‘My roots lie in the Indian classical music tradition’

‘My roots lie in the Indian classical music tradition’

By ANIRUDH VOHRA | | 20 February, 2016
Sharat Chandra Srivastava.
Violinist Sharat Chandra Srivastava, former member of the Indian rock band Parikrama, has now made a return to his musical roots with his new fusion project Mrigya. He speaks to Anirudh Vohra.

Do your parents’ passions shape your own? They did in the case of Sharat Chandra Srivastava, for he started playing the violin at the tender age of seven. His grandfather, The late Pandit Joi Srivastava, was his first guru. “Even before receiving formal lessons, I got used to an ambience of music at home, with students from Europe, United Kingdom and the United States coming to learn music from my grandfather,” said the artist, just a few days before his concert in Udaipur.   There had been a proper guru-shishya parampara at the Srivastava residence, with students actually taking up domicile there.

The fanaticism of Sharat Chandra Srivastava to learn music was soon spotted by his grandfather and the little kid started playing his small violin. Srivastava’s acquaintance with music had been a natural process, with the continuous exposure to the musical sessions of other students at his home acting as catalyst.

“It was a painful tune, resigned, a cry of heartache for all in the world that fell apart. As ash rose black against the brilliant sky, Fire’s fiddle cried out for the dead, and for the living who stay behind to say goodbye.” This is from Kristin Cashore’s novel Fire.

Wondering why the quote? Well that is because before we talk about a violinist, let’s talk about the violin. Developed in the early 16th century, the fiddle/violin is a string instrument of the violin family. It is the smallest and the highest-pitched instrument in the family. The violin typically has four strings tuned in perfect fifths, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings.

“I started being a part of concerts from the age of 11. It has been a long journey since then of almost three decades,” Srivastava said. He has been performing Hindustani classical music for over 25 years now. He was also part of India’s premier rock band Parikrama for 12 years. After which he started the Delhi-based fusion band called Mrigya. “My roots belong to the Indian classical music. I feel playing in a rock band doesn’t make me a rock musician. I was always adding my Indian touch even though I was in a rock band. But yes, indeed it made me what I am today by being a part of this beautiful journey. Thus laying the foundation of my own world, with Mrigya.” He is also a member of the world music quartet India Alba.

“The music that we at Mrigya compose can be thought of as a wholesome combination of classical tunes, sufi elements, Carnatic sounds, rock and jazz elements and the blues style. All elements in fusion music are incorporated in optimum proportions.”

Srivastava has had the honour of sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in the world of Western music as well as Indian classical music. He recounted an occasion in 1998 when he performed with Sting at a concert in New Delhi. “That was for Channel V music awards. I was auditioned and got selected to play the concert held at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. I spent a few days with Sting. Played two songs — “Fields of Gold” and “Every Breath you take”. I’ve always been a great fan of Police and Sting so sharing the stage with him was a huge honor and privilege.”

Srivastava spent three days with Sting and had literally been bowled over by humility and sobriety of the latter’s character. Srivastava came to know that Sting himself is highly interested in Indian musical traditions and meditation techniques.

 “It can be difficult to be a musician not only in India, but any part of the world.   People face monotony and a stereotype of a set frame of job profiles. Music is considered more of a hobby than a proper bread-and-butter job. Breaking those shackles and at the same time not falling for it can be challenging. Surely, it can be more difficult to be not in the indie music scene. We make independent music, in collaboration with international musicians to include various forms of music, thus the market is niche,” Sriavastava said while talking about the hardships that musicians face. “We are a small family. My mother, my wife and two kids. As an artist, there have been many ups and downs in the career, but my family has always been a rock solid support system. I know where to look back when it comes to motivation.”

It is said the period of struggle that an artist faces, defines and in many ways forms him and his music. To this, Srivastava said, “It is a mixed experience and at the same time, can be true or not true. An artist’s struggle can be shown in a very positive manner the way he has learnt. A painful struggle can also be equally melodious, highlighting all the virtue of success. What a Guru teaches you is that he or she paves the path for your progress, and change the perseverance of the disciple. All depends on the kind of guru you have had in life.”

When questioned about the importance of vocals in classical music, Srivastava was quick to point out that one needs to just add the right dollops of vocals, tabla and classical instruments to give the desired range to the gayaki style of any artist. The ace musician also explained that one also needs to be relatively proficient with vocals to be able to discuss the ragas with students.

While speaking about his other collaborations Srivastava said, “Nigel Richard, Ross Ainslie, Gyan Singh and I are all part of the Indo-Scottish band called India Alba. This makes two musicians from India and two from Scotland.  My band Mrigya in our new album has collaborated with Igor Bezget, a jazz guitar player from Slovenia. I have recently collaborated with Aleksandar Simic, pianist and composer, Belgrade, Serbia for very classical Balkan style music at the Udaipur World Music Festival. This style comes from the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe.”

The conversation now turned towards world music and his fusion band Mrigya. Unlike folk fusion (as practiced by bands like Indian Ocean and Euphoria), Mrigya’s raga-based fusion music is all about selecting pure Indian Classical ragas (like Maand, Kajri and Pahari) and blending it with beautiful Western musical elements.

According to Srivastava, “The music that we at Mrigya compose can be thought of as a wholesome combination of classical tunes, sufi elements, Carnatic sounds, rock and jazz elements and the blues style. One must emphasise the critical importance of ensuring that all elements in fusion music are incorporated in optimum proportions.”  Srivastava said that his band has been able to, over the years, maintain this balance in its compositions.

Speaking about his inspirations and idols from the musical world, the name of his own grandfather naturally came first to Srivastava’s lips. The violinist and vocalist also cited Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan as two of the musicians that he really looks up to. Shakti and Mahavishnu Orchestra, of course, are also inspirations to Mrigya.

Mrigya has just launched a new album, the self-titled Mrigya, and The Composition of World Harmony was their previous one. Responding to a question about whether Mrigya would be open to offers from Bollywood, Srivastava said working on good Bollywood projects is definitely a possibility, and humorously added he had precious little idea about composing the so-called “item numbers” that are currently so popular in the Hindi film industry.

A recipient of the National Scholarship from the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, Government of India, Srivastava has also performed at the recent Jaipur Literature Festival and the Udaipur Music Festival.

“Jaipur Literature Festival is always a great experience. The audience is always very charged up. It’s one of my favorite festivals in the country. We played few signatures from our previous albums and also some from our latest album. While, at Udaipur I collaborated with Aleksandar Simic, a pianist from Serbia. There were a few classical pieces he has written and I was syncing my Indian violin touch to it. I feel that violin and piano makes a good combination. Plus we also had Sitar and Cello in the set. We did few pieces of Indian raagas as well.”

The artist has also conducted numerous workshops and brought in international musicians to the slums to enlighten children there with different forms of music from across the globe, and was honoured at the 100 Pipers True Legends Awards for his contributions. “While working with musicians from across the globe I got inspired to start my own musical. Then in 2012, I started Strings of the World music festival where musicians from Scotland, Slovenia, Norway, Holland, China and Iran came. The first year was a huge success. That motivated me to do it the next year. Then we started taking these international musicians to the slums of India and started performing for children. It was a great experiment for us as these small children were getting exposed to such beautiful classical instruments like the violin, cello, kora from Africa. I’m doing this with the hope that maybe someday I’ll fund these kids to come and learn this art form.”

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