NIKHIL BANERJEE INTERVIEW continued (Part 3)
Are there promising young artists-vocalists or instrumentalists-with the potential to become great masters?
There are many talented boys and girls, vocalists and instrumentalists, but nowadays it has become a craze in India not to devote much time to practicing and learning. After learning a little bit, they want to come to America to earn money, going for name and fame. This has really spoiled the atmosphere. Like in our time, you know-that strictness is not there, that type of guru is no more, and nowadays young talented boys and girls are learning, they're doing well but after 4 or 5 years they want to earn money, they want fame, they want to come to America. That is a very bad sign. To be very frank, I don't find anybody now. When we remember our old days, that potential-no. Of course, money is required but to me, first my music then everything else; everything is secondary. First I want to improve, I want to love my music, I want to go deep into music! That approach is missing. I will not blame them always; it is the atmosphere of the world. Nowadays every boy and girl is bombarded with problems, so many problems, economic problems. So I understand it's difficult to devote and concentrate so much, but still there are a few people who can because they have got some sort of financial support, and yet, that atmosphere is missing. One other thing: TV is actually spoiling-because during your training period, there should not be any sort of diversion. Now it's hard to find a place where you can be separated from this world. Either video, or television, or radio-the whole atmosphere is very unpeaceful in the world-the political situation and other things. Maybe it's a passing phase, and again a good time will come.
Why do feel that instrumental music has had broader appeal in these times-particularly in the West? It seems all the really well-known artists are instrumentalists even in India where vocal music traditionally was always held in the highest regard.
Because it is appreciated all over the world, sitar has become an international instrument. Vocal music is suffering, of course. Few people are learning dhrupad nowadays; it's almost dying out, there's not much demand.
So there's definitely a decline in the art of vocal music?
Yes, of course, it's declining yet still there are quite a good number of vocalists in India; they are appreciated. But it can be said that this is the Instrumental Age. Before our time, about 50 years back, instrumental was considered secondary-vocal music was maximum, yes, it was at the top. There were some good instrumentalists but still vocal music was appreciated more than instrumental.
Perhaps then Allauddin Khan was really the forefather of instrumental musicianship's popularity in this century?
Definitely. Not only has he created many great instrumental exponents, but his contribution-actually he has broadened the space of instrumental music, he has opened up new horizons. That was his contribution.
What are you feelings about recording Indian classical music? You've recorded many LPs, do you think recording has an important place in keeping your tradition alive?
I think when any musician is recording, he becomes self-conscious and he cannot give his best. But it is also true that we have lost many great musicians; now at least the next generation can get some sort of idea of their music from these recordings. Very recently the CD has become available, you can record about one hour; it's a good thing. I don't know why but I myself become very self-conscious when I record, and naturally when you become self-conscious you cannot give your best.
What about recording live concerts?
I think that's a much better way. The minimum time should be about one hour; otherwise you have to edit.
Do you think that the Gramophone Company of India is doing a proper job with regard to recording and promoting classical music?
No, no, not at all. Everybody is after money; in this age, everybody's going after money and fame. Business! I understand, of course, when you are investing money it is a business, you want some return. It is all understood, but still they are doing well, they are concentrating more on light music, film music. Very good, they are getting their returns nicely, a good sum of money but what are they doing for traditional music? No, they're doing nothing!
Have you been satisfied with the LP recordings you've done to date?
Suppose when I'm in a very good mood I think it will come out nicely, then technically it is not perfect sound-wise or something. I'm not very satisfied, but I'm partly satisfied with one recording company-Sonodisc in France. Their recording quality, sound-I'm happy with that. I'm quite satisfied with one of my Sonodisc LP's, Rag Monomanjari. That's my favorite so far.
Do the ragas that you've recorded on these LP's represent a central core of your repertoire? How do you choose what to record?
That's a difficult question! (Laughs) I tried, that's all. It's difficult to say. In the particular moment, at the time of recording, what you feel like doing comes out.
With all the existing ragas, you are still credited with creating new ones!
Yes, I still like to do that if something comes out of my mind. I always like to do that. Art is the medium; you want to express everything through this medium.
Following your guru's dictate, do you still practice regularly? How many hours a day?
Oh; of course, without fail! You have to! I practice about four hours a day. There is no other way; no short-cut, no compromise! Until your last breath, you'll have to practice.
How do you prepare for concerts-do you work out ahead of time large portions of the ragas? How much is improvised, how much spontaneous?
I think about a few ragas as a preparation for the concert. It's very difficult to explain! We try-suppose we choose something, some rag, before the concert, we play it, and after starting we feel that it's not the correct rag in this atmosphere, it's the wrong selection. So in that respect, it's very hard to say! But still what I do as a preparation is think about a few ragas according to the time of the concert. Around 8, 9, 10 o'clock, I try to think for some time, and keep it in front of my mind, wait for some time and if the acceptance comes from inside-sometimes it doesn't come; sometimes I think, "No, perhaps this will be better. This raga I haven't played for a long time, I want to play this raga." Then I select that during the concert.
In that respect, I sometimes really enjoy my playing in the U.S. People may not always understand what I'm going to do but the atmosphere, the hall, acoustics, and the people listen so quietly-that encourages me very much! Quiet atmosphere, good sound-this is expected.
Your music is particularly known for its poetic, meditative approach as well as its technical virtuosity-do you practice any form of yoga or meditation?
