To carry forward the rich legacy of traditional music in India, the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra is all set to organise the 71st edition of “Shriram Shankarlal Music Festival 2018”. The event will be held from 8-10 March at the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra lawns in New Delhi. Every year, the three-day gala showcases not only the country’s eminent maestros, but also brings promising young talent on one stage to celebrate Indian classical music in all its glory.

Talking about one of the oldest music festivals of modern India, Shobha Deepak Singh, organiser of Shriram Shankarlal Music Festival, says, “The Kendra’s musical journey began in 1947 on the day India got Independence. Initially known as ‘Jhankar’, the Kendra’s music festival has been performed at venues such as Red Fort, Jantar Mantar, the NDMC building, Constitutional Club, Mavlankar Hall.  From Jhankar, the show went on to be called the ‘Bharatiya Kala Kendra Music Festival’. In 1997, it was known as the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra Music Festival and from there on it was renamed as Shriram Shankarlal Music Festival. Over seven decades, the music has maintained its high standard of musical reverence for the audience of New Delhi. My vision for the Kendra’s annual renowned music festival has been to give it a new direction. Towards this end, since 1981, the Kendra has provided a platform to young talented musicians along with the established maestros.”

The Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra houses the largest archive of live recordings of maestros and several other luminaries. Every year, the Kendra releases limited editions of these professionally mastered, edited recordings. Founded in 1952, the Shriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra has secured for itself an unchallenged position as an active proponent of the Indian classical performing arts, and of mythological, contemporary and folk productions of
the epics.

As the next edition is around the corner, Singh talks to us about how the festival is now helping young artistes with a platform to showcase their talent.  She says, “Since the last three decades, there has been a gradual and deliberate shift to the vocalists, so the music festival is giving a platform to young musicians along with accomplished artistes. The shift has paid rich dividends to young artistes and has helped establish them in the music industry.”

Classical music has gone through many changes over all these decades, and has now successfully grabbed the attention of youngsters of this country as well. In conversation with Guardian 20, Singh says, “I think school and college students are aware of Indian classical music these days. If I see the scenario of late ’80s and late ’90s, there is a huge difference and more and more young people are learning this genre and attending the fest. It is really good to see such a good response from youngsters these days.”

Orchestrating such an event once a year comes as a welcome opportunity to take Indian classical music to more people. It also enables the younger generation to take pride in their rich cultural heritage. To this, Singh says, “The more music festivals are held, the more people listen to classical music. As we organise more music festivals we create better opportunities for people to appreciate and embrace
the music.”

Organising such big events in India is also a means of educating people about classical music. Could such a format work in small towns across India? Singh feels that putting together a large-scale music festival in a small town comes with a lot of uncertianity. Singh says, “I think there should be no large scale music festival in small parts of India because firstly, it is way too expensive and you need a lot of funds for that. Secondly, people in small towns do not show up to cheer the artistes as much as we expect. However, if we don’t take music to smaller places that doesn’t mean that it is not already there. Many artistes organise small concerts at these places, taking music to every corner of the country.”

The history of classical music in India is full of the harrowing stories of artistes who struggled to make ends meet. But things have changed now. More people are appreciating the genre, which is leading to several concerts being organised all over the country. “I don’t think classical musicians these days are struggling as much as they did in the past. We have a society where we are regularly having concerts all over the country, and even at schools and colleges where children have an opportunity to listen to the music. Artistes are not paid very well but they are educating the students about this genre of music,” says Singh.

The Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra carries forward its decades-long legacy of supporting and popularising Indian classical music, where the traditional embraces the contemporary. And this festival is another expression of that institutional mission. This year’s lineup includes artistes like Pandit Jasraj, Ronu Majumdar, Kalapini Komkali, Uday Bhawalkar, Irshad Khan, Debashish Bhattacharya, Aarti Ankalikar Tikekar, Shounak Abhisheki, Bombay Jayashri Ramnath and Jayanthi Kumaresh. “In this year’s edition, there are 11 performing artists out of which seven are performing for the first time. This year’s highlights include two Carnatic musical performances by Bombay Jayashri Ramnath and Jayanthi Kumaresh,” Singh adds.

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