‘Success is not the number of concerts’

Khanjira maestro Bangalore Amrit says students can be discouraged by ambitious parents who insist on early performances

Amrit has started a cultural trust, ‘Aavaahana’, to promote Indian classical music, arts and culture.

He is the brand ambassador of the khanjira and the top-ranking khanjira artiste in the world, but Bangalore Amrit N says he is working to popularise the instrument in a bigger way.

 Having started performing from the age of eight, Amrit has performed with top-ranking artistes from all over the world, is the recipient of numerous national and international awards, given multiple concerts globally and has also conducted workshops and lecture demonstrations for many institutions. Metrolife finds out more...

How did you get interested in Indian percussion instruments?

My father, violin virtuoso Vidwan Basavanagudi G Nataraj, was an accomplished and popular artiste. In my childhood, I was always surrounded by music and musicians. I picked up an interest in the ‘mridangam’, got hold of a big cylindrical box and started playing on it when my father conducted violin classes at home. My father quickly realized that I was inclined to rhythm and put me under the tutelage of my first guru M Vasudeva Rao when I was five years old.

Later, my father and my guru suggested I play in the former’s concerts. Since he already had a regular mridangam artiste, my teacher suggested I learn the khanjira and play that instead. It was smooth-going initially but later I realised that I needed to be serious about my path.

That is when I began listening to the legendary khanjira expert Harishankar’s playing. I decided then that if I have to play the instrument, it should sound as powerful as this. Finally, I went to him to learn the nuances of playing the instrument.

You have said that playing the Khanjira is challenging. Why?

The mridangam is played with two hands, combining hand and finger movements in various patterns. Now imagine replicating the same things with one hand. The khanjira player needs to understand the tone and timbre of the instrument and the scope it gives.

I particularly liked the challenge of playing traditional tabla patterns with one hand at a much faster speed but combining it with feel, musicality and aesthetics.

Are youngsters losing interest in traditional instruments over the years? Why or why not?

I feel that youngsters are losing interest in learning some of the traditional instruments like khanjira, ghatam, morching, veena, flute and violin because these require effort and hard work. The recognition for such artistes is always lesser when compared to vocalists and they can’t lead the proceedings, causing more youngsters to turn away.

There are many genuine learners who are pursuing this art. But they are expected to show immediate results as if it is a business venture. The success of a student, unfortunately, is measured by the number of concerts performed by him/her in a month or year and not by the quality. 

There are over-ambitious parents who just want to see their children perform on stage at the earliest. Some parents are not even aware of the interests or likes of their children. All this can discourage a genuine student; in such cases, teachers have to motivate and guide them.

If one is fusing contemporary and classical sounds, what are the points to be kept in mind?

One should ensure that the essence of both genres is balanced and blended. A common approach is that the composition is in one genre and a musician comes and plays something over it in another genre. In this, only the instruments are fusing and not the music. It will be more meaningful if both the genres are represented well.

A favourite memory of your father...

There are so many. He was always full of life and energy. He was a strict teacher but would always have a big smile. His zeal towards life was just amazing. 

He taught several students, irrespective of caste and creed, and would only charge a meagre fee. He was very particular about their practice and would take special classes (for free) for senior students to teach them how to perform in concerts. 

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