I practice hatha yoga-postures-just to keep myself fit. Music is such a thing that through your music you can be judged. It's not any particular way, it's from the experience because through music you express yourself. My approach to music is very deep. I do not compromise with anybody or anything else in the world. I do not care, I don't care if anybody appreciates it or not; I don't care. When I start I always like to play better, nice, good, heavenly music. I want to really go beyond this materialistic world towards Space-there, no compromise. I really want to know-not for the sake of enjoyment, entertainment, no. In the beginning portions-naturally, with tabla, that's another chapter, a completely different chapter; the intricacies and mathematics are there. A musician must lift up the souls of the listeners, and take them towards Space.
Photo:coll. John Campana
Several years ago, when I spoke to you after what I thought was a spellbinding performance, you said, "Yes, but I want to pluck on the very heart-strings!" I was very impressed with your intention to literally alter the consciousness and raise the audience.
Actually, that should be the motto, but who am I? Now, I actually feel sometimes I am nothing! If I say that, "Yes, I am a good musician," then every time, each time I will play better. I can't, I can't-nobody can. You have got no control over this thing. Technical virtuosity is everything but you know music is such a thing you must first practice technique, then you must forget it. Then only can you break the fence around you and go beyond. Until and unless you can really go beyond this fence and go towards Space, everything is useless! What's the purpose of music? It is not that you just play the notes, some combination, some permutation-no! Each note that you strike in your mind becomes alive! Then you're successful. Tagore has written a very nice poem on these things; I like that poem and it touches me very much. "Whom I cannot see I cannot touch, my musical notes can touch thy feet." That's so true! A real musical atmosphere is when for some time you forget yourself, for some time you are lifted so high! Like if I give you a good slap, you will cry, and good musical notes and phrases also bring down your tears. Why? What are those tears? That means your body needs food but your mind needs that thing, that esthetic side of this art. When I went to the Louvre in Paris and saw that famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci-the Mona Lisa-I cried for several minutes! It touched me so much, and when I hear some good Western music I become very emotional for a few moments-not for a long time. If it happens for a long time, then you are above, above everything. It doesn't stay for a long time, but for a few moments good music, good literature, good poetry, a good picture, lifts you up and you forget your whole body and surroundings. That is the purpose of the art! That it will take us up towards God, you could say, or towards Space, beyond all these things. That's the purpose, and there, you are nowhere as a musician! You do, you try to do, you start! You are a starter! Then something happens. Allauddin Khansahib was not an educated person, he was very simple, but he used to say always, "Listen, when you play, you'll start and you'll remember your guru. He will come inside you and he will push you, and create good music." That was his saying, so always before he started, he used to remember his guru for about a minute, on the stage. With tanpura only, before he plucked his instrument, he would just close his eyes and remember. It's a belief, you know. It's a very controversial thing. In this 20th century you may not accept it, but you cannot create this music-something comes from maybe within or from outside. That creates it! If you say, "Now I am creating," then do it now, each time can you do it? No! You cannot do it each time. That is the purpose, and it's so vast, so much in the Outer Space. Most unpredictable things!
You have such a wealth of music, such a treasure, how are you going to share your technique and knowledge with future artists? You stated that you don't care to teach, and I don't know of anyone who claims to be your disciple. Do have any disciples, do you have any intention of training any in the future?
Yes, I'll follow my teacher's way; I like that way. Now I'm performing, and that's another very big point-why I don't teach. I like to teach but now I am not capable of teaching. Second, I have little time. Teaching is not a very easy job-don't think you will come to me and I'll give you Darbari Kanada, or Nayaki Kanada and one composition, you are happy, "I have got this rag!" This is not at all teaching; that type of raga you can create yourself. Teaching is something else; teaching means guidance, constant focusing and guidance which I consider a very, very deep and responsible thing. If I accept you as my student the whole responsibility is mine! If you say, "I can't see any way in front of me, I can't improve," everything is my responsibility. Definitely you'll improve, definitely, if I have learned correct music, definitely you will know it. But the teacher has to work harder than the student, because he's all the time thinking about how to create interest. It is not just give some compositions, everything-your body, your mind's appetite-everything is concerned. I will follow my teacher's way, that is after another 5 or 6 years, when I'll be older, then I'll give fewer concerts and move around much less. Then I will concentrate, and pick up a few students. I will keep them in my family, I will feed them, give them clothes, I will give them everything. But I will keep them under lock and key, and I will say, "These four years you cannot see a single movie, you cannot see any television. All the time, I want to hear that you are practicing in this room." If I pick up someone as my student, then it's my responsibility and I will do something, and he will become something. Definitely I will not just pick up somebody from the street-I must see that you have got the talent or really want to work hard; a really strongly built boy who can practice 12 hours a day. Considering all these things, once I pick, I will say, "You have nothing to think about for the next 5 years. All the responsibility is mine. Everything will be provided-your comforts, your food, clothing, everything will be provided! You don't have to think anything about this world-just practice!" Naturally, my guidance will be there all the time. I think this is the best way and I will do it. I will find some students, young-8 to 10 year old boys-and I will keep him in my family, in my house. Then I know I'll have some good music to listen to as I get older! (Laughs) I think this is the best way. If you really want to teach someone your techniques, just pick someone and keep him always with you-in your morning walks, in your concerts, everywhere, all the time. Keep him with you because you are molding him, you are focusing on him. He will know only you, nobody else. No diversion, nothing. (November 9, 1985)