Music of the Himalayas

Rahul Sharma

Released 22 July 2002

  1. Maqam-E-Navaa (Sufyana Musiqi)
  2. Melody Of Kashmir
  3. Melody Of Jammu Kashmir
  4. Melody Of Kashmir In Contemporary Music

Liner notes

Let’s pretend it’s still September 2000. A 27-year-old santoor player called Rahul Sharma is touring as principal soloist with a trio of Hindustani (Northern Indian) classical musicians. They are providing ‘the music from Jammu and Kashmir’ element that complements a second 15-some ensemble of musicians and dancers from Nepal. Billed as ‘Music from the Himalayas’, the tour has already taken them through France and Switzerland. By the time Rahul Sharma, the tabla maestro Ustad Shafat Ahmed Khan and the pakhawaj player and ‘sound effects’ percussion maestro Pandit Bhawani Shankar take the stage of Turin’s Festival Settembre Musica on 13 September their musical chemistry is zinging. They play without the tiniest traccio (sign) of nerves but then they are unaware that Rai-Radio 3 is recording their set.

“We had done something like five concerts before Turin,” recalls Rahul. “It was one of our last concerts, just before Florence. You tend to forget that there’s an audience in front of you. It’s a very heady, intoxicating kind of effect, like you might experience when you get into deeper meditation. Once the rhythm is added it creates a kind of cycle that you sway to. We all felt happy after the concert that it had gone so very well. We were so engrossed in playing we didn’t notice the fact that it was being recorded. I had no idea that someday an album would come out.”

 

The Santoor and a Family Tradition

Fifty years ago, it would have been considered foolishness to suggest the santoor or sant_r ever gracing a classical stage in India, let alone Europe. Santoor had neither place nor standing within Hindustani classical circles. One family changed all that. Rahul’s father, Shivkumar Sharma (b 1938) coaxed an unheard voice out of the instrument or, more felicitously expressed, coaxed one out that had never existed previously. The santoor had been a lowly Kashmiri folk instrument related to the much-travelled hammer dulcimer family of instruments. As the voice of Kashmir, santoor had been fine for folk music and sufyana musiqi — a music somewhat tainted by raised-brow associations with Kashmir’s hafiza (tawaif or courtesan) entertainments. For classical music purposes, santoor stood no chance. Its voice was coarsely staccato and unable to hit the notes that raga required. Its action was too jerky to delver meend, that graceful, uninterrupted glide between notes that plays such a key role in Hindustani melody. (Meend’s nearest occidental counterpart is portamento in bowed instruments.)

Rahul’s grandfather Uma Dutt Sharma (1900-1973) was unfazed, however. He set his son Shivkumar Sharma the task of revitalising the santoor’s voice so it could take its place on the concert podium. Although santoor mythology points to it once having had 100 strings, the Kashmiri ‘folk santoor’ is an altogether simpler creation. In his quest for ‘meendability’ he trialed new configurations of strings, substituted strings made of non-traditional metals and tried alternative striker (qalam) designs. In 1955 he unveiled his new santoor in public. The family’s quest for excellence never ceased — Rahul’s santoor boasts 89 strings. In realising his father’s vision, Shivkumar Sharma developed into one of Hindustani music’s foremost raga interpreters. It would be hard to overestimate his achievement. He became a role model for anyone aspiring to musical excellence and innovation in the Hindustani realm. Musical excellence and innovation are qualities he imparted to his two sons and many students.

 

Rahul Sharma

Rahul Sharma, his second son, was born on 25 September 1972 in Bombay. Even though he was not formally introduced to the santoor until 1985, Rahul Sharma had already demonstrated his potential musicality by playing and composing on a cheap keyboard that his dad had brought back from Japan and the inevitable harmonium. In his apprentice years as a musician, Shivkumar Sharma had accompanied on tabla, something that lends a heightened awareness of taal (rhythm cycle) to his playing. He made sure that Rahul similarly had a grounding in tabla and taal. By 1996 Rahul was performing ‘proper concerts’. Since then he has recorded solo and in jugalbandi (duet) concerts with his father. Did Uma Dutt Sharma ever suspect that he was founding a musical dynasty?

Listen

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