Painting Ragas with Alif Laila

Alif Laila, a US based sitarist, joins Milapfest for two Music for the Mind and Soul concerts this autumn. Alif’s work is characterised by her  fascination with the relationship between music and art. In her own practise, Alif uses her music to inspire her watercolour painting, which she then uses in her concerts to emphasize the mood and tempo of each raga.

Here, Alif tells us more about her practice and answers some questions posed by Archana Shastri (Milapfest):

Alif: The relation between watercolour painting and the Indian Classical music, which I experience through sitar, is both physical and philosophical. Both forms and mediums of expression have unbridled energy and unpredictability of the final outcome… that fascinates me! It’s like fusing the boundaries of reality and illusion. The overlays of tones and textures that evolve while the painting is in progress is exactly the same as the moods of the harmonics produced by the resonating strings of the sitar while the main notes and phrases of the ragas are played in succession. The lateral pulling (meend), a predominant technique of the sitar and the combination of string techniques, is synonymous to flow of the colors in water and the brush strokes that are used in attempt to control it. The movement of the notes flow like the watercolour hues that create melody.

How do you feature your paintings within your sitar concerts?

The moods and the emotions of the ragas that I play are enhanced by the visual images of my watercolor paintings for the different ragas that I play at a concert. Each raga, the tempo and taal that I choose to play, evokes a feeling and transposes within me into the form of shapes, lines and colors and motion. I love to re-create this in watercolor. I create a set of paintings for each raga that are displayed in sync with the mood and tempo of the composition. The original paintings are digitally photographed and the computer images are projected in the background as the ragas unfold in the sitar on stage.

Do you consider yourself primarily a sitarist or equally an artist/painter and sitarist?

I consider myself equally as an artist/painter and sitarist. However I have chosen the sitar is my main instrument of expression. The colors, tones and textures of the Indian classical music are my paintings in melody.

Do you create your paintings first and create your music around that or are your paintings inspired by a piece of music that you play?

Most of the time my music inspires my paintings. And sometimes when I see a painting that I had already done, it reminds me of a particular raga that resonates within in.

Alif performs at The Capstone Theatre on 24 November and at Purcell Room, Southbank Centre on 29 November.

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