‘Hindustani is example of perfect fusion music’

‘Hindustani is example of perfect fusion music’

Shubhendra Rao has performed at prestigious venues and festivals like the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Broadway, the Sydney Opera House and more

Shubhendra Rao

Ranked amongst the top soloists of India, Shubhendra Rao is a composer and sitar player who has been described as a ‘musical bridge to many cultures’. A disciple of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, Shubhendra and his wife, Hindustani cellist Saskia Rao-De Haas — a disciple of Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia — have combined their knowledge in music training and music education in ‘Sangeet4All’, a curriculum for music education from the nursery level to high school, where they teach age-old Indian music concepts through internationally tested music pedagogy to children.

In the city to perform for ‘Yamini 2020’, Shubhendra talks to Metrolife about all things musical.

As a disciple of the legendary Pt Ravi Shankar, what was your experience like?

I was fortunate to have been the disciple of one of the greatest musicians this world has ever seen. My father, Pandit N R Rama Rao, was one of his earliest disciples and so I had the guidance of my Guru from a very early age. If I’ve to say how my experience was, then I’ll need to write a few books since it is very difficult to summarise it; I can say that to me, he was God.

What, according to you, would classify as a good fusion between Indian and Western instrumentals?

The word ‘fusion’ is a loose and overused word. Just adding an electric guitar or some drums doesn’t make it fusion music; one should really go deep into learning each other’s music before trying to fuse it. To me, Hindustani music is the true example of a perfect fusion. For centuries, it has blended Persian music along with our traditional music; it is impossible to separate the two individual streams and say this is Hindustani and this is Persian. What is happening today is more experimental or collaborative music.

What points should be kept in mind if someone is attempting this?

As I said, one should understand each other’s music and its grammar and traditions. Many Indian musicians are opting for some interesting experiments and I am all for innovative work. But my motto is ‘To break a rule, you should first know the rules’.

Which is your favourite raga and why?

It’s impossible to say which is my favourite raga; it is like asking a parent who their favourite child is. It all depends on what my mood at that moment is and how I can react to the raga then. The same raga will have a different meaning next time I play it because I might be feeling something different at that point.

Did music play a role in how you met your wife and cellist Saskia Rao-de Haas?

Of course, music is what brought us together. We met for the first time when Saskia had come to India to study Indian music, more than 25 years ago. I always admired her for the passion and love she had for music. We were very good friends for more than five years before the friendship turned to love and we knew we had a life together. We love sharing our lives and our music, both personally as well as on the stage.