Ranjit Barot was exposed to Indian classical music through his mother, the eminent Kathak dancer Sitara Devi. Her classical background did not prove to be a deterrent for Ranjit’s foray into western music. While still in school, he put his hand up whenever the school was in need of a drummer.
“I put my hand up even though I did not know how to play. But when I played, something happened, may be some kind of a divine intervention,” said Ranjit.
The early 1970’s music scenario did not augur well if you wanted to pursue drums as your preferred instrument as there were hardly any schools teaching it. Ranjit considers himself fortunate that he was exposed to a wide range of music which eventually shaped his musical landscape.
Ranjit’s sojourn has been quite different from other jazz drummers. His early inspirations were rock drummers like Ian Pace, John Bonhom, Mitch Mitchell before he moved on to jazz rock with Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Billy Carbon.
“I sort of went backwards, I started with the rock drummers, then fusion and finally jazz,” smiled Ranjit.
The joy of playing music and being in a band is what allured him towards a musical career. Any musician would agree that being involved in creating a song and then feeling their importance of being a part of it, is a high they crave for. Ranjit was not only feeling this high but was also, unknowingly becoming a part of the jazz movement which would later catapult him along with his friends Louis Banks, Karl Peters, Joe Alvares and Gary Lawyer to become the first western music superstars of the country.
“When you are performing, you do not know if you are pioneering something. You are too focused on your growth. You just try and concentrate on getting better and better so that you can serve music because eventually we are servants of music,” said Ranjit humbly.
Even as a drummer, seated in the background, Ranjit is showman in his own right. His drum solos are awaited by the audience as much the lead guitarists are. The visibility factor on stage is contextual and the respect gained from the band mates is the defining factor.
“The physical presence on stage is not such a big deal, after all the star of the show is the band leader. You have to respect that, people are coming to see him. It is a part of the job man, you know,” asserted Ranjit.
Ranjit has been a part of India’s western music journey since its teething days and has been a witness to the transformation of the landscape. The audience in the 1970’s were unbiased towards any genre of music and were more accepting to evolution of the genre. This was the jazz era. Jazz is a reflection of those times. Jazz is freedom from any pre-conceived notions about what the music is going to be like.
“Jazz is not music, it is a state of being, a state of mind. There was a willingness on part of the audience to listen to all kinds of music. The biggest problem, now, with the audience is they do not embrace change as quickly as musicians do,” opined Ranjit.
For human beings and even as an artist, evolution is constant which reflects on our form of expressions too. Either your audience adapts with you or stops following you.
“Arts are at the peril of the listener. Nothing you can do about that, better get used to it,” said Ranjit.
Music in earlier times was considered integral to a human being’s personality. One was sent to learn arts to get in touch with their artistic side and become a better human being. We now look at music as a form of entertainment. The audience is opting for lesser complicated genres of music than what jazz and blues are.
“We got to ask our self one thing, when we do not listen to our own classical music then why would they listen to jazz?” asked Ranjit, adding,
“Cultural awareness is the need of the hour which needs to be addressed and reinforced. We need to remind our people that we are a great culture and that has to be preserved.”
Private sector intervention is the way forward for music education as per Ranjit. The private sector needs to fulfill its social, corporate responsibilities as the government has its hands full with bigger problems and music cannot be a priority at the moment. Lack of music education is hampering young musician’s growth and it reflects in their musical output.
“I think the biggest mistake a lot of newcomers do is that their reference time is too current. They got to go back in time to understand the mechanics and the language of the drum set because without a study of where it came from, you cannot be fully informed,” opined Ranjit.
Ranjit feels that an aspiring musician has to study the works of the masters as they are termed masters for a reason. It would not be surprising to know if the masters were listening to each other’s music to learn and grow. The study of their work can help a musician explore the possibilities the instrument presents. Spending time in the studio is a necessity as it is where the musician can ideate. How one transforms these ideas on to the stage is what makes a musician stand out from the rest. Ranjit is known to burn the midnight oil in the studio since years but now has a change of plan.
“I have been in the studio so much that now I enjoy being on stage. I love the life of a touring band.”
See you on the stage soon, Maestro!