Interview: Up Close with Sharat Chandra Srivastava of Renowned Indian World Music / Raaga Fusion Band MRIGYA
Click Play to listen to Sharat Chandra Srivastava chat with Minakshi Bajpai
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Washington, DC, June 16, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio) Fusion has always been held in high regard by anyone fond of classy experimentation with music. One of the finest contemporary Indian musical bands specializing in the genre of world music, rock and raga fusion is Mrigya. The internationally acclaimed band is currently on a tour of Canada and the United States. In a candid chat with Minakshi Bajpai, Sharat Chandra Srivastava - a founding member and the driving force, violinist and vocalist of Mrigya - shares his personal musical experiences, the nature of music his band is into, details about their North American tour and a whole lot more.
Sharat Chandra Srivastava had started playing the violin from the tender age of seven. His grandfather, Late Pt. Joi Srivastava, had been his first guru. Even before he had started receiving formal lessons, Srivastava had gotten used to an ambience of music at his home, with students from Europe, United Kingdom and the United States coming to learn music from his grandfather. There had been a proper guru-shishya parampara at the Srivastava residence, with students actually taking up abode there.
The keenness of Sharat Chandra Srivastava to learn music was soon spotted by his grandfather and the little kid of seven had started playing on his small violin. Srivastava’s acquaintance with music had been a natural process, with the continuous exposure to the musical sessions of other students at his home acting as a catalyst.
Video: Mrigya perform Ganga Live at South Asian Bands Festival, New Delhi, December 2010
Srivastava had been fortunate enough to perform with some of the biggest names from the world of Western music as well as Indian classical music. During the interview, he recounted an occasion in 1998 when performed with Sting at a concert in New Delhi. Srivastava spent three days with Sting and had literally been bowled over by humility and sobriety of the latter’s character. Srivastava had also come to know that Sting himself is highly interested in Indian musical traditions and meditation techniques.
When questioned about the importance of vocals in playing classical music, Srivastava was quick to point out that one needed to add the just the right dollops of vocals, tabla and classical instruments to give the desired range to the ‘Gayaki’ style of any artist. The ace musician also explained that one also needed to be relatively proficient with vocals to be able to discuss the ‘ragas’ with students.
The conversation now turned towards his world music and fusion band Mrigya. The band had, in fact, been initially formed by what one might call an accident. In 1999, two of Srivastava’s friends, Rajat Kakkar (drummer) and Gyan Singh (Tabla player) had been invited to play a percussion ensemble in New Delhi. Srivastava had dropped in on the practice sessions of his friends (along with several other orchestra bands) and had wondered whether Kakkar and Singh’s music needed to be complemented by the sounds of a melody instrument (like a violin). That was precisely how Sharat Chandra Srivastava came on board with his musical friends. Initially, the trio had planned to perform together just the once (in that particular concert). However, the five compositions that they had created at that time became such a rage that the organizer of the event himself asked them to return at the next edition of the show. Thus began the initial steps of Mrigya – the band.
Srivastava also touched upon the slightly unconventional name of his band. Mrig is a Sanskrit word for deer, and Mrigya is a deer-hunt. Srivastava and his companions believe that their musical group was always on a quest for greater musical knowledge and experiences - a hunt of their own. In this context, he also highlighted the importance of learning something of value from every moment in life and incorporating the same in music judiciously.
The nature of music that Mrigya specializes in was next in the agenda for discussion. Unlike folk fusion (as practiced by bands like Indian Ocean and Euphoria), Mrigya’s raga fusion music is all about selecting pure Indian Classical ragas (like Maand, Kajri and Pahari) and blending in beautiful Western musical elements.
According to Srivastava, the music that he and his fellow-members at Mrigya compose can be thought of as a wholesome combination of classical tunes, sufi elements, Carnatic sounds, rock and jazz elements and the Blues style. Emphasizing on the critical importance of ensuring that all elements in fusion music are incorporated in optimum proportions, Srivastava expressed confidence that Mrigya has been able to, over the years, maintain this balance in their compositions.
Speaking about his inspirations and idols from the musical world, the name of his own grandfather naturally came first to Srivastava’s lips. The violinist and vocal artist also cited Pt. Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan as two of the musicians that he really looks up to. Shakti and Mahavishnu Orchestra, of course, are also inspirational for Mrigya.
Speaking about the members of the band, Sharat Chandra Srivastava said that Mrigya comprises of eight qualified and talented musicians. Apart from himself, Gyan Singh and Rajat Kakkar, the other members are Karan Sharma (Guitars), Ghulam Quadir Niyazi (Sufi vocals), Sukriti Sen (Hindustani Classical vocals), Sacchin Kapoor (Keys) and Indraneel Hariharan (Bass).
Srivastava mentions that Mrigya has, till date, brought out a single music album – ‘The Composition of World Harmony’. The band’s second album is also almost ready and is expected to come out by the end of this year. Responding to a question about whether Mrigya would be open to offers from Bollywood, Srivastava said working on good Bollywood projects was defimnitely a possibility, and humorously added he had precious little idea about composing the so-called ‘item numbers’ that are currently so popular in the Hindi film industry.
The interview, in its final stages, turned towards the North American tour that Mrigya was currently on. Srivastava said that the band would perform in two concerts at Vancouver (on the 14th and the 15th of July) and then would move on to Chicago for three more concerts on the following weekend. Mrigya is also slated to perform at Dallas on the 28th of July.
The official website of Mrigya – www.mrigya.com – is a great source of information for everyone wishing to know more about the band. Music enthusiasts can also refer to the Facebook page of Mrigya to find out the details of the band. There are also plenty of videos of Mrigya available on YouTube and MySpace.
Minakshi Bajpai is the Executive Director and Lead singer for Minakshi Entertainments USA (www.minkumahal.com), featuring Kehkashaan Indian Band and Sugar Minx English Bands and Jalwah! DJ Entertainments. Minakshi lives in the Washington DC Metro area with her husband and son and can be reached at minxy529 [at] gmail [dot] com.
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