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World Music Day in the context of Indian Classical Music

World Music Day on 21st June, the day of the summer solstice was first celebrated in 1982 in France, by having open-air free concerts throughout the day. Since then it has been celebrated in more than 120 countries.

Its relevance in India is nebulous –  our weather is not conducive to open-air concerts in the heat; in India, the celebration of special events through music has already been designated by age-old tradition. Births and marriages, in fact, any auspicious occasion is marked through music in every region of the country. Some religious events are also linked with music including Navratri celebrations, Hanuman Jayanti, Shivratri and Janmashtami. So in that sense, World Music Day does not really have any special significance in the Indian context.

That said, some musicians seemed to feel that the importance of music in India was so immense that setting aside one day to celebrate music on a day which had no religious connotations was a good idea. It was interesting to get the views of two extremely proficient artists, in the forefront of their generation today, Manjiri Asanare Kelkar, vocalist, and Abhisek Lahiri, Sarodiya.

Abhisek Lahiri of the Senia Maihar tradition was unequivocal about World Music Day. He said laughingly “See, music is always with us, within us from the very beginning of our journey. Thus we see children reacting to any kind of music. Though I appreciate the step that France has taken to celebrate a specific day as World Music Day I personally do not believe in customs. I have grown up believing music to be the way of life.  Thus, to me any special day that is stamped as World Music Day does not make sense as I have been living music all my life”.

Manjiri Asanare Kelkar of the Jaipur Attrauli gharana was ambivalent – “Setting aside one day to loud music is good in that it brings attention to the importance of music in our lives. In South India, every child is taught some basic classical music. This is missing in North India. So I do feel we need to be much more aware of our musical traditions, but only one day dedicated to music cannot achieve awareness”.

Vocalist Manjiri Asanare Kelkar

Others felt having a day dedicated to music, joining other nations in the World community was only positive.  However, with June 21st now being nominated World Yoga day, for the Indian government, the celebrations of World Music day are diminished.  In the words of Dr Sachchidanand Joshi, Member Secretary Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) commented “The tradition of Indian classical music is as old as 1000-1200 BC, but we are forgetting its real essence. Our music is for enlightenment evolution and entertainment. But today, the entertainment aspect dominates. On World Music Day, we should introspect on what Music should mean to us, and interrogate how these 7 notes conspire with the 5 elements.”

Truly well said, instead of celebrating World Music Day in India with concerts, the celebration could take the form of introspection on what our musical traditions need, where our music is heading, and the impact of foreign audience expectations on artists. These could be initiated by bodies like the IGNCA and the 4 Zonal cultural centres.

Indeed, the growing trend to concentrate on performances outside India seems to be taking over most musicians, especially in summer when concerts all over India are few. Whether this a  positive trend, and speaks of the benevolent spreading of a great tradition, or whether it is slowly reducing and diluting the music to make it more appealing to an ignorant audience is a mute point. After all, our music was created to be niche music, and being subject to strict rules of grammar, it does involve a certain degree of understanding for appreciation, so in that sense, it can never have mass appeal.

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Manjiri Asanare Kelkar feels “As a musician, I like performing abroad. Taking our traditions outside India makes me feel proud. I have never found the language a barrier – one does not need to know the lyrics to understand the notes. The same pleasure my audience in India experiences, is also being experienced by foreigners. In Australia, New Zealand where I have sung, I have found people coming up to me and saying my music took them to another realm. I feel for this reason it’s very important to perform abroad so that people who have no knowledge at all about our traditions can be awed. I do believe our music should reach more people than it currently does. Having said that, if making our music more popular will involve bringing in gimmicks into its presentation to get the mass appeal, then I think that is wrong. Musical integrity is paramount. Stalwarts like Pt Ravi Shankar was able to reach many wider audiences without compromising at all, we should learn a lesson from this.”

Abhisek Lahiri | PC: Kishalay

Abhisek concurred “I have been performing in innumerable venues for last two decades in remote areas of Europe, Japan, Middle East and in other countries where they do not know what Indian Classical Music is all about. But what keeps me moving forward is that each time after my performance, I have seen unknown people coming up to me with tears in their eyes. As we know, our music has a very strong relation to spirituality. I feel it instantly infects people with its healing power and that happens very organically. I am pretty much sure that the same thing happens with my colleagues as well when they are performing abroad. But what I strongly feel is, it is a challenge to the musicians to present the performance in a way that the tradition remains the same yet it becomes appealing to the masses.”

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Other more senior artists felt the summer months were the time to introspect on one’s music and try to evolve as artists. Later in the year, starting from August onwards the calendar of music concerts in India were so multiple that one literally moved from one concert to the next. Accepting concerts abroad ate into one’s time and mind, due to distances, travel time, jet lag and the need to constantly innovate to appeal to ignorant audiences. The good money earned was insufficient compensation of time. The late Padma Vibhushan Kishori Amonkar used to say, those who wish to hear me, and who deserve to hear me, will come to India to hear me.

Differing views; but the acknowledgement on the importance of music in our lives is universal.

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