Shankar Mahadevan: Not one proper music school in India

Oct 29, 2018, 07:36 IST | Sonia Lulla

Lamenting that the world doesn't look at India as an educational hub despite its rich classical heritage, musician Shankar Mahadevan on how his online academy hopes to be at par with music schools across the globe

Shankar Mahadevan: Not one proper music school in India
Shankar Mahadevan

Nama Sankirtana is a term used in Indian classical music to describe the congregational chanting of a prayer. A singer renders a line, then urges listeners to repeat it after him. It's therapeutic, collaborative and interactive, says Shankar Mahadevan. Where did the composer employ the technique, you ask? He did so to create Amitabh, Abhishek and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's revered item song, Kajra Re (Bunty Aur Bubli), where the track's hook line sees the male vocals come chiming in after those of the female.

It's not conventional, he admits, to employ devotional music techniques for an item song. Yet, he asserts, "you can be inspired by anything". In a bid to highlight the role that his solid background in classical music played in defining his success as a commercial music composer, Mahadevan draws many a similar example. In conversation with frequent collaborator, lyricist and CBFC chief Prasoon Joshi, at Music Concept's recently concluded India Music Summit, the musician highlights how writing and composing run hand in hand. Jogging our memory as he sings the lyrics that Joshi had penned for the title track of Taare Zameen Pe, he talks passionately about how the melody of the introductory lines needed to be at stark contrast with the concluding one — Kho na jaaye ye, taare zameen pe. The latter, he says, needed to sound like a warning; distanced and distinct from the remaining stanza.

It's interesting, we admit, to get a sneak peek into the mind of the maestro who rarely stops appeasing with his compositions. It's only natural then that his face drop when we point to a recent study suggesting that 2018 has been dominated by remixes. "Music companies don't want to [promote] original compositions with the same conviction that we have when creating them," Mahadevan tells mid-day, adding that the industry could benefit if music honchos showcased more faith in composers. "Music companies are governed by those who don't know anything about music. Also, with the copyright laws changing, they want more power in governing music. They're not ready to give enough royalty to composers. When they rehash a song, they don't need to do that anyway. Then, they shove the remixes down people's throats. If you don't hear anything else, how will it do well," he questions, pointing out that arguments that remixes appeal to a "young audience" have little merit. The young, he says, are listening to platforms like Coke Studio, which give wings to original composers.

"Music companies are governed by those who don't know anything about music. Also, with the copyright laws changing, they want to have more power in governing the music. They're not ready to give enough royalty to composers. When they rehash a song, they don't need to do that anyway. Then, they shove the remixes down people's throats. If you don't hear anything else, how will it do well," he questions, pointing out that arguments that remixes appeal to a "young audience" have little merit. The young, he says, are listening to platforms like Coke Studio, which give wings to original composers.

Mic in his hand, Mahadevan seems to be placed in a playground. He flirts with familiar tunes to render them with more appeal than in cinema. They say, if you get goose-bumps when listening to music, you're brain is special. With Mahadevan putting his vocals to work, we guess, every audience member is a genius then. It's evident that the banter he shares with his audience in live acts is important. "As composers, if we don't get feedback, the purpose [of creating music] is lost. Live shows give us instant feedback. When the crowd erupts, we've been gratified. I believe, if you perform week-after-week, you should ensure that the show goes on. No matter what the circumstances are, whether or not your technical requirements have been met with, or even if someone is sick, the show must go on. In a live act, you need to communicate with your energy. I stopped complaining [about technicalities] a while ago. Now, the motto is to simply go out, kill and come back."

Mahadevan has a wealth of information that he hopes to share. However, India, he argues, is lacking of schools that can truly impart knowledge about Indian music. "There's not even one," he says, going on to add that the Shankar Mahadevan Academy will be the first holistic offering that can be compared to universities from across the globe. The online education platform caters to students who cut across ages – "two to 82," he says. "Aspiring musicians must be exposed to the right kind of music. In our music event called Sangam, we have students and teachers perform together, so that they can be exposed to the culture. The platform also allows students to meet one another, and gauge themselves [as artistes]."

Also Read: Rapping shlokas, Shankar Mahadevan's way!

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Shankar Mahadevan launches his music academy

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