During their three-city tour along with Kousic Sen and Rekesh Chauhan, Pandit Ranajit Sengupta and Shirin Sengupta share their views on their music, what inspires them and what audiences can look forward to in their concert.
Our audiences in the UK have had the opportunity to listen to you, especially Ranajit, perform solo and collaborative concerts several times before. This concert tour brings you together with Shirin Sengupta, a prolific Hindustani vocalist and also your wife. What would you say audiences can look forward to the most in your concert together?
Ranajit: It’s extremely rare to find a jugalbandi (duet) between the sarod and vocal, and especially between female vocal and male sarod. Normally the sarod is tuned to key C and female vocalist sings from key A, which means the two are three whole tones apart. This makes it challenging for Shirin to sing in such a high pitch as a tonic and find a solution to perform together . We managed to do this especially for Milapfest as we feel so much a part of the Milapfest family.
We always look forward to doing something new and unique and it was a beautiful idea for me and my wife to come together and perform for Milapfest’s 30th anniversary.
We each start with solos as the beginning of the concert and in the second half we explore what is possible with two artists with very different background as a soloist. We haven’t actually performed together much at all over the years. In fact this is maybe only the second or third time we are performing together like this as a duo. It’s a rare opportunity for us and for the audience. Everything is ex-tempo, so audiences can expect a unique experience because the music is born at that moment in front of them.
Both of you coming together to perform is certainly special. Can you describe how you sit down and create your music together? How do you feed off of each other? How do you work together?
Ranajit: We create from our experience of learning from our Gurus. Though the styles are different, we practice a lot and create something out of that knowledge shared by our Gurus. Together it’s an exchange of our ideas, but of course that comes from our learning and our teaching experience. We sometimes teach each other’s students (we have more than 80 students in India), and this also teaches us a lot about how to work with one another. We really thank Milapfest for creating this opportunity to perform a duet together.
As you mentioned, Sarod and Hindustani vocal is a combination rarely seen in Indian classical music – were there any challenges you faced when creating this concert, or perhaps anything which made it extremely easy and a natural combination?
Ranajit : We both come from different gharanas. I am belong to the Mahir Seni gharana, and Shirin is Jaipur Kirana Gwalior gharana. Maihar Seni is always an instrumental gharana from which many musical greats such as Pt. Ravi Shankar belonged, and it was spearheaded by Ustad Alluadin Khan who has learnt a lot of vocal music. So this is how I’ve found my way to match with Shirin and produce a sound which is unique in combination. Also, our musical journey together for over 15 years also plays a major part in how our music comes together and sounds to the audience. My music won’t sound the same with another vocalist. For the first time when we were bound to do a duo, it was for the Musica Sacra International festival 2006. The organisers said they couldn’t give us two separate slots, so we had to find a way to combine our music for the very first time. Our video of this concert on YouTube has nearly 8000 hits, which for Indian classical music is quite rare.
Shirin: My style, Khayal, according to ancient texts, was invented by Ustad Amir Khusrau most traditional style is Gwalior. Amir was also the inventor of the Sitar and Khayal singing and also played the Veena so the Gwalior and Khyal tradition can be combined with vocal and instrumental.
Ranajit: Khayal means imagination, and we both love using our imagination through our music and exchanging these ideas with the audience.
The Maihar Seni gharana was the first ever instrumental gharana which strongly integrated the singing style (gyaki). Before this instruments were not close to singing styles. This gharana has made string instruments sound more like vocals.
Can you please tell us a little bit about how you design your concerts?
Ranajit: For North Indian / Hindustani music, it is 90% improvised. But for Carnatic, it is mostly fixed compositions. All three parts of our concert (both solos and coming together), the improvised part is the most important because that’s where our musical imagination shines. Shaping the imagination with notes and sharing that with the audience. We are both very traditional with our raga music. We will never do an evening raga in the afternoon, because this is a speciality of north Indian classical music. Time theory is very important to the tradition and this should be followed, especially if we announce we are performing a Hindustani classical music concert. We support and respect this tradition. So our concert this Saturday will definitely feature afternoon ragas and / or seasonal ragas (e.g monsoon season).
Which artists inspire you the most?
Shirin: My Gurus – late Pt. A.T Kanan, and Arun Bhaduri and Pt. Ulhas Kahshakar. Of course my parents also. My father used to sing Tagore songs from Bengal, so my musical foundation is rooted in Tagore songs. I’m also very inspired by the music of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Kesarbai Kerkar and Kishori Amonkar. From Bengali music I am inspired by Mrs. Malavika Kanan.
Ranajit : Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Lata Mangeshar, Mozart, Chopin, Paco de Lucia, R.D Burman
What is your favourite Raga?
Ranajit : Bhageshri, Marwa, Lalit, Bilashkhani Todi
Shirin : All Hindustani classical ragas! I am a hardcore classical music and nothing else! I love singing Tagore songs, but Khayal is my ultimate.
Pt. Ranajit Sengupta and Shirin Sengupta perform in a UK national tour in September 2015:
Manchester – September 19th 2015
Keswick – September 20th
Liverpool – September 26th