Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Carrying a fine tune
Rakesh Chaurasia talks about the chemistry of jugalbandis, jamming with the greats and playing different genres
To state the obvious, Rakesh Chaurasia was destined to play the Indian bamboo flute, the bansuri. The nephew and disciple of maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, it came naturally to him from an early age, even though his father Ganeshprasad Chaurasia was a popular tabla player in Hindi film music. The young Chaurasia has concentrated on Hindustani classical music, but loves to experiment with fusion, international collaborations and film music. This Sunday, he will focus on the traditional style, as he joins vocalist Rahul Deshpande in concert.
“I have not played much with vocalists. But I have admired Rahul’s singing and extensively heard the work of his grandfather Pandit Vasantrao Deshpande,” says Chaurasia. The first half will consist of individual solos and post-interval, they will do a jugalbandi. “Jugalbandis are all about chemistry between artistes. The ones that Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and also between Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and my uncle did are legendary,” he says. Chaurasia refers to his uncle as ‘Babuji’. He adds, "We come from a family of wrestlers from Allahabad. But nobody was forced to choose his career. I found the bansuri very soothing, so I decided to learn, though I never planned to become a professional musician.” It was a children’s Doordarshan programme at the age of six and a full-fledged concert at nine that made Chaurasia determined to become a flautist. He recalls, “I stayed with Babuji in Khar. The only thing he told me for years was to sleep less and practice more. Just focus.”
The pure technique came naturally. He explains, “First it was about finger movements, tone and phrasing. Then about understanding the audience. All his disciples were the same to him. He never raised his voice but advised us when we went wrong.” Chaurasia would initially be nervous when accompanying his uncle on stage. He adds, “But that was a great exposure as he was very open in his outlook. He encouraged me to play different genres but at the same time, not to compromise on the purity of Hindustani classical music.”
To begin with, Chaurasia released a few devotional albums. Then he collaborated with London-based tabla player and producer Talvin Singh on Vira. Later, he formed the band Rakesh And Friends, with drummer Gino Banks, bassist Sheldon D’Silva, keyboardist Sangeet Haldipur, guitarist Sanjoy Das and tabla exponent Satyajit Talwalkar. “The compositions I created for Rakesh And Friends were based on classical ragas, but overall it was an eclectic mix with jazz and world music added,” he says.
How does he balance classical music, fusion and film music, besides constant touring? He responds, “We adjust naturally. Film music is very challenging and inspiring as the composition style is different. Fusion has its own charm.”
Among his forthcoming tours, Chaurasia is looking forward to playing with banjo genius Bela Fleck, bassist Edgar Meyer and tabla wizard Zakir Hussain. “As a child it was always a dream to play with Zakir Bhai. Today, it’s great fun to join him on stage,” he says.