Two of India’s prominent instrumentalists Rakesh Chaurasia (flutist) and Purbayan Chatterjee (sitar) are in the city for a concert organised by HCL. Ahead of it, we met the two for a conversation where the duo shared about the importance of archiving music in the digital space, how to improve attention span of the audience and why instrumental music concerts should be popularised. A multi-faceted musician, Purbayan belongs to the famous Senia Maihar Gharana, the school established by musical genius Baba Allauddin Khan, the guru of stars such as Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Whereas, Rakesh, nephew of flute maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, has evolved a style which while maintaining the purity of the flute manages to capture the attention of young listeners.
In this digital era, how can a full-fledged music concert survive?
Purbayan: Technology has become the most potent force in the present world. So, the only way for a concert to survive is by archiving it with the help of technology. And archiving shouldn’t just be recording a concert and placing on a shelf! There should be music discourse and also we should scout for younger talent.
Rakesh: Everything has become digital now. So, as musicians and instrumentalists, we too have to find ways to stay relevant and be in touch with the audience. Archiving and making digital versions of concerts are the best possible way for concerts to survive.
When compared to the older generation, has the attention span of the current generation declined?
Purbayan: Attention span will be there if an artiste can hold the audience for three or four hours. Today, we tend to check our phones every ten minutes. Even though there was no mobile phone, the older generation also was restless. They had many things going on in mind.
Rakesh: Well, paying close attention to a concert is the choice of a rasika. To make concerts more interesting, we have designed it in a way that we don’t repeat the same music throughout the show. By changing the music format, we can hold attention for a longer time.
Most of the rasikas in South India have deep knowledge of classical performing arts. So, how do you think they will perceive a Hindustani concert?
Purbayan: During one of the Margazhi music festivals, I have presented a sitar concert at the Music Academy. There, I met a few children between 10 and 15 years of age, enjoying the concert by putting the talam. Many south Indians love Hindustani music and many in the north enjoy Carnatic concerts. After all, music is universal.
Rakesh: Ninety per cent of south Indian audience, who come to Hindustani concerts, have knowledge about it. Actually, concerts in Chennai is like an audition for us!
The audience for instrumental music concert is dwindling and people are migrating towards vocal music concerts.
Purbayan: It’s true and it was always the case. Vocal concerts are considered to be more accessible. There should be better awareness about instrumental music concerts. Instruments like sitar, flute or sarangi are lead instruments in their own right and instrumental concerts deserve the same importance as vocal.
Rakesh: Unfortunately, instrumental concerts aren’t given much attention when compared to vocal concerts. When Indian music goes to the West, people focus mainly on the instruments because they don’t follow the lyrics.
How are the younger audience reacting and responding to music such as yours?
Purbayan: I have been steadily observing the demographics of the audience — the age factor has distinctly come down from the late 50s to mid-30s. Like how we need artistes of tomorrow, we need the audience of tomorrow as well. Every art survives based on the relation between an artiste and the audience.
Rakesh: Youngsters have started showing more interest in music. And I am sure it will increase in the coming future.