledge of western styles of music as well as Urdu poetry. I have a strong classical background. We merged both our music worlds to create Maati Baani in 2012. Since then, we have collaborated with over 400 musicians and creative people across the globe!
Personally, what are some of your favourite ragas?
I love everything about monsoon! And hence, monsoon ragas are my favorite type of ragas. I recently sang Miyan Malhar on the Sur Ke Saath concert series. And another favourite one is Megh, which was performed by Debasmita Bhattacharya on the sarod.
Also, any new raga that I am learning becomes my favourite.
Who is that one musician/singer whom you look up to and idolise?
My guru, Pandit Sanjeev Abhyankar, definitely. He uses music as a means to keep himself and everyone around him joyful. And I also love the ethos behind Michael Jackson’s music. He used music to elevate humanity, which is also my purpose — at least I try to.
What next for you and the band?
Lots of riyaz and lots of new songs!
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