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‘Taj ki Nayi Awaaz’ – Classical Vocalist Nirali Kartik Is the New Face of Taj Mahal Tea

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Nirali Kartik the new face of Taj Mahal tea, is a renowned Indian classical vocalist and a digital influencer who dares to propagate Indian classical music to the gen-next as her mission. engages in an interesting conversation with Nirali on her journey into the world of Indian classical music, to exploring the Indian regional folk landscape with her band  ‘Maati Bani’ which is India’s one of its kind of an Indie music band to now becoming a brand ambassador…writes Priyaankaa Mathur.

Nirali was born in a musical family her mother being a classical musician, who although could not pursue it professionally but lived her dream through her daughter and nurtured Nirali from a very tender age into music encouraging her to sing her heart out, as Nirali says, “She sewed the initial seeds of classical music in me and my brother who played the tabla. I was fond of listening to and was greatly inspired by Kishori Amonkarji and used to find her recordings whenever I had to learn a new raga. Then of the course was my guru Pandit Sanjeev Abhayankar of Mewati Gharana whom I have been listening to from the very childhood days and it was my dream to learn from him.”

So how did her formal grooming in Indian Classical Music happened tells Nirali, “Eventually looking at my growing interest in classical music my mother decided to send me to learn formally from my Guruji Sri Vikas Bhai Parikh in Ahmedabad who’s the disciple of legendary Hindustani classical vocalist Pandit Jasrajji of Mewati Gharana and that’s how my first Sanskar of Guru-Shishya Parampara happened at the age of 9 years. I learned from him for many years till in 2008 after which I came to Mumbai. Presently I am learning under the guidance of Pandit Sanjeev Abhayankar who is also one of the ace disciples of Pandit Jasrajji and he himself happens to be one of the foremost Indian classical vocalists of his country. I feel that to learn from Sanjeev Abhayankar was my dream which has been fulfilled to a point. He is not just a guru but my guide with whom I talk about everything related to music than just learn from him.”

Giving insights on the Mewati Gharana Gayaki (repertoire) Nirali says, “ In Mewati style the idea is to bring the  ‘Khyal’ meaning ‘idea’ in itself alive through ‘Bhav’ which is given prominence as it’s called a ‘Bhav Pradhan’ Gayaki, wherein the notes are pronounced very gently and pronunciations are taken care of.”

Nirali draws light on the legacy of Haweli Sangeet another especially of the Gharana, as she explains “There are many legacies associated with Indian classical music and one of them has been the Haweli Sangeet, in which the ‘Ragadari Sangeet’ or Shastriya Sangeet commonly known as classical music, has been very well blended with the Bhakti Sangeet (devotional music), so it’s a beautiful combination of Devotion and Shastra. Since ancient times Indian classical music has been nurtured, supported and practiced in the temples. India as a country has always welcomed and embraced different cultures and foreign influences. So at some point in time, our music too got influenced, but even then the temples kept the sanctity of this music and it was passed on to many generations, coming down to us now which is still prevalent in its original form.”

Today, Nirali has been chosen as the brand ambassador for Taj Mahal tea for a reason as she would be now curating the Taj Mahal tea Bhaithaks, an initiative to bring to the fore new talents in the field of Indian classical music. Taj Mahal tea as a brand has been known to proudly embrace the Indian classical music and heritage with its brand ambassadors like Ustad Zakir Hussain for making a statement with ‘Are huzoor wah taj boliye’ against the backdrop of Taj Mahal. Then came Santoor player Rahul Sharma who promoted the brand in the backdrop of the Kashmir valley and now Nirali takes ahead the baton as ‘Taj ki nayi awaaz’, in a serene corridor of a home, where she represents a woman whose day begins with a perfect cup of Taj Mahal Tea…

Talking about the classical music Baithaks which were in vogue till a few decades ago, Nirali says “Baithak culture is coming back slowly, as people are understanding its importance, as they get to experience classical music from a very close quarter. There is not much distance between them and the artists and they can actually interact with an artist, so as to experience music in a very wholesome way. I feel there is a need to build a community of classical musicians to take care of each other, giving an ear to listen to their experiences, and Baithaks could be a great format for that.”

On propagating Indian classical music, Nirali says, “I am surrounded by youngsters who just eat, sleep and drink classical music and it’s a two-way kind of inspiration as on one end I have been able to popularise this art form a little more through ‘Maati Baani’. I take a lot of inspiration on how these youngsters have dedicated their lives completely around classical music. While also there is a community of hard-core classical music lovers who are keeping the classical music tradition alive, however, it has to be appreciated at a larger scale.”

“Our youngsters must have the luxury to experience this rich art form. I feel classical music should be a part of our daily life it should be on Radio and television channels, digital media and everywhere. It doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy other genres, but since this is our legacy if we don’t enjoy and preserve it then the loss is completely ours. There is no need to understand classical music since it is something to be felt and touches on a deeper level. It is not something that can make you serious, I always believe it can beautify your solitude and adds aesthetics to your otherwise dry superficial life,” adds Nirali.

