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Interview of the Week – Shashi Vyas, Founder, Pancham Nishad

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‘Passionate about music’ is a term usually associated with musicians. That a non-musician only listens to music for recreation and not beyond that is common thinking. Then there are ‘passionate for music’ individuals who have never performed even at home. The bathroom is the theatre for many of them. One of these passionate ones is Shashikant Vyas or Shashi Vyas as he is fondly known.

Son of one of India’s finest Hindustani music vocalist Late Padmabhusan Pandit C R Vyas, Shashi took the academic route and qualified as a Charted Accountant. The musical roots and inclination to serve music remained. After successfully practicing as a CA, Shashi listened to his inner calling and turned his focus towards his first love, Indian classical music.

Shashi established Pancham Nishad in 1996, with the objective to showcase the rich heritage of musical talent of India.

For our Interview of the Week, I met up the organiser of numerous classical music concerts to know his views on the current scenario of Indian classical music and the way forward.

You have been a part of Indian classical music as an organiser for almost 25 years, what are your thoughts on the current state of the Indian classical music concert business?

It is buzzing. If you know economics then you will understand the concepts of ‘demand and supply,’ ‘quality and quantity,’ ‘branded and non-branded’. These factors apply even to the entertainment world. Earlier, in the film industry, there were production houses then individual producers cropped up. Now again there is a whole corporatisation of the industry. It is getting streamlined. Unfortunately though the Indian classical music live performance scenario is buzzing, it is still working like a cottage industry. We are not branding ourselves in the right manner. There are major production houses like, Banyan Tree, Art and Artists and Pancham Nishad. There are many others who are organising concerts on a regular basis but are not organised.

Secondly how was the scenario changed vis a vis 15 years ago? We have seen the emergence of thematic concerts. In 1996, as an organiser, Pancham Nishad presented ‘Winter Vintage’ featuring Pandit C R Vyas, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir Hussain. Then there was the era of multiple day festival. Now the multiple day festivals are going out of fashion. For a simple reason, life is getting faster. Now there are maximum 2 day festivals. The audience is ever ready to take an autograph or a selfie these days but most are not ready to pay for the ticket.

How can this business be structured?

This cottage industry is surviving on sponsorship. Selling tickets and organising concerts is non-viable. Only a few artists can sell tickets. All artists are talented. One cannot dispute the talent of any artist but audience acceptance is different for each of them. It’s like a market. There is nothing wrong in it. The important aspect is where does Indian classical music stand?

I have prepared a sort of a blue print to structure it. The time is ripe. We have a chamber of commerce for everything. Similarly for Indian classical music, why not have an umbrella under which we come together and grow independently and as a society? I won’t term it as an association as it is a very loose word. I would say let us have an entity that represents the various verticals involved in classical music concerts. This umbrella should be managed by professionals. It should comprise of artists, organisers, sponsors, audience, vendors as well as media. Most of the major publications, especially English, don’t publish anything about classical music. If they are, then it is only the branded concerts that get coverage. The current scenario is encouraging but needs to be channelised properly.

What are your views on the current generation of Indian classical musicians?

The audience is smart. Apart from entertainment they also dwell on the basics of classical music. They look at an artist’s stage-craftmanship, presentation, whether the artist has had the ‘taalim’ in a traditional manner. When you see some youngsters performing, you can immediately make out which gharana he/she belongs to. There are many youngsters in Indian classical music who have learnt from lesser known gurus but their music is excellent. Currently many youngsters are too keen to get on the stage. They have limited content but are over confident. When they are questioned over lack of musical education they get upset.

Classical music is not just singing or playing in tune. To understand the ‘raagdaari’ (creating an emotional network of melodious sounds) of classical music is of utmost importance. This takes time and experience to evolve. One can go on stage and perform what is taught but the performance will be limited to that. No one is expecting them to sing one raag for 2 hours like how masters in the past would. It is not about the time. It is about the capacity to explore the nuances of the raag. As an organiser, we can put an artist on stage then drawing the audience to their music is in their hands.

According to you, how can an Indian classical musician grow as a performing artist?

Learning any art has 4 facets: Shastra, Tantra, Vidya and Kala. You should know the shastra, the tantra for it is taught by the guru. While, in music the important thing is the connectivity of vibrations. Converting this vidya into kala is possible only if you are naturally gifted. This is god’s gift.

One may try their best but can’t reach the level which a few do. Some artists get frustrated over lack of performing opportunities. They feel some artists are preferred due to their lineage, marketing strategies, favouritism and they are right. It happens. Some are just unlucky. There are other avenues to explore. Performances are plenty but where is the quality?

An organiser can give an artist the platform. They have to deliver quality or the audience will reject them. Not only that, the organiser gains a bad reputation but suffers losses too. The young artists need to take the step by step approach. Every step should be a learning process.

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What about the audience? Most claim they don’t understand classical music.

Ask them do they understand the Urdu used in ghazals? Do they understand the nuances of western classical music or jazz? Their excuse for Indian classical music is, “This is something I don’t understand.” I would like to ask them, which music do you understand in-depth? None. The myth that Indian classical music is difficult to understand is created by classical musicians. They want to keep their importance intact.

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