Familiar with chords of Indian music
Like many other musicians, he is passionate; but unlike them, he can rattle off opinions on the structural elements of different genres and discuss at length the compatibility of elements of Indian classical music and jazz. “Let’s face it,” he says, “In every culture around the world, music is such an important component.”
Devissaro’s tryst with music began as a child, when he started to learn the piano. He took forward this interest in a university in Australia, where he pursued musicology — and although he dropped out of the course after a couple of years, he remained passionate about the art. “We learnt a lot about the music of other cultures — Japan, Indonesia and India, among others. This was when I was first exposed to Indian classical music and it struck a very strong chord with me — I was totally hooked,” he recalls.
After dropping out of college, he spent some time camping around the Australian countryside — a sort of back-to-nature stint, which he says was very important to him. “One day, I heard that Ali Akbar Khan would be performing nearby. I hitchhiked to the venue to get a ticket – that concert was fantastic.
It was a truly moving experience,” he says.
This prompted him to start training in various forms of Indian classical musical — and in his three-decade long stay in this country, he never seems to have stopped. “There are actually enormous similarities between Indian and western classical music. It’s like they have the same language — but use it differently. For instance, the scales in Indian music are similar, but more diverse. In western music, the rhythm and melody are quite simple. But here, every permutation and combination of notes exists as a particular raga,” he explains.
Despite this intricacy and richness, he acknowledges that Indian classical music doesn’t have much of a market with younger Indians. “If you go to a classical programme, you see mostly middle-aged and elderly people. It’s sad; I suppose it has to do with the issue of attention span. Indian music runs on a different concept of time — to set the right mood, a single piece might be up to an hour long. For me, though, it’s never boring,” he admits.
Devissaro isn’t just a musician; he also helps his wife run the Daksha Sheth Dance Company, a passion that the couple share. “Luckily for me, both my passions overlap in certain ways. At the dance company, I’m responsible for visual presentation and the actual look and sound of the piece. I love doing it, because my imagination works quite visually in certain ways,” he concludes.