In this new series, we talk of young musicians making a mark in Indian music. Some of them belong to musical families, while others play for the love of music. In the first part, we had tabla exponent Ishaan Ghosh.
This is the second part of the series. And this time, we explore a prolific young Pune-based sarod player, Abhishek Borkar.
With a smile, Abhishek Borkar talks of the small sarod he played when he was a child.
“I had been taught some vocals and tabla at the age of four, and my father had got this small instrument for my elder brother Praashekh. Soon, I took a fancy for it.”
Abhishek’s father, Pt. Shekhar Borkar, is a known sarod exponent and teacher based in Pune.
“I was surrounded by music, especially sarod. I used to listen to many recordings and there was this rendition of raag Sindhi Bhairavi by Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan which I began recognising from beginning to end. Slowly, I did the same with raags Maanj Khamaj and Khan-saab’s Chandranandan,” he says.
More to Abhishek?
Now 28, Abhishek has come a long way. Besides being a proficient concert artist, he has also helped promote Indian classical music on the internet. After the lockdown began last year, he teamed up with Mumbai-based connoisseur Shripad Bhalerao to form Artists United, with the aim of promoting online concerts. They were in fact among the first to do such a series and had many Hindustani classical artists and dancers.
“There were so many musicians from remote parts of India I heard for the first time. It was a really rewarding experience,” he explains.
Abhishek started doing duet shows with Praashekh when he was 10 and gave his first solo concert in Dharwad, North Karnataka when he was 13. He says,
“The show got a great response. It was also the first concert of Nandini Shankar, granddaughter of the great violinist N. Rajam, and it was heartening to see how audiences appreciated us, youngsters.”
A representative of the Senia Maihar Gharana, the young musician cites Baba Alauddin Khan and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan as among his biggest influences, besides his father. When he was in Bishop’s School in Pune, he had a fixed schedule for riyaz.
“Morning time was for school, so the practice happened in the late afternoons and evenings,” he says.
Abhishek released his debut album Pratibha when he was 15. Sub-titled ‘Flowering Buds’, it featured raags Todi and Shahana. He admits to becoming a bit complacent at the age of 18 or 19, though luckily that phase was short.
“Though I didn’t have any fixed time for riyaz, I would play as and when I could,” he says.
Meanwhile, to brush up his composition skills, Abhishek picked up a bit of guitar. He explains,
“My father used to play, and there was a guitar at home. I wanted to learn a different kind of music, and this helped me when I was composing music which wasn’t classical.”
In 2018, in an event curated by First Edition Arts at Zoe Cafe, Mumbai, he teamed up with violinist Nandini Shankar and tabla player Ojas Adhiya for a unique concert. Called Come Together, it had them playing in an informal setting, wearing jeans and T-shirts. The event was aimed at exposing younger audiences to classical music, without getting into the fusion space.
Agreeing that it may still take time for concerts to return in full swing, Abhishek says the lockdown has given him time to focus on his practice. The first few months were of course spent monitoring the Artists United series.
“There’s a wealth of young talent in India, and it’s important musicians get the right breaks at the right time. It felt good to play a small role, in some cases,” he says.
Surely, the youngster has his priorities clear.