1.Be Serious : Every young Hindustani musician now dabbles in ‘fusion’. It doesn’t help to be perceived as the ‘bandwagon’ variety, so nurturing a serious disposition is an imperative. The seriousness has little to do with the music. You just have to ensure that you give the right interviews and make appropriately serious comments. The objective is simple: establish the general practice of fusion as flippant but your fusion as meaningful.

2. Quiver of Quotes : You must enter each interview with at least 10 curated quotes. And undeterred by the line of questioning, you must spout at least five. Here is a must-have: “I resisted collaborative music (never say ‘fusion’) for the longest time. I knew that I would come into it only when I felt I could add some value to the genre.” (If the interviewer insists on specifics of how you have added value, deftly change the topic. Refer to next tip.)

3. Cite Precedent : This is the safest escape route from uncomfortable questioning. Conjure up a mild sense of indignation at the interviewer’s ignorance and say, “Hindustani musicians have been collaborating with other genres for the longest time.” Then comes the crucial exercise of choosing your example. Referring to Pandit Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass/Zubin Mehta might render you a tad disingenuous. You might do better with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and John Handy. For real impact, you could say that even Ustad Alauddin Khan used western classical instruments in his Maihar band — so that was a merger of musical cultures as well. And if you really want to push the envelope, you should say that Hindustani music is itself a fusion of various musical influences. When pressed to name these influences, just say ‘various folk forms’. That is the point from which no conversation on Indian music has ever returned.

4. Urdu : You must be able to go on and on about the richness of Urdu poetry and how it has changed your perspective on music. If you are trying to impress a liberal-arts sort, you could say that your orientation in Hindustani music had made you oblivious to lyrics, but immersion in Urdu poetry has given your music a new aesthetic perch. You absolutely must set a few Urdu poems to tune and perform them. If you are a vocalist, you must put hours of riyaaz into improvisations around the word ‘Maula’ — especially into perfecting variations around the last long vowel, which you should be able to deliver both as passionate yelp and intricate whisper.

5. Raga Jog and Raga Miyan ki Malhar : You must have a good command over these two ragas. Even if you choose not to bother with the entire ragaroop , please practise all the two- gandhar possibilities of Jog and the two- nishad combinations of Miyan ki Malhar. You will be considered a fusion outcast if you exercise any restraint in introducing these note axes whenever you are singing an alaap-like passage.

6. Higher Octaves : This is not a metaphor. Whether you are a vocalist or an instrumentalist, you have to display great facility with the higher notes. Not all listeners will find comfort in poetry — for them, you must bring out your higher octave artillery. If you can perform a gradually rising sequence that culminates in the third octave tonic, perfect: you will melt in the applause. If you can hit it again and again, you will be a legend.

7. Either Speed or Husk : Nothing sells like virtuosity. Faster you sing/play, higher the impact. What you are performing ceases to matter if you are performing it at great speed and in the reasonably right pitch. You can get away with not performing fast only if you have a husky voice. Your music will then be differently contextualised: deep and reflective. But to pull this off, you will need reams of Urdu poetry.

8. Wardrobe : You must, with all your heart, hold on to that turquoise kurta with golden embroidery/pink-and-green Kanjeevaram. In a group where all your ‘western’ collaborators are dressed in clothes that border on the normal, your silks will stand for the tradition you represent and your unwillingness to dilute merely to blend in.

9. Distinct Entity : You must always maintain that your classical self is distinct from your collaborative self. You have to insist that when you perform classical, listeners don’t detect even a tinge of your fusion avatar in your music. However, when you talk of your abilities in fusion, you should absolutely attribute them to your ‘solid foundation’ in Hindustani music.

10. Disaffection : This is the most difficult skill to acquire. You cannot sound too keen about how fusion has opened up amazing opportunities to collaborate with musicians around the world. You will risk veering towards the flippant lot. And yet you can’t come across as stuck-up. The right degree of disaffection helps to communicate that all-important message: even though you are involved in fusion, you fundamentally continue to define yourself as a Hindustani musician.

Arunabha Debis a Kolkata-based lawyer and a music writer


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