‘I will never dilute the raga system’ | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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‘I will never dilute the raga system’

Sarangi exponent Kamal Sabri, plays a few chords for Nikhil Taneja on the launch of his album, Sarangi Funk.

art and culture Updated: Apr 28, 2009 19:51 IST
Nikhil Taneja

What made you come up with an album that mixes sarangi with modern music?
I started learning the sarangi at the age of five. At 13, I went on a tour to London where I jammed with musicians and DJs. At that time, if someone died, or there was a tragedy or someone was paid a tribute, the sarangi would be played. It had come to be associated with sad music. I wanted to change that and make something energetic and young. That’s how the concept of Sarangi Funk came up.

Why did it take you so long to come up with it even though you’ve been playing with European musicians for quite some time?
Because I was traveling around the world, listening and learning different kinds of music. It took me two years to compose this album after conceptualisation.. It fuses the sarangi with jazz, blues, electronica, funk and many more. I’m especially proud of my techno track, which took me the longest time to learn. I really believe this is a trendsetting album.

What did your father, Padma Bhushan Ustad Sabri Khan, have to say about the album?
He is very happy with the fact that I’m reinventing the sarangi. I’ve been doing an equal number of purely classical concerts all over the world too. But we also need to take the sarangi to the world, so we need to create music according to world music demands.

That’s encouraging… where does your father draw the line?
He says, as long as you don’t bring the sarangi down, you can do anything with it. He has taken the sarangi to one level and he wants me to take it to the next level, and achieve more than him. I too want to do many things with it that no one has attempted.

How do you divide yourself between classical and fusion music?
When I’m playing classical, I become the classical musician I am, the seventh generation of a music family who have been playing bandishes since more than a hundred years. When I play experimental, I don’t play around with bandishes. I will never do fusion with classical music.. I will never dilute the raga system.

You were brought up studying traditional Indian music. Do you teach your disciples western music as well?
I first teach them traditional music and tell them not to mix it with fusion. It’s important to first be an established classical musicians, recognized by maestros, take their blessings and then carve your own path. But I do tell them to listen to Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music. He pioneered world music.

You’ve performed with Massive Attack, Duran Duran and many more international bands. Any other collaborations likely?
I just played at a concert with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, which is one of the best orchestra’s in the world. I’ve even started my own orchestra now –– the Contemporary Indian Orchestra. It was launched on March 6th and has 36 musicians from all over India.

Do you hear Bollywood music? Plan to compose for them? You did earlier, right?
Yeah, I like Salim-Sulaiman’s work.. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was a nice movie with nice music. I even called and congratulated Salim bhai. I’ve composed for Bollywood Boulevard and Mel Gibson’s The Big Question. I’m getting offers for movies..Hopefully something will happen soon.

Sarangi is still taught through the guru-shishya tradition and not in music schools. Any plans to change that?
I have been thinking of the same. I want to start a music school through which sarangi can be taught all over the world.