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Call of the heart

Creative challenges are what keep Hindustani vocalist Shubha Mudgal charged



DISCIPLINE AND DIVERSITY Shubha Mudgal

Kohl-lined eyes, trademark tikka, minimal accessories, elegant sari, hair neatly plaited and an ear-to-ear smile, quite unlike her multi-layered music, Shubha Mudgal the person is plain and understated. But put her before the mike and she at once acquires a striking persona. It's all in her full-throated voice. It's the voice with a cross-generational appeal. It's the voice that comfortably traverses genres. It's the voice that oozes sensuousness and emotion in the switch of a tune.

So, you can hear a classical thumri or dadra, a hard-rocking "Ab ke saawan", the resonant "Ali more angana" or a moving "Pyar ke geet".

"It's the call of my heart to adapt to different musical urges and needs. But I will not say I dabble in experiments to popularise classical music or to take it to the masses. I cannot even say I have set a trend. That will happen only when others follow what I am doing. I also don't hope to change the face of popular music by bringing classical elements into it. It all depends on individual genius to take up creative challenges and derive maximum satisfaction from such exercises," says the singer candidly.

A post graduate in music and trained by several gurus, including Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki and Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Shubha scaled the musical charts with her album "Ali More Angana" in 1996. "Though it was talked about a lot, it was certainly not my first album as many think. I had done enough classical work before (since 1986), which were well received. Anyway I didn't get carried away by all the attention as the album was just an extension of my artistic endeavours."

Her foray into the field of popular music was quite incidental.

"It was at the insistence of my musician-friend Jawahar Vattal that I gave it a shot. And at the end of it I realised it was great fun and a completely different experience," says Shubha, who listens to Begum Akhtar's "immortal" thumris, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Siddeshwari Devi, and rock and jazz too.

Integrating flavours

"I also read whenever I get time. I am naturally drawn to literature, particularly poetry. In fact, I enjoy setting spiritual and socially relevant verses to music. Integrating flavours is not new to music. It has always been happening. For instance, even within the classical format, dhrupad has a strong folk element while thumri and dadra are qawwali-inspired. I think the nature of music is such that it allows adaptation. You need not feel like a captive. You can stay within a discipline and yet try out different things. And even if you move out, you don't have to be apologetic," she says with a twinkle in her eyes.

Shubha has done extensive research in ancient and medieval music, particularly bhakti sahitya to know how it can guide and add depth to sangeet. "Because when I started learning I was told that music and devotion are synonymous. That's why Indian music is meditative and soothing. This is one of the reasons why I took diksha into a Krishna sect. The importance they give to music is absolutely moving. They make two kinds of offerings to the Lord — bhog seva and raga seva. This tikka, which many see as a stylised bindi, is a symbol of belonging to this group," says this first generation musician, whose parents taught English at the Allahabad University.

As for the rapport she shares with her tabla artiste-husband Aneesh Pradhan, Shubha says, "We have known each other and performed together for a long time, much before the thought of marriage even occurred to us. Of course, being life partners now is an added advantage as a lot of music happens at home." They work on new ways of interacting with listeners and draw in more people into the fold of music. "Not just Aneesh and I, the other artistes in our team, Sudhir Naik (harmonium) and Murad Ali (sarangi) share a perfect understanding on and off the stage. In fact, it's this team work that's the essence of our performances."

Though her world revolves around melody, she is an avid sari collector and a foodie, who savours all kinds of vegetarian preparations.

Khana or gaana, Shubha Mudgal prefers a delicious variety.

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN

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