India’s first female professional tabla player, Anuradha Pal is coming forward to support fellow musicians in crisis
India’s first female professional tabla player, Anuradha Pal is coming forward to support fellow musicians in crisis

A virtual music concert to beat odds and blues

An online festival organised by tabla player Anuradha Pal is the financial ray of hope that India’s indigenous musicians need
By Karishma Kuenzang | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JUL 22, 2020 08:07 PM IST

As someone who’s been performing since the age of nine, muscling her way into the male-dominated classical music industry, India’s first female professional tabla player Anuradha Pal is well acquainted with the musicians who work in the background. And also indigenous folk musicians, to whom we owe the gamut of music available to us today.

“These people are family to me. I’ve kept in touch with them through the years, working with them. I don’t come from a music background, neither did I have a ‘godparent.’ I’ve seen it all – discrimination, groupism and sexism – all together too at times. ‘Tumne is field mein aane ki gustakhi kaise ki? (How did you make the mistake of entering this field?),’ was a comment that often came my way,” she says, as she stumbles down the bitter-sweet memory lane of an industry that is now in dire straits due to the absence of live performances.

So when, a week into the lockdown this March, Anuradha started receiving calls from musicians from Rajasthan, Benaras, Madhya Pradesh and the North East, who told her about their financial woes, she was inspired to work on a free two-day fundraiser concert for them, which will stream for an hour-and-a-half on July 25 and 26.

Voice to the Voiceless

“Musicians called, saying they didn’t have money to buy food or pay medical bills. These are people who play at weddings and events, not top-of-the-line musicians who can start their own IG live sessions. They need to earn a living! This artist community is not represented in any manner,” Anuradha observes.

Folk musicians also reached out, which compelled Anuradha to put together a line-up that includes names such as Taufiq Qureshi, Shubhendra and Saskia Rao, Pt. Satish Vyas and Anup Jalota, besides a sitar and cello duet, and a flute and sarangi jugalbandi, for a concert named Kala Ke Sangh on Facebook and Instagram.

The concert line-up includes names such as Pt .Satish Vyas and Anup Jalota
The concert line-up includes names such as Pt .Satish Vyas and Anup Jalota

“This is what I can do instead of just criticising others. Also, we need to be more aware of our culture, instead of just making statements about it,” she explains.

The concert, she says, is a good way to get through the various corona crises: music has spiritual powers that can certainly ease your mind. And, you can donate money at any time or send money directly to the bank accounts of musicians, or even send food and medical supplies to their homes.

“The goal is to raise ~37 lakh, which would help 500 to 700 musicians and instrument makers and their families,” says Anuradha, calculating the impact of the social media-anchored music festival.

Trade Secrets

Social media is another thing Anuradha has aced in the last three months. A week into lockdown, she started Instagram live sessions, where she discussed Indian music for 64 consecutive days. “Then I got calls from people asking, ‘Ek toh aapko paise nahi mil raha iske liye, uppar se (for one, you are not getting money for this and to top it) you are giving away trade secrets! Fir hum kaise charge karenge ab? (So now, how will we charge?)’” she laughs.

“These musicians, who play at weddings and events, didn’t have money to buy food or pay medical bills — They are not top-of-the-line ones who can start their IG lives”

But when there’s a cause and people see you investing time and energy into it, it could snowball into something impactful. You just need to sustain it for long enough. This is what Anuradha is hoping to do by asking these indigenous musicians to send her decent audio recordings, which she, along with other classical musicians, will promote on their social media feeds. Their phone numbers will also be posted in their videos so that they can get work, maybe even now.

“We will have to do some quality control, of course,” says Anuradha. “Half-an-hour-long recordings will be do-able on borrowed equipment too.”

There’s a growing interest in classical music among the youth today, says Anuradha, which could be the bridge that seals the gap between finances and genres. Millennials and old-school folk artists could swap notes and technology via collaborations. “This is the best time to introspect and research your roots. People have a chance to reflect and are hence, turning to Indian classical,” she says, adding that she’s going to release tabla tutorial videos soon.

karishma.kuenzang@hindustantimes.com

From HT Brunch, July 19, 2020

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