How did music come your way Soma Ghosh ji ?
I inherited music from my mother, Smt. Archana Chakravarty a vocalist of Senia gharana and my first guru. Even while in her womb, I would rest happily if she sang! As a small child I would play, but would run to her lap as soon as she started teaching her students. At the small age of 4 yrs, she heard me sing and thereafter started training me. This started my musical journey!
Shehnai Samrat Bismillah Khan ji was your mentor, any unforgettable memory that you would like to share with us?
Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan was not my “guru” but definitely my mentor… he was like the Goldsmith who cut the raw diamond out and presented me to the world. He encouraged and gave me the wings to fearlessly fly in the musical horizon!! So many memories with him… the best I may say is his ‘manglorie black topiee’ that he wore for our first jugalbandi. He said, “Duniya ko Mai kaise kahun ki hum kitne khus hai … Mera manglorie topi, Jo Mai apni jawani mein pahenta tha, kahegi ki Mai Dil se yeh jugalbandi Kar Raha Hoon”
When he came to the auditorium for the jugalbandi, he was wearing his usual Gandhi topi… My heart sank on seeing the white topi. I bowed and touched his feet to take his blessings before the show. As I looked up, he was wearing the Black manglorie topi. My heart sang and all fear left me. He said, ” Tum Sher ki tarha gao, Mai tumhare piche piche rahunga!!”
Such was his greatness!
Tell us about your journey from learning music to getting title as Gandharva Kokila.
I have learned Hindustani classical music from 4 gurus. Smt. Archana Chakravarty, Shri Narayan Chakravarty,(both of Senia gharana) Shri Chittaranjan Jyotishi ji of Gwalior gharana and Smt. Bageshwari Devi of Banaras gharana. After my marriage, when I settled in Mumbai, I met Ustad Bismillah Khan sahab. And I overnight became what I am.
Baba…I mean Ust. Bismillah Khan, gave me the title of ‘Kashi Kokila’ at the Swarangana Sangeet Sammelan. But, during a concert for the Mumbai Rotary club, Vipin Reshamiya, the famous musician and also the father of music director, Himesh Reshamiya, gave me the title of ‘Gandharva Kokila’ – This helped me culminate into what I am today and the name stuck ever since.
Who has influenced you the most in Sangeet gharanas.
Every Gharana has its strong points. I got musical depth & flight of imagination from Senia gharana. From Gwalior gharana I got emotional rendering in my singing and Banaras gharana rounded up my entire musical upbringing. I must say that I got the best from all the three Gharanas!
Tell us about your Parampara concerts to help conserve the Indian culture through music. How did you develop this concept?
Naushad Ali, the legendary music director and Ust. Bismillah Khan were discussing the dire condition of Indian musical instruments, many of which were becoming endangered. Naushad ji, entrusted me with the great responsibility of trying to save these endangered instruments… This started my Prampara series. The then President, Hon Dr. A.P.J.A. Kalam strongly supported me in this noble cause, and came for the inauguration of my first 3 day music festival.
Tell us your voyage with Bhavanjali ?
After my training had reached a certain level, Guru Pt. Chittaranjan Jyotishi, inspired few of us to start performing before an audience. For this purpose, we formed Bhavanjali, a musical platform for all of us. Our first song & dance drama ran in to financial problem and taught us the importance of marketing. We learned the harsher realities of life. But thanks to my elder brother, Shri Amitabh Chakravarty, and our grit, we managed to keep Bhavanjali going for a few years. But after a few years, I got married and then had to shift to Mumbai.
You mesmerized your audiences with pliable voice that enables you to take the Taar Saptak without a falsetto note, how much did you have to practice to achieve this?
‘Taar saptak’ is a very beautiful note that can be achieved only after dedicated practice over years. My mother and her guru-bhai, Shri Narayan Chakravarty, made me practice this for years.
Why music should be compulsory in every school? And could you tell us about your efforts in helping Indian classical music reach to maximum number of students and the younger generation.
