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“Om is the most sacred sound ever produced.” Sharat, a violinist re-defining the aesthetics of modern Indian music.

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Sharat Chandra Srivastava is a North Indian classical violinist and music composer. He represents the Senia gharana. Srivastava was born in New Delhi on 17 October 1971. He started learning violin at the age of 7 from his grandfather, the renowned North Indian violinist Pt Joi Srivastava. He has been performing Hindustani classical music for over 25 years. He was part of India's premier rock band Parikrama for 12 years. He left Parikrama in 1999 and started the Delhi-based fusion band called Mrigya. He is also a member of the world music quartet India Alba. He is a recipient of the National Scholarship from the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, Government of India. In 1998, he performed with Sting in an all-acoustic set at the Channel V Awards held in New Delhi. He has also performed with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pt. Birju Maharaj and many other stalwarts.


The Collective had the honour to interview him and ask his view on the aesthetics of India. During our interview, Sharat Chandra Srivastava, the famous Violinist, talks about the aesthetics of India from a unique perspective few understand. He says, “India, its culture, the fine arts (where poetry, & music come in as well), and so much more, all sum up to make India look aesthetic.

Music is one of the aspects of aesthetics, and when we talk about Indian aesthetics, we can not overlook Indian classical music. The sound of Indian classical music comes from Om. Om is universal, the most sacred sound ever produced. From Om, more Swaras come out. When a Violinist plays Sa with the violin, they can see the whole universe (Brahman). So that is the purity of the sound of Om. 

Everything is contained within the breath of Sa. It's like when the breath is right and it is done with complete concentration. After that when you take a rag or ragini you develop it. That is the journey of the Indian subcontinent 

(Sa ke undr hi sab kuch samaiya hua hai.)

It can take you anywhere, Ragas can take you to Kashmir, Ragas can take you to North East, Ragas can take you to Rajasthan, Ragas can take you to South India which is Carnatic music, then there is North Indian music”,

“We (I) come from Indian classical music which comes from Guru-Shishya Parampara. Guru-Shishya Parampara, that is also an aesthetic of India". 

“In every era, there have been gurus. Whether it is a music guru or a spiritual guru. Yes. It is not right to talk about today's spiritual gurus. But the older Gurus who have been there for a long time like Adi Shankaracharya, Mahavir, Vivekananda ji, and Paramhans, their contributions to spirituality have been tremendous.” 

(Har zamane main har dor main guru rahe hai, sangeet ke guru maniye ya adhyatmik ke.)

So you also had a Guru, asked Saurabh.

Sharat: “Yes, my Guru, my Nanaji (grandfather) was Pandit Joi Srivastava. During the 50s and 60s, my Nanaji and his elder brother, Pandit Shri Ram Shri Vastav, both brothers were very famous violinists in Allahabad in violin, in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh".

“Toh nana se humne talim li, (So I learned from my Nanaji), and my Nana learned from Ustad Alauddin Khan. Alauddin Khan Saab who is the guru of Pandit Ravi Shankar Ji. So that legacy has been passed on to me and then it's going on to my son Raghav Chandra who is 19 is also taking Talim. So this tradition of Guru-Shishya Parampara is one of the most integral part of the aesthetic of India.”

Saurabh asks Sharat, "You experimented a lot with Indian classical music, you collaborated with different genres, collaborated with international artists. So, how do you see Hindustani classical music being perceived & what is your intent when you take it across the globe?” 

Sharat replies, " So, basically, we have learned Shastriye sangeet, we have learned rag & ragni. Now if we want to experiment with someone, if I have to jam with a jazz guitar player from Europe or somewhere. So basically we listen to that chord progression, we listen to their music, and then find those common points where we think, okay, this rag will work with this tune. So this is how collaboration happens and collaboration is a very very very sensitive word. Collaboration has to be done in the most, what do you call it; ‘perfect blend’ should be there. Fusion is not created by just playing a guitar and a violin together. A pleasant sound is created by understanding Music, understanding other artists, then you’ll see the flavour of rag and jazz coming together”

“So basically if you listen, you’ll listen to that beautiful collage painting that's been created by these two instruments and melodies. So that is a very sensitive blend.”

Music is like food, in Daal, if you put extra salt or less salt, it becomes useless. That is the kind of experience I have had for 30 years.

