Shubha Mudgal

An Indian classical singer of repute and an unconventional music composer, Shubha Mudgal has been consistently associating herself with progressive music initiatives over years. The artiste was one of the curators at the recently concluded Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa. A dialogue with Mudgal about her experience as a curator, working with designer Rohit Bal and music.

She might have started performing on stage as a trained classical vocalist after reaching college, however the seed of music was sown in her young mind by her academic but artistic-minded parents (both were professors of English Literature at Allahabad University), early on in her life. After gaining reputation as a talented Hindustani classical singer, Shubha Mudgal went on to become a composer. Having trained under some of the finest music teachers, she became known for her unique compositions and experimental music. The noted artiste, who has worked as a curator in the past too, was one of the curators at the recently concluded Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF) in Goa.

Tell us about your role as a curator at the SAF that was held in Goa recently.

I was invited to curate some of the music events for the SAF. My co-curator was the wellknown musician and composer Ranjit Barot. The festival had two curators for each of the multiple arts it showcased and for me it was a rare occasion to leave aside my usual role as a performer and be a curator instead. However, as a keen listener, and as someone who has worked as a curator in the past too, it gave me the unique opportunity to work with new themes and ideas for presentation and production.

What is your new project ‘Living Traditions’ all about?

I had the privilege of collaborating with designer Rohit Bal for the Living Traditions project which I curated for SAF. The project presented three very accomplished young stars of Hindustani music, namely vocalist Kaushiki Chakraborty, sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee and sarangi player Nawaz Murad Ali with their respective accompanying musicians, in a special concert. The musicians wore costumes re-created specially for the project by the great Rohit Bal, which were inspired from archival images of Hindustani musicians in performance from the early part of the 20th century. Each artiste re-interpreted compositions that were recorded in the early 20th century. The project was aimed at creating a beautiful montage of the past and present, highlighting the continuum that binds tradition with modernity.

How was it working with Bal?

I am grateful to Rohit ji for agreeing to design and recreate the costumes for the Living Traditions performance. All I had to do is to take the reference material to him, discuss the project with him a few times, and then sit back and watch him create the magic!

What’s your take on the kind of music that is made today?

As in the past, there is no special kind of music that is made today. The diversity of Indian music was one of its key strengths in the past as it is even today. We have many styles, forms, genres of music in India, but today, easy exposure and access is available only for mainstream film music. We need to devise ways, means, and strategies for the diversity of Indian music to be showcased duly, giving audiences and listeners the opportunity to make informed choices based on their musical preferences.

What is the career path for aspiring talented singers?

There is no formula that I could offer singers who want to achieve success. Because their definition of success may be quite different from mine. But based on personal experience, I would suggest a few key areas they may want to focus on.

Finding a guru, believing in what the guru suggests and following his/her instruction has been integral to my own study of music. I continue to learn and be a student, because the learning must never stop, whether or not success comes your way.

To be a good musician, I believe it is necessary to also be a keen listener. Cultivating a habit of listening would prove helpful and enrich one’s understanding of music.

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