Artistes versus performers
A few weeks ago, I heard Anita Singhvi for the second time. The first was when she sang ghazals and the second when she had graduated to sufi music.
Singing sufi has become a trend these days. Everyone is singing sufi or claiming that they are, even when they are nowehere near it. Mention sufi and it is a sure way to draw crowds just as ghazal was some two decades ago. So sufi it is and will remain till some new form hits headlines.
I may be sounding cynical but this is how I feel when those who neither understand music nor appreciate it in the real sense are seen at concerts. They are there less for the music and more because they want to be seen with the right people at the right places at the right time. They neither have the etiquette nor the ear for music which brings to mind two interesting incidents which I witnessed several years ago.
One was a concert for the Capital who’s who at the Taj Mansingh to hear Kishori Amonkar. It was floor seating and there was a select crowd: actually a handful of people compared to current standards.
Kishori Amonkar was in form, at her usual best mesmerizing the audience. It was like being transported to seventh heaven because the quality of such music is rare and I, for one, count my blessings each time I am able to listen to maestros. Needless to say, Kishori Amonkar has an exceptional voice – quality and range.
Suddenly the notes stopped and I found an enraged Kishori Amonkar pointing to one among the audience with :”Aye you, sit properly”. There was stunned silence. Heads turned to find an obese man resting himself against a cushion, feet pointing to the stage. Enough to make anyone angry particularly an artiste and senior and sensitive as Kishori Amonkar. The man did not know what hit him and probably has not recovered since, maybe abandoned concerts altogether.
The second incident was when Ustad Zakir Hussain was playing at Siri Fort Auditorium. The politician VIP who was to inaugurate was late and Zakir decided to begin without waiting for the formal inauguration. A tough call for the organizers but between the performer and the Minister they had little choice, lest the musician calls off the performance. Zakir’s point and a valid one that audience should not suffer because a minister fails to stick to schedule.
The audience were there to listen to him and there is no reason why they should keep waiting for a VIP in whom they had little or no interest. So he owed it to his listeners to perform without making them wait.
The performance began and somewhere midway the minister walked in. The organizers went into a tizzy rushing to receive him and making way for him in the auditorium and in the process creating enough commotion. Suddenly the music stopped and Zakir pushed his tabla little further away from him. A visibly embarrassed minister, thankfully sharper than many of his counterparts who would imagine that he stopped playing to acknowledge his presence rather than out of disgust, signaled Zakir to continue playing. Not the one to take orders from anyone for his music Zakir snapped: “Nahin aap baith jaiye pehle…music ka kya hai”. Make yourself comfortable. Music can wait. The sarcasm was evident. There was pin drop silence. Zakir resumed playing but it was not the same. Never once music was distrupted and the notes disturbed.
These incidents have remained in my mind, reminding me of the degeneration that has set in. Now concerts are more in the tune of social get togethers than a soul stirring experience. I recall many I have been invited to including Ghulam Ali’s where people are eating and drinking during a performance. Actually drinking. Often the bar is placed strategically: right outside where the artiste is performing so that whenever they get a break from drinking they step in to hear the artiste instead of it being the other way round.