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Guitar and gayaki

Guitarist Kamala Shankar performed at the Soorya festival in the city recently.


SHE HOLDS the world record of being the first woman to be awarded a doctorate in guitar.

But Kamala Shankar's achievements do not end with her research. She plays Hindustani music in this Western instrument, and presents jugalbandis with her sitar player husband Rajeev Janardan.

The Shankar Guitar, a new version of the Hawaiian guitar, has a compact shape and design. "The Shankar Guitar has a fully hollow body made of one single piece of solid wood, unlike the plywood, which is generally used for the making of other guitars. It does not have a sound hole of the main board, but this does not in any way diminish the tonal quality of the instrument, which is as good as the other Indian string instruments. Another feature of my guitar is that since it has a flat base, playing it in a sitting posture makes it very comfortable. Again it is made of one-piece, the tuning will hold longer and is resistant to minute jerks and mishandling," Shankar explains.

Like most of the string instruments, the original six-string guitar had the problem of being unable to create the meend or the smooth, uninterrupted glide from one note to another. Innovations by masters such as Brij Bhushan Kabra and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt solved this defect of the guitar. "Yet I found that it still had a metallic sound. This was what prompted me to try out this new design. It was made for us by Rikhi Ram, famous New Delhi-based manufacturers of musical instruments. And the effect of the new creation was stunning," Shankar says.

Shankar, who was born at Thanjavur, was brought up in the rich musical environs of Varanasi. Initiated into music at the age of six, Shankar later trained under the renowned vocalist Chanoolal Mishra before she decided to try her hand at playing the guitar.

"I was fortunate to have a very understanding guru in Shivnath Bhattacharya, a disciple of the late Nalin Majumdar. The guitar, which was generally used as part of an orchestra, was gradually being recognised, but there were no women in this field. My guru urged me to take up this instrument, also warning me on the risk that I would be taking." To develop the guitar into a singing instrument, to form a gayaki style, Shankar trained under the sitar maestro Pandit Bimalendu Mukherjee. " The training helped me to use the gayaki ang and the Baj, or the characteristic style of playing a plucked instrument, in my presentations," feels Shankar, whose only album, `Music Melody on the Guitar', has been well received.

K. PRADEEP

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