Sarod notes from Oz

Oct 24, 2018, 07:38 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Australian artiste Jonathan Barlow will open a recital with a conversation on the stringed instrument

Sarod notes from Oz
A photograph from 1980 when Radhika Babu Maitra (left) made Barlow play with him at a small mehfil in Calcutta

The counterculture movement of the 1960s, which was also the decade of experimentation in popular music, meant that Hindustani classical music was reaching beyond Indian shores, and western musicians were turning towards India for inspiration. It was in this state of cultural flux that Australian artiste Jonathan Barlow had his first tryst with Hindustani music in a Sydney restaurant that left a life-changing impact on him. India has been his home for several decades now.
Goa-based Barlow will be in town to anchor a conversation on the evolving range of expression of the sarod and its utilisation by various streams of thought within the tradition, which will be the start to an evening of intergenerational sarod recitals, titled Legacy. Organised by First Edition Arts in association with G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, the recital brings together two gurus — Ustad Irfan Muhammad Khan of the Lucknow Shahjahanpur gharana and Pandit Shekhar Borkar of the Maihar gharana — and two younger musicians Arnab Chakrabarty and Abhishek Borkar.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Take us back to your journey to India five decades ago; what drew you to Hindustani classical music at the time?
Sound drew me to classical Hindustani music, especially the sound of [sarod virtuoso] Ali Akbar Khan, which I first heard in 1963 in Sydney. It went deeper into the body and mind than anything else. I was not especially musical and certainly not talented, but I had to go deeper and try for myself. Having visited as a tourist in 1963, I returned to India in 1968 and took some lessons in Maihar [in Madhya Pradesh, known as the birthplace of Maihar Gharana].

Jonathan BarlowJonathan Barlow

You embarked on the path of learning the sarod by crafting your own instrument. How did it help you hone your musicality?
I made my first instrument simply by gluing a long neck onto the belly of an old mandolin and attaching a steel plate and skin. Pretty rough, but it enabled me to find fingerings, etc. Later in London in 1969, I made a proper instrument from a log of elm using primitive tools and it turned out quite well. Mimicking the sound of Ali Akbar Khansaheb was my laboratory. Later, I learnt quite systematically from Radhika Mohan Maitra for a long time but because of laziness on one hand and some kind of blind spot, or deaf spot, I was unable to practise in such a way that these two sources fused in a voice of my own. Radhika Babu introduced me to Bimala Prasad Chatterjee, who taught me some processes for voice, which I am still practising and trying to bring into my neglected sarod baaj [playing style].

The theme of your conversation in Mumbai is a fascinating one.
The sarod was designed for and evolved within the parameters of Hindustani music through the 19th century. It doesn't migrate easily to other [traditions of] music. Most of its potential has been revealed by the great master sarodiahs [sarod players]. However, contemporary performers are refining and expanding techniques and ideas and there are a number of very good players. Nowadays, some design and functional elements have been improved but the finesse of manufacturing of the old makers is not often matched. There is a rethinking going on that may have great results soon.

On October 27, 5 pm to 9.30 pm
At G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Mahalaxmi.
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Entry Rs 500

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