Shankar Mahadevan, the fourtime National Award winner attended the Jaipur Education Festival organised by the government of Rajasthan and GEMS Education recently this month and spoke about the importance of doing regional music, how nepotism can only take you to a certain extent and more. Excerpts:
Q) In the present context, do you think music as a career opportunity, is considered potent enough to be pursued?
I think it used to be not considered as a steady career when we were in college, but now as people see how successful youngsters are becoming, how there are so many avenues available, how much talent there is in this country, which we get to see through the Internet and TV shows, people have really started considering music as a steady career.
They want to prove themselves and a number of opportunities available in the present times, is phenomenal. So in terms of career prospects, tremendous changes have taken place in the domain of music and it’s encouraging to see how passionate the youth is for this art form. But yes, artists need to realise that they can’t shy away from hard work. A person pursuing music has to learn the art form to master it. You can’t become a painter in a day, you can’t just sculpt a figure.You have to work hard to become a qualified musician. That’s the only way out.
Q) You mentioned TV shows. What’s your opinion on innumerable television and reality shows coming up?
I think it’s a great opportunity and platform for everyone wanting to come in the forefront. Thirty years back, if a young talented guy, say from interiors of Jharkhand/ Maharashtra wanted to display his talent, he had no avenue to do so.
At that time, coming to Mumbai, getting accustomed to the environment, establishing contacts would have consumed half the person’s life. But now, at least you know there is an Indian Idol, there is a Rising Star, there is a Zee Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. At least now he/ she has a direction, a goal to work towards. Such platforms make a person discover and explore his/her talents.
Q) Were you involved with music since the beginning or did you stumble upon it or happen to discover it? I stumbled upon music when I was three and a half years old (laughs). There was a harmonium at my place and I didn’t know what it was; I just randomly started to play it. And then things took off from there.
Q) What are your views on nepotism? Don’t you think it’s easier for people who have their family members in the field of music to pursue it as compared to those who don’t?
They will have the facilities. Probably they will have a good harmonium in the house to play and learn, maybe they will have a good studio to record their productions and a rich father to launch them. But, no one’s going to tolerate them if they are bad. Siddharth (Shankar Mahadevan’s son) has been doing music for the past four years.
I don’t think he is given productions because he is my son. It’s because he has worked hard and stood on his feet. Take the example of Arijit Singh —he had no contacts whatsoever — he is self-built from scratch and today he is taking the industry by storm. Contacts and a privileged background can only take you to a certain extent, beyond that you have to work day and night and carve your own niche and this is true for all art forms.
Q) How do you perceive music as a field of education and what are your views on institutions of music present in India today?
First and foremost, we need a good music academy in the country. There is not a single academy that we can be proud of. That’s my aim and vision; I want to create the Harvard of this country. I already have an online academy, it’s six-years-old. If you google “learn music online”, my academy will feature at the top and we teach Indian classical music in 72 countries but we still have a long way to go. There is nothing in our country like a Berklee College of Music or a New York College of Music. I want to make this possible.
Music is not different from education. Music is a very very strong tool of communication; it can make a person cry, laugh ~ the ego in the person just goes away and he/she becomes a child. Music inspires to change. And what is education? Ultimately a medium of communication and change. Let’s talk about the nursery rhyme ABCDEFGH…, you remember it till date because it was taught to you as a song. That’s how music and education can be interspersed for more effective learning.
Q) India is a very diverse country. Do you think we are doing enough to bring out the regional flavours to the forefront like it was done in Gangs of Wasseypur?
No, we are not doing enough at all. There are very few people actually doing it. Like we (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) keep flowing against the stream and do music like Mirzya, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Taare Zameen Par. This is all flowing against the stream.
There are no attempts to make item songs or intention to make our songs play in the club. We are making it because we want to do justice to our culture, our country’s diverse music. We are living in a country which has got the best music in the world — and we need to respect the music in our country and across the globe. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy makes it a point to do a lot of regional music and gives it more important than our Hindi music. There is a lot to explore —Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil and now I have sung Odiya too.
I think as musicians of a great country like India, it will be an injustice to not participate in regional music. And by God’s grace, in our case, people from these states have welcomed us with open hearts. Now that I have come here in Jaipur to attend the festival of music, my next piece will surely be a Rajasthani folk.