Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ulhas Kashalkar – “Don’t be in a hurry to judge us”

Ulhas Kashalkar spoke to Deepak Raja on January 1, 2000

I have had a variety of influences on my music. Even my Gurus brought a multiplicity of influences with them. I like great music from all gharanas. As a listener, I am also a student. But,my preferences are with individual musicians rather than gharanas. As such, I would be hard put to say which gharana's style dominates my own singing. I don't consciously try singing in any particular style. I am more concerned that my music should be pleasing, and communicate the mood of the raga. All my training, and the great music I have heard, contributes to this effort; and this happens in ways I do not fully understand. And, yet, it is possible that in a particular raga, you can notice a marked influence of a great vocalist whose rendering of it has made a deep impact on me. With so much recorded music available nowadays, this can happen to anyone.

Gharanas are not cages, and were never intended to be that, either. Consider the background of so many modern giants in Khayal music. They had all studied with three or four Gurus, often from different gharanas. Bhaskar Buwa Bakhle is a great example. He had studied the Agra, Jaipur as well Gwalior styles. So did my Guru, Gajananrao Joshi. Then, consider Vilayat Hussain Khan, whom we consider an Agra exponent. He listed forty-one Gurus of his. Obviously, all forty-one of them were not Agra vocalists!

I have heard it said that until a few years ago, my music had a strong Gwalior flavour and that, in recent years, it is acquiring the Agra touch. This is typical, superficial, "trade talk", because this is not quite the way it works. Today, a vocalist, if he is good, is exposed to public scrutiny right in the midst of the most vulnerable stage in his evolution - the stage when he is struggling to break out of the shell of his training, and to make his own original statement. Until then, in most cases, his training has not achieved much more than making him a good replica of his Guru. But, having been thrown into the professional circuit, he cannot risk sounding like a poor Xerox of the Guru. This builds a great deal of tension in him, making him try out different approaches to shaping his original musical statement. During this period, his music can easily seem like a shifting patchwork of clich├ęs drawn from different styles. Sometimes, he might even be judged as impatient, restless, or confused.

It takes a musician a long time to abstract, from his training, the principles of music making which have been imparted to him. It is only because this is possible, that a great Guru can produce several disciples, all of whom are originals, but also have the stamp of his, or the gharana's, training in their music. Look at the variety amongst Sawai Gandharva's disciples - Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Phiroze Dastoor. Each of them is unique and yet in the same mould. I would like to know what connoisseurs thought of these luminaries when they were twenty-five. The chances are that they were not even visible, at that age, on the horizon of professional music!

Even with the best of training, the process of self-discovery in a vocalist matures only around the age of forty. Until then, a vocalist does not fully understand his own training, the significant features of his own and other gharanas, his own musical temperament, or even the eccentricities of his own voice. This is why I discourage influentials in the music world from jumping to premature conclusions about young vocalists.

Today, the brightest talent is able to achieve recognition much earlier in life than was possible just two generations ago. The market starts paying you early. So, it demands that a twenty-five year old should match up to the maturity of Ameer Khan or Kesarbai Kerkar at the age of fifty. I know this cannot be helped. But, we should not be unfair to budding talent; nor can we succumb to the generalised feeling that contemporary vocalists are pushing Khayal music down the drain. To those in a hurry to judge us, my request is to give us time until we are forty -- until we get our act together. Our task is made more difficult by having to mature under public gaze. But, we are serious about music, and discovering ourselves through it, exactly as earlier generations have done. But, this cannot happen overnight.

At the Sangeet Research Academy, at the moment, I have four students assigned to me under a personalised apprenticeship programme. They are gifted and they work hard. We have our own internal systems for tracking the progress of students. Outsiders watching our efforts often ask how well my wards are doing, and how they will shape up as musicians. My answer is always the same: "Give them ten or fifteen years of struggle on the concert platform before you decide. Until then, neither I, nor they, nor you, will know how well their training at the Academy has worked for them".

© Deepak S. Raja 2000.
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change".
The finest recordings of Ulhas Kashalkar have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.