Volume 64, Number 23 : November 2, 1994

Popularity is not the sitarist's aim

By Robert Hicks

In his seat on the Indian Government's University Grand Commission, sitarist Manilal Nag is highly regarded as an expert in the field of Indian classical music. and as a board member for the All-lndia Radio and Television network, he helps select artists for its programs. While preparing for his New York debut at The New School's Tishman Auditorium on Fri., Nov. 4, in a concert with Samir Chatterjee on tabla, Nag had time to reflect on his role as an artist.

"As an artist, I play for my own satisfaction and for people who can understand the real pain and depth of the music. I never play the popular music of India. I am a classical artist. I don't work in any institution. I am a worshipper of the arts. I try to create an atmosphere for peace and enjoyment in the hearts of the listeners," says Nag.

Nag and Chatterjee will perform on a two-part program, Masters of Indian Music, co-sponsored by The New School and the World Music Institute, with young virtuoso sarod player Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, also in his New York debut, accompanied on tabla by Tanmoy Bose.

Nag is the major living exponent of the Vishnupur gharana, which retains the depth, resonance and vitality of the ancient dhrupad style of the aalap, the base of the North Indian raga, with its slow tempo that gradually builds in speed to a high point, unlike South Indian music in which the tempo remains the same throughout against which the main artist sings or plays faster by increasing the number of notes per beat.

The son of sitar master Sangeetacharya Gokul Nag and descendent of other distinguished sitarists, Nag was born into the tradition on Aug. 16, 1939, in West Bengal. From age 6. he studied vocal and instrumental music with his father, who was noted both as a sitarist and as a composer at the University of Calcutta. From these disciplined hours of practice, 6 to 8 per day, and additional study with his guru for 15 years, Nag could appreciate the vocal qualities of his chosen instrument.
"I have to follow the vocal music on sitar. The vocal is the vital point of any instrumental music in India," says Nag.

By 1953, Nag had been selected to stage his debut concert at the All-lndia Music Conference, accompanied by master tabla player, the late Pandit Santa Prasad. The next year, the young Nag performed as a selected artist of the All-lndia Radio, working with Pandit Anokelal of Varanasi. In the ensuing years, Nag won acclaim performing at music festivals throughout India and abroad under the auspices of the National Program of the All-lndia Radio.

With a 16-year-old son, Subhasis Nag, and a 23-year-old daughter, Mita Nag, the latter selected as sitarist for the All-India Music Conference, Nag discourages them from becoming professional musicians because of the economic and social conditions in India. His son is in college in Calcutta and his daughter holds an M.A. in English from the University of Calcutta. Nag also laments the lack of discipline among the young musicians in India, who now study only six years before beginning public performances.

In 1973, Nag came to the U.S. for the first time to perform. That same year, he visited England and other European sites as a performer with the Indian Cultural group. He toured Australia in 1980 and continued his visits to Bangladesh and Nepal. In 1985, Nag was invited to perform throughout Japan and 1994 finds him releasing a new CD, "Raga Lalit," with tabla player Anand Gopal Bandopadhyay on Raga Records.

Masters of Indian Music, featuring sitarist Manilal Nag and sarod player Tejendra Naryan Majumdar, at The New School, Tisch Auditorium, 66 W. 12th St., Fri,, Nov. 4, 8 P.M. $16. 307-7171 or 545-7536.

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