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The Inheritors

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The Inheritors

Presenting, a few brilliant individuals carrying the musical legacy of their forefathers forward — in equally innovative ways.

Whether it is through showcasing skills and wisdom passed on over generations, practising the finer nuances of their family trade, preserving the centuries-old musical heritage, or imparting secrets of their craft to newer audiences, this set of individuals is carrying forward the legacy of their forefathers, in their own innovative way.

Popularising the art form that their ancestors perfected is just one way of ensuring the longevity of the family's reputation, so the legend endures, even as the face taking it forward changes.

Consider Ustad Kamal Sabri. When he cradles an instrument considered closest to the human voice in his lap and slides his fingernails across the strings of the sarangi, he is reinforcing a tradition perfected over seven generations of the Moradabad gharana. If it was his father, Ustad Sabri Khan, who took the magic of the sarangi to the west by accompanying iconic violinist Yehudi Menuhin in a jugalbandi, his son is ensuring that the flag flies high.

"In 2006, my album Dance of the Desert was submitted for the Grammy award and the American Academy of Music made a special category for sarangi, classifying it as a world music instrument," said the celebrated musician, speaking to Mail Today on the eve of a performance in London last week.

Sabri, who began learning under his father as a five-year-old, is now teaching his son Abdul Ahad the intricacies of the instrument on a customised sarangi. "As is expected in a gharanedaar family, my childhood memories include reading the Quran Sharif, going to school and of course, lots of riyaaz. I hope the tradition continues.

Apart from my immediate family, I teach students at home and abroad giving lectures on the instrument at music universities. I am also working towards creating an online museum, in which different kinds of sarangi will be displayed," he elaborates.

Even as he is upbeat about future, Sabri hasn't forgotten the origins of this brilliant journey.

That would be unbecoming of an ustad. He hosts a concert every year in the memory of his legendary father and still appears to be in awe of his first teacher. "He played at Parliament House when India got independence in 1947.

Whatever I've learnt today is because of walid saheb," he says in a voice tinged with nostalgia.

Freedom song

Clearly, inheritors of India's rich classical music legacy are reaping the fruits of the pioneering efforts of their forefathers. That generation made sure our rich musical traditions found a firm footing right after Independence.

One of these trailblazers was musician and vocalist Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, founder of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, one of the first schools to impart formal education of Indian classical music in the capital.

Beginning with a modest office near Connaught Place's Regal cinema in 1939, Maudgalya went on to usher in a revolution of sorts into Delhi's barren cultural landscape, democratising Hindustani music and making it accessible to thousands of members from the then fledgling middle class.

Today, his granddaughter Sawani Mudgal, daughter of acclaimed vocalist Madhup Mudgal, is keeping the legacy alive in two ways: by teaching at the junior choir in the Vidyalaya as well as carving her own niche as a vocalist.

Musical upbringing

In a way, music is in Sawani Mudgal's DNA. Although she formally learnt vocal under her father, having grown up in a household full of teachers of music, the importance of riyaaz, tayyari and the guru-shishya parampara seeped in almost unconsciously.

"My sister and I would wake up to the notes of Raag Lalit by Baba Allaudin Khan Saheb wafting through our drawing room. We didn't have to try very hard to pick up a sargam or read notations. But I am grateful to my father to have emphasised upon me learning western classical music as well," says Sawani. "I have just done a music album in Belgium that brings together jazz, saxophone, drums, bass and piano along with vocals," she says.

Shruti Chatur Lal, granddaughter of Oscar Nominee and BAFTA awardee tabla stalwart Pandit Chatur Lal, doesn't herself play the percussion, but she is ensuring that the connection with Indian classical art forms continues, by becoming an exponent of Euphonic Yoga, which brings together intricate asanas with naad, the cosmic music of yoga with Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Odishi. "My brother Pranshu is a renowned tabla player, the third in our family after my grandfather Pandit Chatur Lal and father Charanjit Lal. Although I don't play the tabla professionally, my brother and I had to sing for our supper three times a day. Now, when I advocate asanas accompanied with chanting of ragas, stotrams and thumping of feet for Euphonic Yoga, my musical upbringing comes in handy."

In an ode to her legendary grandfather, a percussionist par excellence, her father and she have been organising a series of concerts to promote Indian classical music among the masses.

"Artistes of the calibre of Sitara Devi, Bismillah Khan, Amjad Ali Khan, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Birju Maharaj and Shiv Kumar Sharma have performed for conconcerts held under the banner of the Pandit Chatur Lal Memorial Society, which was formed by my father in 1990," she elaborates.

The 20th generation in the Dagar Vani Dhrupad Gharana, Shabana Dagar is the president of the Ustad Imamuddin Khan Dagar Indian Music Art and Culture Society. Not permitted to learn Dhrupad when she was young because of her gender, she didn't let it come in the way of setting up a Dhrupad Museum in Jaipur.

A must-visit for legions of Dhrupad aficionados who make a pilgrimage to the Pink City its galleries house musical instruments, turbans, personal belongings, rare photographs and photos of doyens of Dagar Gharana such as Ustad Allabande Khan Dagar, Ustad Bande Ali Khan, Ustad Ziauddin Khan Dagar, Ustad Zakiruddin Khan Dagar, Ustad Allabande Nasiruddin Khan Dagar and Ustad Allabande Imamuddin Khan Dagar. "I've also been hosting lecture demonstrations called Gunjan Sabha in Delhi, where discussions are held with artists to bring out interesting aspects including anecdotes related to music, art and culture," says Dagar.

Wielding the baton

Renowned singer and composer Shankar Mahadevan has handed the baton to his elder son Siddharth. Growing up in a small one-bedroom house in Chembur, Mahadevan Junior's first conscious memories are of his father's friends coming in for mehfils and jam sessions in their living room.

Formal training in Hindustani and Carnatic music has helped Mahadevan establish himself as a playback singer. "To be honest, I am not a great classical singer. Singing rock and R&B comes to me more effortlessly. But a grounding in Carnatic music opens your horizons and helps you understand where a melody can go," he says.

Kuchipudi dancer Bhavana Reddy, daughter of Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy, has been teaching at the Natya Tarangini Dance School for as long as she can remember. Also, she holds workshops for SPIC MACAY and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. "I began by playing young Krishna in my parents' productions. Today, it is important that we take this legacy forward by teaching Kuchipudi in its purest form to the younger generation. We were fortunate to receive the kind of gurukul learning we got. Now we need to carry it forward. It is an onerous responsibility but it is very important to take it on. If we won't do it who would?" she asks. Who indeed?

(Inputs by Rohit Parihar)