Spice of life: From strings of sitar to swing of guitar

  • Aishwarya Iyer
  • Updated: Jun 22, 2015 11:10 IST

On the death anniversary of John Lee Hooker, one of the most legendary blues musicians, I feel like treading down memory lane on my rendezvous with the genre. In the day and age where anything hyper-local doesn’t take long before becoming a global trend, music has spread from one end to another, influencing tastes and also resonating the flavor of the time.

Hooker’s death anniversary incidentally coincides with the World Music Day celebrated annually on June 21. Many believe the day was first celebrated in France in 1894. It was made possible with the patronage of the then French cultural minister Jack Lang.

Over time, the idea of celebrating music caught on and spread to other countries. An event that started in one country more than a century ago has now spread to approximately 120 countries across the globe. These include Germany, Russia, Italy, Peru, Brazil, United States of America, Canada and India.

This is a classic example of how music has the ability to traverse celebrated multiplicity and unite people harmoniously. When it comes to music, one is a lot more pre-occupied with what’ is being played rather who’ is playing it. Two people belonging to completely different castes, creed, culture or countries can savour the same music.

I was born in a middle-class Brahmin family where in spite of my father being an ardent follower of rock from the 70s, music was never played during familial noons spent at home doing homework or watching television. I recall the only music I heard regularly was the rhythm of Carnatic compositions celebrating the deeds of gods played every morning by my pious mother before school.

I was also coerced to start learning Carnatic music. However, I should admit, over time I began to love the entire process. The drill started with waking, having breakfast followed by a bath, wearing salwar kameez with a bindi and running to class with friends at 7am during weekends.

This was all the exposure I had to music, at home and outside. It was much later that I began to develop an independent ear for music.

While exploring different genres on YouTube, Blues became my instant favourite. It was only after a while that I realised why. It was because of the way the guitar swung itself. When Stevie Ray Vaughan played ‘Life by the drop’ and ‘Pride and Joy’ I couldn’t help but move. When BB King played ‘The Thrill Has Gone’ I knew I was to remain thrilled by this genre indefinitely.

I wondered where I picked up an instantaneous admiration for the Blues. That is when it struck me that the chord of the guitar had an elemental similarity to the notes of the sitar. Bent notes played by legendary Blues artistes like BB King, a must-have skill to become a genius, came naturally to sitar pundits such as Ravi Shankar.

That is when I realised that my love for blues wasn’t isolated of my upbringing. It was just resonating to an inherent love towards rhythm that arose from Carnatic hymns played during wee hours of the morning when I was running late for school.

Those strings of the sitar had made me love the nonchalant swing of the guitar. I thanked my mother that day!

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