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Music to my ears

Jazz, Hindustani or Chamber music, there?s plenty to choose from in Mumbai, reports Sumana Ramanan.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2007 02:57 IST

Every year my husband and I talk about leaving Mumbai. We list the city's depressingly familiar problems: crowds, pollution, traffic, the lack of green spaces. Yet the following year, we intone the same litany of woes.

After years of going through this ritual, I finally figured out why I remain in Mumbai's thrall. I'm not here because of the things that make the city irresistible to many – money, movies or men (the city is still one of the safest in India for women.) It is another 'm': music, where Mumbai is at its heterogeneous best.

I learn Hindustani music, but enjoy listening to other forms. So I delight in the fact that the city sees a stream of first-rate performances across genres: Indian classical traditions such as Hindustani, Carnatic and Dhrupad; light classical varieties such as ghazals and thumris; and Western forms such as classical, jazz and rock.

I admit that Pune is as much of a hub for Hindustani music, that Chennai completely outclasses Mumbai in Carnatic music, and that Delhi gets more world music because of its consulates. But Mumbai has deep traditions in almost all genres in a way that no other city can claim to.

Of course, this diversity will continue to thrive only if the city remains hospitable to the different communities that nurture the musical forms, and welcomes influences from other parts of the world. The city is home to several Hindustani musicians such as Pandit Jasraj, Hariprasad Chaurasia and Kishori Amonkar.

Other top performers keep visiting. In the recent past, we had Ulhas Kashalkar, arguably the best Hindustani male vocalist, and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain.
Many top Carnatic musicians such as Aruna Sairam have over the years moved to Chennai, but they and others regularly perform here on the strength of the city's informed audiences. (Many artists continue to append the city's name to their own, like Bombay Jayashree and the Bombay Sisters.) Veteran vocalist Nedunuri Krishna Murthy and scintillating mandolin player U Srinivas recently performed here.

Members of dhrupad's first family, rudra veena player Bahauddin Dagar, and his uncle vocalist Fariduddin Dagar, live here, and run a gurukul just outside, in Panvel. Given Bollywood's pull, all top Hindi composers and singers, except AR Rahman, live here.

Mumbai is also the hub of the country's jazz scene, with Louis Banks and Braz Gonsalves holding the fort. The city recently hosted the legendary Chicago blues guitarist Buddy Guy, Herbie Hancock, probably the greatest living jazz pianist, and Wayne Shorter, a hugely important jazz saxophonist, to list just the really big names.

In Western classical music, Zubin Mehta, is our most famous export, but the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation, continues to nurture young talent. Mumbaikars Harvey and Ralph Desouza, who play the violin and viola respectively, and pianist Fali Pavri, have made a mark internationally. Patricia Rozario, one of the world's leading sopranos, performs today, while rock icon Roger Waters, who was Pink Floyd's main songwriter, will soon be here.

I admit that attending concerts and learning music in Mumbai can be expensive. But I never said that I was sticking it out in this city because it was cheap.

Email Sumana Ramanan: sumana.ramanan@hindustantimes.com