Bhajan Samrat Padma Shree Anup Jalota belongs to the Shyam Chaurasi Gharana of Hindustani Classical music and mastered the art under the able guidance of his father the legendary Classical Vocalist Padma Shree Pt.Purushottam Das Jalota. Here, he talks about his evolution from learning classical music to becoming the Bhajan Samrat in an exciting conversation with Loudest.in.
Talking about his musical lineage, Jalota says, “I was born into a traditional family of musicians belonging to the Shyam Chaurasi Gharana of Hindustani Classical music. My father, Pt. Purushottam Das Jalota was the disciple of master Ratan in Punjab, Phagwara. In 1949 he came to Lucknow and then started performing classical music concerts. I was born in 1953, and from an early age, I showed an inclination towards music. Whenever he used to do his Riyaz, I sat for hours listening to him and eventually started grasping the nuances of music. By the time I reached the age of 7, my voice had developed. In one of his concerts where I was sitting behind him on the stage, he asked me to sing a solo bhajan, ‘Thumak Chalat Ram Chandra’. That was the day I started getting programs. I wanted to reach a larger audience, and so I did not choose Indian Classical music like my father and chose to sing Bhajans and Ghazals.”
Talking about the repertoire of the Shyam Chaurasi Gharana, Jalota says, “This Gharana stresses on the sweetness and beauty of a musical rendition. Legendary singers like Salamat Ali & Nazakat Ali Khan belonged to this Gharana. If we look at their renditions, we see how beautifully they rendered the compositions with small ‘Sargams,’ i.e. musical permutations of notes. Whenever I perform a bhajan or a Ghazal, I try to adorn them with small ‘Sargams’ that helps to elaborate the underlining raga behind the composition and also makes it more appealing to the listeners. I am not a classical vocalist, but I use the classical essence to beautify my music.”
Stressing on the importance of learning classical music, Jalota says, “I feel it is imperative to learn it because it enriches your music and your technique, be it of any form. I have a lot of students to whom I do teach classical music, who come and sing and in-turn teach other students, what I teach them, and so the tradition goes on. Without a strong base in classical music, it is difficult to venture into any form of music because it’s like a foundation for any form of music, i.e. Bhajan, Ghazal, Sufi or even film music. That’s what I tell today’s generation of aspiring musicians to do.”
It is believed that the name Shyam Chaurasi Gharana is associated with the saint Shami Shah who was awarded a cluster of 84 villages from the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah’ Rangila’. Jalota talks about its origin and repertoire, saying, “Shami Shah was a spiritual saint who propagated spiritual music and created a lot of classical bandishes (compositions) and also taught many people. Eventually, some of the bandishes have come to us from his decedents and disciples, which Salamat Ali and Najakat Ali Khan and my father also sang and taught me. Some of the popular bandishes of the Gharana are ‘Lat Ulji Sulja Ja Balam’ in Raga Bihag which Pandit Jasraj Ji sings a lot. It was once that Pandit Jasrajji heard my father sing Raga Bihag, he got so inspired with my father’s rendition that he started performing Raga Bihag and this Bandish quite often.”
Jalota adds, “So if we look at history, Classical music was a genre of the saints. It was in the temples of Ancient India that this genre was sung by saints to please the Gods. It was not for the masses or performing artists or entertainers at that time. We see that Swami Haridas was a saint, was one of the greatest maestros of classical music, who had two disciples Tansen and Baiju Bawra. Swami Haridas Ji did not approve Tansen to work in Emperor Akbar’s court to present classical music as he took to entertaining the king and the court. While he taught Baiju Bawra to please the lord and spread joy with his music.
Talking about his spiritual inspirations and the Sufi mystics he loves to sing in his devotional repertoire, Jalota says, “I have sung the true saints Meera, Kabir, Surdas, Tulsidas, Nanak, Haridas. They used to compose near the banks of Ganga and leave it in the river, while their devotees used to collect them and that’s how their writings were preserved. Why those compositions are still sung is that they had devoted their lives in the spiritual ecstasy. These compositions have a striking nostalgia which a devotee feels for the lord depicting immense purity, and that’s why they touch the soul. Although we have many writers and poets today, they are unable to create that effect in the poetry, the reason being the loss of that emotional connect or rather being more commercial. It loses the spiritual essence of the compositions. I sing ‘Thumak Chalat Ram Chandra’, ‘Jo Bhaaye Hari Ko Sada, ‘Chandariya Jeeni Re Jheeni’, ‘Maiya Mori Mai Nahi Makhan Khayo’ to name a few of my favourite poems of the saints.”
