I always wanted to be different

“I always wanted to be different”, the crusader said. And looking at his impressive career and his long list of bouquets, I realised that he had long fulfilled his dream and had become a master in the truest sense of the term. Yes, I’ am talking about Padmashree Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the man who charmed the world and who indianised western music with his pioneering creations, the Mohan Veena and the Vishwa Veena.

Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is a name which needs no introduction in the world of music. At a time, when the world was in dire need of master guitarists, Pandit Vishwa Mohan not only mastered the guitar but also successfully indianised the western Hawaiian guitar with perfect assimilation of Sitar, Sarod & Veena techniques to create the unique Mohan Veena. Mesmerising audiences throughout the world with his blinding speed and faultless legato, Bhatt is undoubtedly one of the most expressive, versatile and greatest slide players in the world. The world charmer Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Vishwa means world, Mohan means Charm), with his sheer virtuosity and limitless supply of melodies had brought laurels to the country by winning the world’s highest recognition, the Grammy award in 1994 for the World Music Album, ‘A Meeting by the River’ with Ry Cooder. A Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, he was bestowed with the Padmashree in 2002.

Padmashree Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and the ‘Mohan Veena’ have both become synonymous over the years. The recipient of numerous awards by various premier institutions in India and abroad, the legendary musician will be performing today evening in Shilpgram on the occasion of World Music Day. The Sentinel had caught up with him for an exclusive interview as he passed through the city a few days back. Following are excerpts from the interview.

AD: Born in a family with a strong classical music background, why did you choose to play a western instrument like the guitar and what prompted you to develop such a hybrid instrument?

VB: I had always wanted to be different; do something new. I always wanted to create a new sound, new sensibilities and a new instrument that was capable of bringing out the finest nuances of Indian classical music – the finest blend of the Gayaki (vocal) and Tantrakari (instrumental) ang.

AD: Born in a family with a strong classical music background, did you family protest your decision to learn a western instrument? How difficult was it to find a teacher?

VB: People don’t expect classical music from the guitar and my family was naturally a bit worried with my choice. They opined the guitar cannot reach the same levels as the Sitar or Sarod. They warned me but I was confident with my decision. I knew I had made the right choice for I wanted to rule the world. It was very difficult to find a teacher but music was in my blood. I had seen Hawaiian guitar playing so I knew how the instrument was held and the rest I mostly did myself. I’ am self taught and even after becoming a disciple of Pt. Ravi Shankar, I learnt only the intricacies of ragas from him and not the instruments.
AD: Even though you have been playing Indian classical music for a long time, you received international acclaim with your debut fusion album. Which is more closer to your heart – classical music or fusion?

VB: Classical music was and will always remain my first love. I have always wanted to take Indian music to a global audience and did a lot of new things. Fusion is just one of them though classical music will always be my first preference.

AD: At a time when there is a lot of debate between these two forms, where exactly do you stand?

VB: Those who protested against fusion earlier are doing it themselves now. I don’t take fusion music as something bad. It is important that musicians know how to exploit their talent by channelising it in a different direction. Fusion is not Indian classical music but just has its elements. Instead of fighting, we should try to make our music global. There is a huge disparity in the sale of classical music records and world music. I can state that one Meeting by the River achieved more sales than all my 39 classical albums. The onus is on popularising Indian music and we are not diluting classical music but rather enhancing it. But classical music has its own place. It is static, trends like fusion will come and go but classical music will remain though it might not be for the masses in the future.

AD: Your world music album, Meeting by the River went on to win the Grammy award. How did you meet Ry Cooder and how did the album happen?

VB: I met Ry Cooder when I was touring US in 1992. He had heard my slide guitar album and had approached me for a fusion album. I hesitated at first for I didn’t know how he played. I agreed after a lot of persuasion and we recorded the album in just one day. It was done in a very impromptu manner and we never thought that it would receive the kind of acclaim it got. There was no editing, no machines and we did everything in one go. The recording was done with the old analogue machine for we wanted the raw sound and didn’t want any limitations. We didn’t practice and composed the songs the same day. It came straight from the heart and whatever improvisation was needed, was made at that moment itself.

AD: How has been the northeast experience till now? What is the role of music in bringing peace in the region?

VB: The northeast is a place which holds a cherished position in my heart. It reminds me of Kerela and the epitaph, God’s own country, applies to this land as well. I had a lot of engagements for World Music Day but when Theja came up with the request to perform in Guwahati on that day, I could not refuse him.
Music heals the body, mind and soul and it can definitely help in making a person a better human being, who radiates lot of positive vibrations. It purifies the soul. Have you ever heard of any musician killing or harming anyone? It instils in you a Komal Hriday (soft heart) and it can play a vital role in bringing in peace. The seven noted are the only threads binding the world. This is the gift of music.

AD: Do you have any plans to work on regional folk music?

VB: I would love to do that. In fact, I’ am planning to use the Naga choir in my next composition. Hopefully I will incorporate Naga music in my compositions very soon.


Posted on March 10, 2010, in Concerts/ Reviews, Musicians/ Bands, Personalities/ Interviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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