"Zakir played his first concert with me when he was just 15"
Come January 14, and Mumbai's music aficionados can soak in an evening of mellifluous notes when two legends Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma (santoor) and Ustad Zakir Husain (tabla) will perform together. Ruchika Kher caught up with the santoor maestro who recalled his strong bond with Ustad Zakir Husain and the many misconceptions that plague Indian Classical music
Ustad Zakir Husain will accompany you on stage for the concert in January. How enriching is it for two legends when they perform on the same stage?
We have been playing together for a very long time. Zakir played his first concert with me when he was just 15 years old. Ours is a lifetime collaboration. Before Zakir, I have also played with his father. So, for us, it’s not only two musicians coming together, but something beyond that. The relationship, love and understanding that we share, is amazing. We enjoy playing together, and it’s very inspiring. Our music is not fixed, whatever happens, is decided on the stage. There are certain visions that he brings in, then I listen to him and I create something, and vice versa. This is the beauty of Indian Classical music — you can feed off each other while playing together.
The first time you performed in Mumbai was in 1955; what difference do you see in your music from then to now?
A musician keeps growing and should focus on that. No matter how many concerts he / she has played, the musician should not sit back on those laurels. Each concert is a learning experience. For me, the process is ongoing. The music I played in the 1950s, changed in ’60s, and since then, it has been changing, because there is no limit to imagination, new ideas and visions. There is no end to learning. So, a musician is learning even while performing on stage and learning even when teaching disciples. This still happens with me, and I can see a marked change in my music over the years. Plus, now there is the age factor as well. Certain things that I used to play when I was younger have changed. The speed with which I would play isn’t the same anymore. Rahul is playing with that speed now. My speedis comparatively lesser.
How have listeners changed since the time you began performing on stage?
Earlier, there were fewer people coming for Classical concerts, but they were knowledgeable. Now, there is a bigger audience, but they aren’t knowledgeable — they don’t know the difference between two ragaas, but they connect emotionally with the music, and that is more important. Because people, who understand music well, view a concert critically and in that process, they miss out on the real emotion of music. So, the important point to note here is that the number of people coming to watch Indian Classical concerts has increased, which sadly the media doesn’t report.
You have been performing for 60 years. What drives you till date?
After every concert, I ask myself, where could I have done better? This feeling is what drives me to give my best even now.
The santoor was originally an instrument that was used to play Sufi music but you transformed it by playing Classical music. Were you ever inclined to play Sufi music on the santoor?
The santoor was already being used for Sufi music so that was not new, but my father wanted me to learn Classical. The whole idea was to bring this instrument in the Classical arena. So, all my life I have been trying to establish Classical music on santoor. It’s not as if I cannot play Sufi on santoor; I simply prefer Classical.
Your father wanted you to be a santoor player and now, your son has chosen this path as well. How does that make you feel?
We performed together for seven to eight years, and then, stopped. Now Rahul does his thing, and I do mine. It is very challenging for a person to compete with his guru and then make his own place. He was successful in doing that. Not just that he is playing Classical, he has created his own identity. He has tried something on santoor that I never did. He collaborated with artistes like Kenny G and Deep Forest; I never did that. So, I am a happy father and guru.
The real meaning of jugalbandi
Most people don’t understand the term jugalbandi. Jugalbandi can be between two instruments of the same character, for example, two tabla players or pakhawaj can have jugalbandi. Similarly, players of santoor and flute or sitar and sarod can do the same. These are melodic instruments; they play raag. Tabla plays taal, so a santoor player and a tabla player cannot have a jugalbandi.
About the concert
The concert is a fundraiser for Sri Mata Anandamayi Trust. The money raised through the event will be donated to Shree Shree Anandamayi Nursery School at Ranavav, Gujarat.