This indie musician is trying to make Hindustani Classical music cool again

This indie musician is trying to make Hindustani Classical music cool again

By Keith Armando Gomes | | 11 March, 2017
indie musician, Hindustani Classical music, Tritha Sinha, Kolkata, Delhi, Tritha Electric, India Habitat Centre in New Delhi
Tritha Sinha.

She was five years old when she first identified and corrected her mother’s tans, who practiced in the kitchen every morning while attending to the daily chores. It was on that very day that Tritha Sinha’s parents realised the abilities of their daughter and took her for a class with her mother’s guru. This was the moment when she was introduced to the teachings of the Agra gharana’s musical lineage —this was the beginning.

I found myself in Sinha’s living room, a quaint space which comprised small sofas, mattresses, a guitar sitting on the mattress, books on spirituality, sketches of monuments on the walls, a glass door leading to a balcony with graffiti on its walls, and a corner where the music emanated from. She made me a part of her morning tea with almonds and fruits, and curated a playlist especially for the occasion of the interview; I took it that she didn’t wish to have the interview in silence. 

Tritha Sinha is an independent musician who was born in Kolkata, and today travels between home, Delhi and parts of Europe for her multiple projects. She has spent the better part of her life singing and dancing, while also claiming that she sometimes cooks better than she sings.

“As a kid, I would wake up to my father’s playlist that comprised of classical music, bhajans, and Sanskrit mantras.” She adds, “I used to love listening to my mother hum in the kitchen. And my brother introduced me to rock; he used to listen to Nirvana and Pink Floyd.”

The first time I heard Tritha was when her band “Tritha Electric” performed at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. The band comprised of Paul Schneiter on the drums, Mathias Durand on the guitar, and Tritha Sinha as the lead vocalist along with her own ensemble of instruments. The band played a rather unique experimental fusion of psychedelic and classical Indian ragas: the blend was exceptionally impactful. But this happened to be just one of the many projects that Tritha has got going.

“A lot of music today is noise, but pure sounds happen when there is mutual understanding in the band, we don’t play on top of each other, we allow each other the opportunity to perform freely.” 

Another project which is called “Tritha and Martin” comprises two musicians as the title suggests. Martin Dubois is a French man who is a throat vocalist and has a collection of instruments that are probably impossible to find at mainstream concerts — namely a kora, an African instrument, and a hollow closed drum which he places on his laps while playing. This project focuses on what the duo calls “sound healing”, the name was born out of the responses that the duo received from the audiences that heard them perform. She expounded on how their aim in this project has been to reach harmonies which are inspired by nature itself. 

“I have also got two other projects, one is known as Kuru orchestra in which I perform with a Kazoo. And the second one is a personal project which I started years ago called Space, formed with Ritika Singh,” she continues, “Space is a particularly motivated project since it focuses on trying to find ways to express and create awareness about gender justice and condition of women in India.” 

She had fascinating tales to tell of how she met these musicians who are friends and family to her today. The first time she met Martin Dubois was at a musical festival in France and ended up performing with him on a stage made on a tree.

She emphasises, “A lot of music today is noise, but pure sounds happen when there is mutual understanding in the band, we don’t play on top of each other, we allow each other the opportunity to perform freely.”

Tritha already has an album out there called PaGLi. She has performed in numerous places like Calcutta, Delhi, Paris, Switzerland and this year she is headed to Geneva to perform for the release of her new album. She sings in Hindi, Bengali, Sanskrit, English, Tamil, French and Urdu, and shyly admits that she enjoys singing in Bengali the most.

She has performed as a vocalist for films and jingles as well, so I enquired as to what made her take the leap to become an independent artist. “I am an independent artist, not a star and I am completely fine with it. It was in 2010 that I moved from commercial to independent music. And this was based on my experience as a child. When I sung classical at a competition as a kid I found just the judges before me, while the audiences flooded the rooms where rock was being played. I wanted classical to have the same space, I wanted it to be cool.It was this aim that has brought me where I am today.”

The instruments that she normally uses for her performances include an electronic tanpura which she says, “is rightfully called a deluxe magic box”. Since she cannot carry around a tanpura she uses the electronic substitute. Other than this she also uses a Tibetan bowl, which is used for meditations, and a Kazoo.

Being an independent musician involves great struggle, so I supposed, but the details that were shared by Tritha helped prove the fact. “I have practiced all my life. Even today I spend my morning practicing. I am practicing currently under Pandit Shantanu Bandhyopadyay of the Bishnupur gharana, the only gharana in Bengal.” This followed a historical narrative on what Gharana’s stood for. She then added, “I also do yoga to practice breathing. As a singer breath is vital, and in Delhi I’ve had to lock myself up for days and also use cabs since the pollution is terrible.” She has acquired discipline since she is aware that there is no boss to tell her what to do. She has kept herself busy each day in order to reach this point where she gets to perform in different countries. But this wasn’t simply it, “I even cooked Indian cuisine in France so that I could get the money to go to Berlin, just because I had heard that there were better opportunities to perform out there.”

As a teacher today, she has been teaching for five years now, Tritha believes that anyone can learn to sing if they really apply themselves to it. She even demonstrated a sa-re-ga-ma before me while adjusting the notes of her electronic tanpura just to show how one could start learning from any point and then carry forward. During this demonstration we were accompanied by Tritha’s cat Green, a black cat with green eyes.

I further enquired into something that I had observed during one of Tritha’s performances: she showed no inhibition whatsoever when she began to flow into a series of notes. There was a rare form of persistence in her work which one does not get to meet so often. To this she responded, “Classical compositions, as I have learnt from my teacher, are precious and these require commitment. Each note is an internal journey and I try to remain honest to it. And well, it is my job and you have to do your job right.”

 “I want to sing even when I am seventy,” says Tritha, to which I could not help but respond by saying that she would find me in her audience even then. Tritha Sinha, who wants everyone to “be limitless”, will be performing on 19 March at the closing day of the Indie art week, Space will do a women collective variety show of music, dance and theatre, launching the music video “Zindagi Bitani” on the subject of  forced arranged marriages and honour killings.

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