Talking about her initiatives to spread classical music Nirali says, “So be it taking Workshops or doing a talk or performing live, one thing which keeps inspiring me is that, I make sure that I want to present India’s music in a grand and most authentic way, and even if I’m doing a fusion I make sure that I present the authentic sounds of India. I have started a conversation called ‘Raga & Roll’ on YouTube with an idea to draw more people and generate more awareness about classical music, as people have a perception of not understanding it. The idea is to make them familiar with the basic terms of the genre. Many people don’t even know about what is a ‘Raga’, ‘Tala’, ‘Bandish’ or an ‘Aakar’ for which I feel bad since being Indians we all must know about our own music.”

So what’s her idea of spirituality and poetry as she tries presenting them in a different style, Nirali says, “ For me, spirituality is a way to deal with your problems in a practical way, and not just sitting at one corner to pray. I have been a Krishna lover all my life and have been singing devotional Bhajans of Shivji, Amba, Sufi, Allah. I love writings of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Khalil Gibran and for me, it’s like whenever I have any problem, I just read them and get eased. I always wondered that if Kabir and Meera would be at this age then how would they say it now?”

Her Band Maati Baani happens to be India’s very own indie music band which collaborates with artists from rural areas to street musicians to top-class artists from around the world. Talking about its inception, Nirali says, “I with my husband Kartik who comes from a totally different style of music predominantly western music, thought of collaborating Indian genres with different genres of music and so came into existence ‘Maati Bani’, which means ‘Language of the earth’ ( Mitti ki Bhasha)  wherein we tried to bring the same sense of bhakti while we collaborated with different genres to create a bouquet of music to combine elements of Hindustani Classical with various styles of folk music and new age sounds.”

‘Maatibani’ depicts the feel of rustic India while she explored the Indian regional landscape, as she says, “Our travel experiences reflect in our music, lyrics and also the way we think. We have attempted to do a lot of Rajasthani folk which is very close to classical music and sang a lot of Kabir versions with Mooralala. I think it is the richest folk culture across the world, as the kind of ‘Taleem’ they give to their children who are made to do ‘Riyaz’ from a very young age. I have heard that every village in Rajasthan has thousands of melodies and songs, and so we also discovered a form called ‘Rumaal’ which we presented through Maati Bani with the song ‘Leta jaiyo re’ We have traveled extensively in Rajasthan and kutch. It’s been an amazing journey so far as we have also collaborated with the folk music of ‘Khasi’.We also found an instrument called ‘Jodiyapawa’ a double flute, which is only found in the desert regions of India and Sindh in Pakistan and is played in Kutch and some parts of Rajasthan, which we have often used in our compositions. So if we see there, the people are the same, have the same lifestyles and even their music is very identical.”

The song ‘Balma’ was created entirely on the internet collaborating with 11 musicians across five countries, later making collaborative music a style of music-making for the band, following which they came up with a musical web series, The Music Yantra, collaborating with more than 70 artists across 30 countries.

On international collaborations and what goes behind the scenes, Nirali says, “We look forward to collaborating with musicians across the globe through the internet to fuse with them Indian classical elements and folk traditions of India. We did explore possibilities with folk musicians from Mongolia, Israel, Europe, Germany in Tedx. Collaborations with international artists are not easy since we all have different styles and have a different interpretation of the same piece of music. There is a lot of research that is put behind every collaboration which is taken care of by my husband Kartik, as we decide on the kind of genre of music we want to work on. So once we decide the genre, we search for the best musicians and then we go ahead. Like when we collaborated with Mongolians we knew that they have a very rich tradition of music but not much has been explored, so we decided to go ahead with it. Mongolian music is more of throat singing which is similar to what the Buddhist monks do, which is a very meditative and powerful technique in terms of sound. Ironically, a lot of musicians from across the world are more willing to collaborate than musicians from India. ”

Talking about her Music Inc 2.0 experience Nirali says, “I feel we need to create a community of classical musicians where they all come together, share their viewpoints and thoughts as on how we all can grow and do something bigger to take classical music to the coming generations. Music Inc. is indeed one such platform to meet like-minded people that can help take out music on a larger scale. At the moment all the artists are busy doing their own propaganda, getting concerts, and are more selfish. The need of the hour is to get a little selfless, encourage youngsters and newcomers.”

Reflecting on her Philanthropic side wherein she is training underprivileged children, she says “I always felt that as individuals and as artists we must also nurture our selfless side since that’s where the art comes from. With this thought in mind, I connected with an NGO called ‘Life Center’ wherein I try to spend time with 21 underprivileged children where I do music workshops with them. I am also in talks with another NGO wherein I will work on the aspects of expression to take workshops on confidence building, being on stage, expressions and related aspects.”

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