(Sangeet is like food, agr daal main namak tej ho gaya, toh woh bekaar hai, kaam ho gay toh bhi bekaar hai.)

All my journeys, all my projects, all my concert tours have been a learning process for me. And as you know, in every country I do different music. It's not like we play the same music on a tour for a month. Every country's project, songs, and set list is different. This is a challenge and for a musician, what could be better than this, is that you are getting so many things. 

“So we see this experience abroad, we bring it back to India and then I apply these combinations and these melodies and these learnings of mine into my own band which is Mrigya.” 

The experience I have had, cannot be experienced by watching videos on YouTube. We go to the cities, streets, and neighbourhoods of these musicians and live with them, and understand the music. Like gypsy music in Macedonia. The gypsies there live in small houses and four or five kids are practicing in one room. And the atmosphere is amazing.

(Right so humne jo tajurba liya hai woh tajurba aesa nahi hai ki YouTube main dekhke sikhliya. Humne shehron main, gulliyo main, mohallo main jakar liya hai, unke sath reh kar woh music samjha.)

Basically, if you see the gypsies of Macedonia., if you see, Rajasthani gypsy musicians travelled from the west (India), from Pakistan, and then went to Afghanistan, Iran and then finally landed in the South of Spain. So flamenco comes from Rajasthani music.

You have to watch this film called Latcho Drom (1993) which shows how gypsies traveled, and how Arabs went there and the generations changed the music and the generations went and ruled in South of Spain for 800 years. So the birth of guitar came from the Middle East and then the shape evolved, how the music evolved into these countries. When I go there and meet their gypsy musicians, they are like us. There is no difference between them and us, skin is the same, colour is the same, music is the same, right.

(hindustani aur unme koi pharak hi nahi hai, skin bhi waise, colour bhi waise, music bhi waise hi hai.)

Gypsy flamenco and kathak experiments we have done a lot.

Saurabh: So, you have many years of experience, you have done a lot of formal studies, and you know these nuances, like more salt or less (ki namak kam zyada nahi hona chahiye). So your music has a global touch, but still, there is an Indian-ness somewhere.

Sharat: Yeah that will always be there. Raag-dhaarii will always remain

(Woh toh hai hi, Raag-dhaarii toh hamesha rahegi humare sath). 

Saurabh: Yes, compared to that there are lot of new musicians who are coming up who are in a way trying to take inspiration but somewhere losing their ground and losing their originality, so what do you have to say to that or what is your ideology in that?

Sharat: Yeah, I mean we see this you know youngsters coming up with fusion and then experiments and all of that. Some of them are great also.

But most of them, you know, so what happens to us is that our daal that we cook is a slow cook. Nowadays, what is happening is that people cook it too fast, in a few days they make four songs, next week released and now there is a trend of commercial success.

(toh hum logo ka kya hota hai, humari jo daal pakti hai, woh it’s a slow cook. Aajkal kya hai sidha kiya khatakhat, do teen din main chaar gaane ban gaye, next week main release bhi kar diya aur commercial success ka woh bohot chal gaya hai trend).

So basically the real fusion is happening in a very, what do you call it, small environment. The bigger game is all about, you know, it's the world over, it’s the global set. Commercial success is the number one goal of an artist. To be a Sadhak, very few people you know who believe in that are doing it.

So what about kids now? Nowadays there is so much information out there. My son is also 19, he listens to all kinds of music. But when he comes to the music room, he leaves everything and practices Raag-dhaarii.

In your room, you are the Sadhak, when you are outside the room, then you are a collaborator. In your own realm, when you are in your zone, then nothing, only raag and with that only taal, sangeet, and Riyaz. So, you can carry all of that experience that you got in the room, to the world.

Saurabh: One last question, do you have a creation that you like a lot, from the point of view that reflects Indianness to its true sense and still talks to a global audience? Is there any such creation of yours?

Sharat: My creation was this album that I did called No Passport Control & the album was released from Los Angeles record label.

So Satyam (childhood friend and a renowned film maker) made the music video and there are about 10 songs in the album right and it went on for the Grammy submission. That album is, actually, my whole understanding of Indian classical music and Western music. In each song, you will see the violin talking a different language, at the same time keeping the accent Indian.

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