Clem Alford, a Glasgow-born sitar artiste who has won several accolades in India and the West, gave a virtuoso performance on Tuesday as classical music grows in popularity in Britain. Alford took to the instrument in the 1960s after being inspired by Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan.
Called a “Scottish Pandit” for his knowledge of Indian classical music traditions, Alford, 70, chose Raga Puriya Kalyan for a detailed and mellifluous exposition (alap, jor, jhala), and concluded the Nehru Centre concert with a delightful Ragamalika (garland of ragas).
Alford, who gained music degrees in India, performed extensively and collaborated with leading musicians there and in the West, is among a growing number of British musicians whose knowledge and virtuosity is acknowledged in the world of Indian classical music.
Other such artistes include Mick Taylor (sitar), Nicolas Magriel (sarangi), Jonathan Mayer (sitar), Clive Bell (flute), the late John Jhalib Millar (tabla), Pete Lockett (tabla/percussion) and Chris Doddridge (restorer of ancient instruments/rudra veena, surbahar & sur sringar).
“All these musicians have spent between 30 and 40 years learning Indian instruments. The popularity of our classical music is also growing now due to sites such as Youtube and Facebook,” Jay Visvadeva, head of Sama Arts Network, a leading cultural organisation, said.
Alford, who has taught hundreds of people at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London over the years and composed music for some films, told Hindustan Times: “Indian classical music is safe in the hands of the young generation in India. It is growing here too.”
He said the man who deserved the most credit for popularising Indian classical music in the west was Ravi Shankar, whose collaboration with the Beatles in the 1960s contributed to growing interest. Since then, its popularity has been growing exponentially, he added.
Exponents of classical music frequently travel to London and elsewhere in the UK, while several Indian musicians settled in the country have, over the years, enriched the cultural scene with their individual performances as well as collaborations with Western musicians and groups.
Alford was accompanied on the tanpura by his student Ben Hazleton and on the tabla by Udit Pankhania.