Singing Begum Akhtar is like sticking your neck out: Vidya Shah

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New Delhi– She makes it clear that whenever she does ‘Akhtari’, her curated tribute to the revered Begum Akhtar, there is a conscious attempt not to copy her. Singer Vidya Shah feels it is important to maintain one’s individuality instead of imitating.

“I am extremely grateful to my mentors who taught me to imbibe and not copy. Of course, it is quite daunting whenever I sit down for ‘Akhtari’, and wonder if it must have been a foolish night that I came up with this,” smiles Shah.

Adding that while the world of music is strange, and one has to sing the same thing, it also works at a very personal level, the singer, who trained under Shanti Hiranand in Thumri, Dadra and Ghazal says the best part is the stories.

“Through Shanti ji, I connected to Begum Akhtar at multiple levels. While everyone loved her work, there was a feisty and feminist side. That side of an artist, especially in the pre-independence era… the respect that I have for her grew immensely,” says Shah, who was recently in Chandigarh to perform ‘Akhtari’.

The singer, who also trained under Padma Shree awardee vocalist Shubha Mudgil in Khayal Gayaki, says the biggest thing she learned from her is how to create a niche while being immersed in music that is structured. “There may be 500 people singing Yaman. But how do you make it yours? Mudgal internalizes music, something that inspires me no end.”

Known for her ‘interactive’ concerts, Shah, whose audience also comprises young audiences, says collecting stories is something that has always fascinated her.

She remembers the time when someone came up, gave her cassettes, and told her what he was holding was ‘real’ music. “I heard so many voices but knew none… And there were some songs where names were being taken and it was revealing to me. And I wanted to find out who the person was behind the songs. There was very little about them and it bothered me. I started collecting stories, it became very interesting. I started particularly looking at the gramophone era because that’s the music I got. A lot of women had transitioned to bai ji’s. And then I wanted to share it with my audience as well. That is how the ‘Women on Record’ project was put together. And it was about the women who sang on the record and also about the women who are not on record,” says the singer who started learning music at the age of 12.

Talk to Shah about collaborations, she laughs and says she is very greedy, and that they push her creative spirit. Grateful that she had the opportunity to pursue formal education, which also got her closer to lyrics, she says, “I have worked with William Dalrymple on his books as well. There are so many interesting folk narratives which I have tied with music.”

Someone, who spent a lot of time in Madhya Pradesh and collected folk songs, Shah is currently working on a production with the classical dancer, Ananda Shankar Jayant. “It will be Bharatnatyam Hindustani ragas in sync.” (IANS)


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