Thumri, for the people
Abhijit Pohankar, son of legendary musician Pandit Ajay Pohankar is carving a niche for himself with his blend of traditional and World music. After recently releasing a Thumri Funk album, he wants to make inroads with Ghazal Funk and Bandish Funk as well. Surekha S listens in
Having grown up with a maestro like Pandit Ajay Pohankar, and witnessed musical giants like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Ghulam Ali, Pandit Jasraj and many others since a very young age, music was a natural choice for 35-year-old Abhijit Pohankar.
Abhijit Pohankar plays the Pianica, which he has used with thumris for the first time in his album Thumri Funk
Thumri Funk Album cover.
But, though he grew up watching Classical maestros create magic and trained in Classical music, the need to experiment led him to become one of the very few Indian musicians to play Classical music on the keyboard.
He wasn't afraid to jazz up traditional music on a grand scale and recently released the Thumri Funk album, where along with traditional instruments and the keyboard, he has also used instruments like the Chinese flute and the pianica, which he claims has never been used with thumri before.
"I learnt Classical music from my father and also trained with Pandit Shivkumar Sharma," informs Abhijit, as we settle ourselves inside his small studio in Andheri.
"But I did not learn the santoor from Panditji, I learnt to play the santoor style on the keyboard. The music he taught me, I would play on the keyboard," says Abhijit. He has been performing for 13 years and most of his concerts have been with the keyboard in the centre.
His first album Piya Bawari, which was released in 2002, combined traditional music with lounge music, and became an instant hit with the masses. In that album, he had used his father's voice. "There were many Bandishes (a composition in Hindustani music) which were used in Piya Bawari.
I wanted to take traditional music and make it accessible and appealing to the common man. I had always loved World music, so I decided to combine World music sounds with traditional music; it became a huge success," he says.
Ask him how his father reacted when he said he wanted to create fusion music. "My father is a purist and initially, he wasn't happy. This was before Piya Bawari happened. He said, 'I don't think we should do this.' I replied, 'baba, your voice is so beautiful and it should be used.' We went ahead and recorded his voice.
Everyone loved it. Even the masters of Classical music complimented it," says Abhijit adding with a grin, "My father loves it too. He doesn't tell me, but he tells my mom."
Post Piya Bawari, he released several albums including Sajanawa and Urban Raga and travelled across the globe for performances. "At one time, I walked into a club in Holland and made a request whether I could play of the keyboard. I played a Bandish on the keyboard and the crowd loved it. I played for more than 45 minutes at that venue," he recalls.
Prep up the thumri
Abhijit's latest album Thumri Funk was released after a four-year-long gap. "Everyone reminded me that I had a famous Thumri singer at home, and that I should work with him.
For decades now, Pandit Ajay Pohankar has been popular for his Thumris. I love Thumri as a form. When I was making Thumri Funk, I ensured that traditional music does not lose its essence and at the same time, it gets a funky edge.
It does not include Jazz elements, but we have used World music instruments for the compositions. It has been made funky from a sound viewpoint rather than the musicality. It's a combination of purity and new age," he explains.
The idea behind it is also that traditional music composed and sung by legends reaches youngsters. "Naina More Taras Gaye, which is part of the album, is Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan saab's thumri. Non-listeners of thumri aren't aware of the song. I bring it to them in a way that exposes them to brilliant music. It's also like paying tribute to the masters," he says.
"Traditionally, thumris have been performed in a very slow way. The first track Ab Ke Sawan Ghar Aaja is an old thumri, that used to be sung for about 15 minutes. I have tried to make it peppy with grooves and the djembe, but at the same time I have ensured that the traditional elements of the vocals are not lost. My driver heard it and loved it - it must appeal to wider audience," he admits.
Apart from tabla, harmoniun, sarangi, violin and keyboard, in Thumri Funk, Abhijit has also used the djembe, Chinese flute, drums, dholak and the pianica (a small organic keyboard, which one has to blow into for it to emit sounds). "The recordings were done live in a studio, with all the musicians to get the actual traditional feel," he says.
After Thumri, he plans to do the same with other genres of traditional music as well. "I want to release Ghazal funk and Bandish funk albums as well," he signs off, getting back to his
> Abhijit is one of the youngest artists to be featured in the world-renowned French music albums of Buddha Bar.
> He has nearly 20 albums to his credit including Piya Bawari, World Peace, Melodies of the Mountain, Tranquility, Koyaliya and Chill out in Paris.
> He has performed solo India classical keyboard concerts around the world in many prestigious venues including The Philharmonic Hall, London; North Sea Jazz festival, South Africa; Meadows auditorium, Chicago and Cambridge University, America.
> He has also performed at collaboration concerts with many legendary artists including Infinity with Ustad Ghulam Ali and Pandit Ajay Pohankar, Moksha with Sonal Mansingh, Piya Bawari with Smt Sitara Devi, Spandan with Trilok Gurtu, Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra and Urban Raga with Trilok Gurtu and Pandit Ajay Pohankar.