Talking about captivating his audiences far and wide, Jalota says, “When I’m on the stage I sing for my audiences and try to find a common factor to present something that not only I love to sing but also the audiences relish. Most of the time, musicians think that they are singing for themselves, which is not the right way of a stage presentation. So whatever Bhajan or Ghazals I sing I relish them first and then only my audiences relish them. I remember thousands of Bhajans, Ghazals and compositions as I feel that it’s important to give 100% input to your music. Only then your audiences connect to you!”
Talking about the scope of devotional Music and Ghazal, “At this time devotional music has a lot of scope as there people who want to listen to Bhajans on various religious occasions Hanuman Jayanti, Shivratri, Janmashtami or be it Sai Sandhya or Mata ki Chaoki which people organize to commemorate occasions in life too. But, for ghazal, there is no festival, and that’s why the art is facing negligence.”
On initiatives to streamline music, Jalota says, “I strongly feel that we have a powerful medium and need to keep traditional music on the priority if we see we have our national television ‘Doordarshan‘ which has an extensive reach if they utilize it properly. A lot needs to be done in terms of programming and the government should make a channel where Indian traditional music forms, classical, folk, bhajan, ghazal, thumri, dadra and semi-classical forms should be played and gradually a media policy should also be formed.”
Talking about his stint on propagating Bhajans on Radio and Television shows, “I did a morning show on 92.7 Big FM called ‘Seher’ which was an excellent experience. I recited beautiful shloka and some positive thought for the day towards leading a mentally healthy life and then presented a bhajan for the listeners and narrated the story and meaning behind each bhajan. We did at least 400 shows for them and introduced many upcoming Bhajan artists while also played their pre-recorded music and CDs on the show. There is another talk show ‘Ubharte Sitare’ where I took interviews of the upcoming artists of today who are performing Indian classical music, semi-classical, bhajans and ghazals.”
“One thing is for sure that television has contributed a lot in popularising devotional music as we have 10-12 devotional channels today, which play it all through the day. I too have sung across regional languages and have made many albums in Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi,” adds Jalota.
Talking on the music reality shows and how it helps to promote the upcoming musicians, “They are good opportunities, but at the same time, it’s important to have a good foundation of music rather than learning few songs what they perform on the shows. What I have observed is that if later they are asked to perform something different, they are unable to perform. So it’s important to enrich the Gayaki and not the song, that they learn by heart. It’s good to listen and sing to all genres of music, but if you learn and listen to classical music, you can understand the nuances of any form of music.”
Talking about the Big Boss experience, “Well, the show helped in a way that even the younger generation knows me, now they are listening to Bhajans. These shows help showcase artists as there are tasks and it’s good to play them in good spirit.”
The Jalota Welfare foundation ‘Glory’ Awards is in an initiative to honour the legendary performers in the field of Indian Classical music, Bhajan, Playback and Classical dance forms. The foundation confers 4 sets of awards. Bhajan Samrat Padmashree Purshottamdas Jalota Sangeet Seva Puraskar which has been awarded to legendary classical vocalists Gana Saraswati Smt. Kishori Amonkar, Pt. Rajan Sajan Mishra, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma. While the Bhajan Maharshi Pt. Hari Om Sharan Puraskar is awarded to eminent Bhajan performers like Sharma Bandhu and Pt. Bhajan Sapori, Shri. Suresh Wadkar. Dr Ravindra Jain Bahumukhi Pratibha Puraskar has been awarded to the playback Singers like Udit Narayan, Smt. Hemlata and Shrimati Medha Jalota Shreshthatam Medhavee Nrityangna Puraskar was awarded to the dancers Ms Prateeksha Kashi, Ms Shweta Prachande and many more over the years.
Talking on the initiative to promote art, culture, and education, Jalota said, “We are promoting the traditional music of India which includes not only classical music but also Sugam Sangeet genres like bhajan, ghazal, geet which enchant the listeners with there melodies. The foundation recognizes new talents, thereby providing performance opportunities to the upcoming generation of musicians.”
Jalota Concludes with his Music Inc 2.0 experience, saying “Music Inc. has been a great experience for meeting people, listening to viewpoints on how to go global. I believe in that music is like a free bird, so it has to travel far and wide. I met Ricky Kej at the conference who has made India proud by getting a Grammy, and we should honour such musicians who take India on the global pedestal.”