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Classical tunes

A well accomplished sitar player belonging to the Rampur Senia Gharana, Sahana Banerjee opens up about her music, inspiration and more.

Talking to Sahana is a pleasure as one not only learns from her, but also gets to know how painstakingly she has kept up her family lineage of playing sitar since her childhood. 

“I believe that an artiste is an admixture of talent, emotion and individuality,” she begins the conversation on defining herself as an artiste. “All these traits are manifested in each of their creations. I am an emotional artiste, trying to blend my artistry with emotion and individuality.”

A versatile take

“I always try to maintain the purity of ragas I learnt from my gurus. I believe in traditional and authentic approach to a musical rendition without gimmick. The total presentation should reflect a unique individuality,” she explains her philosophy behind her art.

“In the realm of my music, I believe in two things — originality and authenticity — and most important, the soul-touching notes. Once these elements are present, the music becomes eternal and creates history, or else it gives just momentary pleasure with no thought to carry forward,” she adds. Hence, one finds a unique idiom in Sahana’s presentation, reflecting the traditional Veenkar Dhrupad style of Rampur Senia Gharana, maintaining the purity of ragas along with her own aesthetical blends of gayaki. 

Talking about her inspiration, she says, “Inspiration, training and encouragement — everything came from my parents. They perhaps recognised the music talent in me when I was just four. I started training in vocals and later took up sitar quite spontaneously.” 

“My father, Pandit Santhosh Banerjee, a senior sitar and surbahar player of Rampur Senia Gharana, and my mother Chaabi Banerjee, a vocalist from Rampur Sahaswan Gharana, are my main inspirations. They not only taught me rich authentic music, but also instilled values of simplicity and spirituality as two basic characters to be merged in music. From them, I learnt to have a spiritual approach towards music and life.” “Apart from my parents, late Pandit Ravi Shankar is my all-time favourite artiste because of his authentic renditions and excellence in music. I admired his versatile approach towards Indian and world music. For me, he will always remain a role model and an eternal institution,” she adds.

Worldwide reach

Apart from being an A grade artiste for the All India Radio and Television since 1995, Sahana has also given many prestigious stage performances in India and Europe. The journey has been satisfying, but she has many goals to be achieved. “I have been performing for the last 25 years and still think that I have just started and have miles to go.”  “People often ask me whether I face many challenges being a female sitar player,” Sahana makes a point on a serious note. “Well, I believe, as far as riyaaz (practice) is concerned, both male and female artistes go through the same rigorous learning process as there are no shortcuts for success. But when it comes to stage performances, male artistes get more opportunities. Hence, we do not see many female artistes playing musical instruments like sitar, sarod or tabla. We are fortunate to still have some remarkable musicians like Vidushi Jaya Biswas, Vidushi Kalyani Ray and Vidushi Sharan Rani Mathur, who have held on to their turf amid great odds, and have become our inspiration,” says the humble musician.

Personally, Sahana is able to play her role of a dedicated wife, mother and an artiste because of the support from her husband and her clever time management.

Sahana has taken part in many music festivals aborad, where she has performed with famous Italian flutist Massimo Mercelli. She has also worked on a unique project called D’une Rive A’l’utre, where she shared the stage with a celebrated pianist Shani Diluka, where they presented the theme ‘Franz Schubert meets Indian Classical Music’. This programme was organised by Radio France at the famous museum Petit Palais in Paris.

“I am yet to perform for many more concerts and festivals. I also want to establish an institution to teach and hand over our great tradition to a good number of students. I wish to encourage female instrumentalists, and also plan to revive the surbahar, a close relative of the sitar. Surbahar is a dying instrument which my father plays.”  

Where does Sahana see herself 10 years from now? “Performing and striving to realise the depth of music …” she signs off.

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