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Pt Jasraj: Music has universal appeal
- Vijay Shanker, Mumbai

September 6, 2012

The living legend of Indian classical music, Pandit Jasraj needs no introduction. In honour of this unparalleled living legend, awards and titles have not only been created and bestowed upon him, but have also been instituted in his name. Endowed with a rich, soulful and sonorous voice, Pandit Jasraj's singing is characterized by a harmonious blend of classic and opulent elements, projecting traditional music with an intense spiritual expression. This gives his music a very sublime emotional quality, touching the soul of the listener. This sensitivity together with classical approach, has given his singing a lyrical quality which is the quintessence of the Mewati style of singing.

Pandit Jasraj talks about his music, his life and his contribution to the world of music.

Panditji, how did you realize that music was your calling?
"Deewana banana hai to deewana bana de" (make me insane, if you please), the soulful strains of this gazal sung by Aktaribai Faizalbadi, now renowned as Begum Akhtar, touched me and I began my musical journey. I was six years old at that time and was completely mesmerized by the power of music and felt the deep urge to learn music and sing as well. I spent most of my school days listening to the gramophone, which was at the teashop on the way to my school. Ironically, after a brief initiation into vocal music by my father, I decided to opt for the tabla under the training of Pandit Pratap Narayan. That decision was taken to shoulder the family responsibilities, for the additional income, due to the sudden demise of my father. However at the age of fourteen, I rebelled against the strange attitude meted out to accompanying artistes and I vowed never to become an accompanying artiste but become a full-fledged vocalist.

What problems did you face at the outset of your career?
Everybody has to face problems initially but the talent, the training and firm determination to do well in life, definitely takes you forward.

What are qualities necessary for the vocalist to be successful?
Perfect diction and clarity in sur and extreme tunefulness, command in all aspects of laya, choice of composition and interplay of the notes with the words to evoke the desired mood and feeling are the essential qualities for a successful and brilliant vocalist.

What is the inspiration for your soulful music?
Under the tutelage of my elder brother Pandit Maniram and with spiritual influence of Maharaj Jaywant Singhji Waghela of Saanand, I began my vocal and spiritual journey. The Maharaj, himself a scholarly and gifted vocalist of the Mewati Gharana, gently ushered me into the realm of devotion, preparing me for sublime music. I was ordained to create due to the spiritual influence of Maharaja Jaywant on me. I consider him my inspiration. I feel classical music is the best medium to pay homage to the Almighty. So if you are a dedicated musician, the sublime quality predominates your music.

You have been associated with the music world for decades. What are the changes you perceive?
When I started my career, I used to listen to such great singers with such a commanding voice that they could go on for hours together without the use of the mike too. Today, the scenario has changed completely. The organizers and the audience would not like to listen for hours together and maybe the singer has to take the night flight. There are dedicated musicians but youngsters do not have the patience. They want success to come fast; they don't realize that there is no short cut to success.

Do you feel that classical music is losing its ground?
Classical music and dance is rich and solid, nurtured and enriched for centuries together, reflecting India's cultural heritage, so it can't vanish all of a sudden. There are children and youth, who are quite devoted, so there is a bright future. My son Sharangdev is a music director and my daughter Durga is also a vocalist.

Is it necessary to introduce classical music in schools?
It is necessary, for classical music is not only divine but also has the quality to relax and condition your mind and body for a harmonious and healthy life. These days, children go through lot of strain and stress which is not healthy. But music needs the devotion which is not everyone's cup of tea.

Amidst your listeners, who are more appreciative, men or women?
Both, but men normally don't talk too much, women are definitely more vocal!

Can you tell us about your performances outside India?
The response is always overwhelming, whether Paris, London or New York. The University of Toronto has instituted a scholarship in my name for the students of music. This has happened for the first time and the University is more that 200 years old.

Any advice for aspiring singers?
If you have the talent and you are prepared to work hard, then success will definitely follow you.

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