Preserving musical heritage

Preserving musical heritage

From the dark alleys of Delhi’s Chandni Chowk and Kolkata’s Chor Bazaar to the plush homes of music connoisseurs in Karnataka, Vikram Sampath travelled across the country. His quest was somewhat unusual since he had set out in search of gramophone plates!

Rummaging through piles of rubbish at flea markets and cajoling private collectors to share their priced possessions, this trained singer in Carnatic music and a graduate in electronic engineering did all this after giving up his corporate career to preserve the country’s heritage. “None of my educational qualification is related to the other but all came in handy when I set out to create the Archive of Indian Music (AIM),” shares Vikram, an MBA in Finance, after the launch of the digitised archive at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.   

A historian and an author too, it was during the time he was researching for his
second book My Name is Gauhar Jaan! that he went to Berlin for a visiting fellowship. “When everyone asked me about the collection of Indian music, it was embarrassing to tell them that India doesn’t have an archive. After I came back, I sent a proposal to Government of India but it got rejected so I took it upon myself to create the music archive.”

It took him two years and today the archive stands as a unique digital platform which provides free access to some of the rarest gramophone recordings. “It has classical music - both Hindustani, Carnatic and folk, theatre recordings, some of the early recor-dings from regional cinema and even speeches of great leaders,” informs Vikram while showing the archive.

All these add to about twelve thousand records including Vikram’s favourite recording of M S Subbulakshmi and other legendary artistes like Gauhar Jaan, Rasoolan Bai and M K Thyagaraja Bhavathar to name just a few. But his quest doesn’t end here: “When we launched the pilot website to check the market for audio archives in India, it featured about 200 artistes and received five lakh plays in three months. So our target for next five years is to digitise one lakh records.”

In addition, he also aims to introduce the world of audio archives to school students who learn history. “If students are reading about Mahatma Gandhi and they get to hear his only recorded speech, then it definitely adds to the learning,” says Vikram who is also planning to install audio booths at airports and metro stations in near future.

So don’t be surprised if you get to hear the earliest recording of the National
Anthem (when it wasn’t even referred to as one), while waiting for a flight or metro train. Meanwhile, log onto http://archiveofindianmusic.org and soak in the charismatic Indian music!

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