LEXINGTON, MA—With a live orchestra, New England singers and musicians and innovative themes and melodies, Raaga Rang is trying to produce something very unique this year: Indian classical, folk and Bollywood genres of music. This is the fourth year Raaga Rang is organizing such a special program.
The Raaga Rang team this year includes singers like Shuchita Rao, Meena Sundaram, Sankar Gangaikondan, Dilip Acharya, Shekhar Shastri, Meesha Acharya, Uma Sankar, Shubrah Bhattacharya Chandra, Aditya Rohit, Vijay Kumar and Kshitish Biswas. Instrumentalists are: Christy Mathew (keyboard), Sujeet Phanse (fute), Hiral Parikh (percussion), Koushik Chakrabarty (tabla), Phil Scarff (saxophone), Abhilash Mehta (dhol), and Phil Kaplan (guitar). Sound engineer is Jawed Wahid.
The program will be held on Saturday, April 9, 2016, at 6:00 pm at National Heritage Museum located at 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA. Ticket prices are: $20, $35, and $100. For more information, visit: www.imeru.net.
INDIA New England News spoke with Shekhar Shastri , a singer and producer of Raaga Rang, about the upcoming program.
INDIA New England News: Conversation between folk music and classical music is a fantastic idea. What is the connection between the two?
Shekhar Shastri: Classical Indian music is an endless mine of possibilities, making way for innovation and advancements. Music composers have rightly tapped into its potential since time immemorial to create newer melodies. However, popular music must be relevant to its time. It must touch the common man. Thus, it must wear the garb of the contemporary idioms – all of it while retaining a connection to the timeless classical core.
As a result, both classical and folk music inevitably co-evolve. Classical music provides timeless wings to soar with, and the Folk gives it feet to walk on earth with. Raaga-Rang 2016 is a melodious conversation between folk music and classical Indian music.
INE: How did you come up with this idea?
SS: Where do melodies come from? This question has intrigued me for a long time, and in quest of which I have researched ancient Indian treatises on music, and thought a lot about the origin of classical music. Over the past few years, Raaga-Rang concerts have explored this theme through the lens of Classical Raaga or melodic structures. This year our journey is taking a look at the musical geography of India, and will highlight some key musical genres from different regions of India.
Film music is also a form of folk medium. In fact, Indian films have done a marvelous job of bringing regional folk music to the global stage. All these thoughts are like an ‘Alaap’ of classical Indian music; the more we play with these ideas, the more the latent connections start coming to the fore – this is an important gift of the ‘Khyel’ (meaning ‘play’ in Braj dialect) genre of singing – a playful exploration of musical notes, and also of ideas.
INE: How do you define Folk music?
SS: Regional art and traditions are generally termed ‘Folk Art’; similarly, there is a rich portfolio of folk music traditions in many parts of India. Here ‘Folk’ connotes music that is popular in certain regions or in particular communities. This music has deep connection with the earth, with the sunrise, with seasons, with various phases of life and rites of passage. Often this music is deeply embedded in their day-to-day life; they sing these songs at birth of a child, at weddings, at various festivals, while working in the farm or tea gardens, or while fetching water from the river. Local stories are encrusted in these songs, and invariably there is dance, drama, craft, and visual art associated with these, as well.
INE: Folk music came much before classical music. What is the relationship between the two?
SS: Folk music may have preceded classical music, yet they are symbiotic and are in continuous conversation with each other. The regional folk tunes often are formalized into classical raagas, while classical music rapidly makes its way into folk compositions. Sometimes, there is no clear demarcation between the folk and the classical. For example, the Kajari songs sung during Holi festival in Bihar/Banaras region, and the Kannada compositions of Purandar Dasa are classical and folk, both at the same time. Classical can provide a melodic seed which is then nurtured through a regional folk medium – may we say ‘a classical soul with a regional body’?
INE: Do you have any preference between the two?
SS: I am a romantic and as such don’t see folk and classical as two opposite banks of a river, but as the flowing Ganga River itself – changing in scenery, people, and names every few miles. As a poet, it is my duty to glorify the lyricists who pack the emotional punch into songs be it folk or film. Thus, it is the intricate technology of classical Indian music in concert with the regional poetic narratives and emotions of the masses which come alive in our hearts.
INE: Is Folk music a dying art in India? How can it be revived?
SS: Great question. Yes, folk music encountered a big crisis for several decades, fading against film music, almost becoming its shadow. However, with digital and new media technologies, there is new renaissance in folk music in many regions of India. People take pride in singing their own traditional songs at weddings and other festivals. “Global” communities crave unique manifestation of their identity, something to call their own, when all boundaries are being erased. Thus, just as Bhangra and Raas/Garba have become global phenomena, many other Indian folk genres of music are also rising in popularity.
INE: How has folk music evolved in Bollywood?
SS: For almost 70 years in the 20th century, Indian films were the primary economically-viable outlet for Indian performing arts. Thus, the poets, artists and musicians flocked to Mumbai and Chennai, and infused the films with their traditional art forms, which is what made Indian films so rich both from the Classical as well as regional music and dance perspective. In Raaga-Rang you will see many stellar compositions of this genre. Another important contribution of Bollywood is that it polished the folk music and dance and created innovative choreographies which are unforgettable – from the Vyjayanthimala and Waheeda Rehman, to Aishwarya Rai era. Recent films like Bajirao Mastani have spectacularly showcased Indian folk music with great pizzaz.
INE: What would Bollywood be without classical music?
SS: These last four years, Raaga-Rang has demonstrated with some success, that the immortality of Bollywood music owes a huge debt to Indian Classical music. Our audiences have much appreciated this connection and now there are other radio shows and recitals which are regularly enhancing this theme. Even in future, I predict that the super-hit melodies of Bollywood will emerge from classical raagas, because our visionary ancestors have left us the ultimate ‘Wishing Tree’ (kalpavriksha) of music, which will continue to bear delightful fruits for centuries to come.
INE: Has spread of Western music in India helped or deterred classical music?
SS: It is a complex situation; the youth are attracted to Western music, as is reflected in film music as well. Yes, certain genres and intricate techniques of Indian music are getting lost. On the other hand, new types of fusion are continually emerging between Indian Classical and Western music. At Raaga-Rang we will be presenting some innovative compositions in this new genre.