Ali writes on classical vocalist Shubha Mudgul. Rigorously trained in Hindustani classical music, Shubha has managed to make it
appeal to India's younger audiences.
Mudgal is the new and fresher face of Indian Music. She is often seen on
the media, particularly the electronic media, as she does not restrict
herself to any particular genre of music, moving from the purist
classical forms to the ones
branded as pop.
her recent visit to Pakistan she enthralled listeners by her
performances, particularly the ability to reach out to a broader section
of the listening public more attuned to a growing catholic taste in
music. Television channels have made the faces of the Indian artistes
familiar to the Pakistani audiences, so when artistes from India arrives
to perform in Pakistan, it is not curiosity about what they will present
but expectation of performance of more acceptable and popular numbers
that greets them.
One of the most versatile and popular concert artists
among the younger generation of Hindustani musicians, and among the most
imaginative and adventurous female vocalists of India, Mudgal was born
in Allahabad in 1959 to a family with a rich musical tradition. She was
taught by the finest musicians and musicologists in India. Trained
initially as a kheyal singer, she soon realised her powerful voice could
encompass a wide range. She moved to Delhi and sought the guidance of
maestros who encouraged her to evolve beyond her traditional training
and experiment as an artist.
She received her initial
training in music from Ram Ashreya Jha and later studied under Vinay
Chandra Maudgalya and Vasant Thakar. She also learnt stylistic
techniques from Kumar Gandharva and Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, and so
acknowledges herself as belonging to the Gwalior Gharana. She has also
learnt thumri and dadra under Naina Devi. An established vocalist, she
has performed widely in India and abroad and has many cassettes to her
name. She has also established herself as a composer on the small
Her spirited experimentation
often brings her into conflict with more orthodox practitioners. Her
first album, a collection of Sufi songs, was an immediate hit with the
public but generated criticism from traditionalists. Her album 'Aali
More Angana' set young people all over the country dancing to a song
originally devotional, which became a favourite at discotheques.
In addition to being a popular
concert artist, Mudgal has won recognition as a composer. Her repertoire
of medieval devotional poetry has received acclaim in India and abroad.
She wrote music and played a cameo role in 'Kama Sutra', the new film by
director Mira Nair.
She believes in absorbing and
learning from other cultures and forms of art, in order to evolve an art
that is richer and more universal. "Other genres and influences are
also incorporated and adapted in my work," she says, "to
create a tapestry that uses and warp and weft of the classical and the
Her case is of particular
interest because she comes from a family of traditional musicians and
she has gone through the rigours of training over a period of time. And
then she also switched to singing and rendering popular forms, or to a
more contemporary style of singing. The more popular forms, as usually
encased in music videos and labelled pop, disco or bhangra, are hugely
popular both in India and Pakistan. To the connoisseurs of music this
vertical takeoff in the popularity graph of this type of music is both
baffling and disturbing. Most of the musicians who fall in this category
and are doing wonderfully well, have not really been trained in the
traditional method. They are mostly out of tune and sing in what in our
musical parlance is called 'kathcha sur'. They have put the cart before
the horse, as they have not perfected their craft before creating music,
which is the traditional method of approaching this difficult and
If their popularity is any
indication, it seems that nobody is really bothered about their lack of
craft. Their sales continue to rise and the younger people, a huge chunk
of the audience, listen and hum to their music.
Many had predicted that the
sudden wave of pop music would stall and then decline, searching for its
rightful place. This process will involve the joining in of the
musicians who have had proper training in music and approach it in the
correct sequence of craft, perfection being the first requisite of any
musical creation. Shubha Mudgal is a good example of that in India, and
perhaps Sajjad Ali and Shafqat Amanat Ali in Pakistan, but the question
is, despite being very popular in comparative terms, how popular are
they with reference to the popularity of the other singers of the same
genre? In India, despite the huge sales of Shubha Mudgal's music videos,
she probably does not figure in the topmost ratings.
The general view is that the acquisition of craft also
engenders a certain style. A traditional musician, in the perfection of
his craft, also learns the traditional and a stylised manner of intoning
the note. Once the style is perfected, such musicians settle in a groove
and just do not have the option of disowning or modifying their craft.
This seems to be the question of what is significant
and what is popular. In the past, before the market took over artistic
assessment, it was the experts and the connoisseurs who decided what was
important and significant in art.
In Pakistan Shubha Mugdal sang for a cause. Her
performance in Karachi raised a substantial sum for a hospital, and in
other, private, sessions she sang mostly kheyal and thumri numbers. As
with other classical singers trained in India, she followed a certain
pattern faithfully, the performance was very ordered and the progression
of the raags very systematic, almost to the extent of being clinical.