According to APJ Abdul Kalam Sahab, without music, humans are no different than animals, and I wholeheartedly agree. It is our culture that separates us. Music has a great de-stressing effect on humans. Kids today lead very stressful lives, competition is increasing and their lifestyles are getting more and more hectic, but their increasing dependence on fast rhythmic western music keeps them perpetually excited- on the other hand, singing and practicing Indian classical music is a form of yoga, the breathing techniques and vibrations help calm you and make you healthier. Earlier in our school days, we used to have several extra-curricular activity classes in which we had poetry, song dance & dramas. Gradually these classes vanished from the curriculum and students were burdened with only heavy studies. This has to change.
I then undertook several performances across Uttar Pradesh through Spick Macay and reached Ragadari singing to the students. Through my travels, I realized that Folk music across North India was now skewed, bordering on double meaning vulgarity! This pushed me to approach the Ministry of Culture with a project on Indian folk music and spreading awareness about it in several schools and colleges. The Ministry welcomed my proposal and I started reaching out to the students. I performed in major States and invited singers and dancers from adjoining States. The students loved each performance, their vehement appreciation was evident when the students at each school then performed an impromptu folk dance recital!!
I am truly grateful that God has given me the means & opportunity to serve the cause of Indian music, especially folk music, in which the roots of classical music lies. I am very glad that the Education Ministry has woken up and trying to re-induct such extracurricular classes that de-stresses the students and imbibes our cultural heritage in them.
You have launched many music albums, which one is your own favorite and why?
You might have noticed that I first try to steep myself in a particular form of music that I plan to record and then done my recordings. When I was steeped only in Raagdari, I sang in duet with Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan and there are two very popular albums with Times Music. Some beautiful solo renderings of Ragas on HMV.
Then came a phase of folk music. I recorded several Thumri, Hori & Kajari albums.
Naushadji had made me promise that my next project should be focused on Ghazal. “Aap je gayeki mein Maine Begum ki rooh payi hai Somaji. Aap Ghazal jaroor gayein!” But I had to take my time and imbibe and perfect the finer nuances of Ghazal gayeki before I could record myself. As I was recording my first Ghazal album ‘Ishq’, I was heartbroken to learn that Naushad ji had passed away. The album went on to gain tremendous popularity and I dedicated the album to him.
Simultaneously, several religious channels approached me to sing Bhajans for them. Sanskar channel regularly broadcasts my Bhajans and Sanskrit sloka albums. I feel immensely indebted to my listeners when I find that most of my albums are at the top of the charts in each genre.
When can we see you as playback singer for Bollywood films?When I was steeped in Indian Classical music, my friend, Himesh Reshammiya, had asked me to sing several of his compositions. Then, I was at a stage in my career that prevented me from branching out of classical music. But I did sing one song for his movie ‘Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye’, which had Thumri ang rendering in the song. But now I’m at that point where I’ve established my classical ground and I’m very open to film music, if it fits my music profile & my taste.
Apart from music, if given a chance will you ever join politics?
I will do whatever it takes to make sure that Indian music is saved (preserved & propagated) in it’s full glory. For that if I have to join politics – so be it!
What is your plan for the future?
I was entrusted by Baba, Ust Bismillah Khan Sahab and Naushad ji with the responsibility of creating a ‘Sangeet Gram’- a gurukul that adheres to the traditional Guru Shishya parampara of imparting education in music, where a Guru teaches aspiring students whilst also saving endangered instruments and gharana traditions- be it instrumental, vocal, or dance- both folk and classical. We will audio and video record the masters for our archives for future reference for the generations to come, so the art form survives. We have already equipped ourselves with a recording studio with video cameras for the same. If all goes well, we will be starting Sangeet Gram by this time next year.
What is your message to our readers?
I wholeheartedly believe in the therapeutic effects of Indian classical music. In fact, after Chota Khayal, I researched on the psychosomatic effects of music on human beings. My request to the readers is to make music a part of lives, to listen to music when they can, and to live healthily!!
This reminds me of something that happened recently. After a concert at NCPA last year, a man came forward to speak to me. He told me he was a Commander in the Naval forces. He was stationed in a submarine and had suffered a stroke that paralysed him. He then found solace in Ras Barse, a live recording of my jugalbandi with Baba, Bismillah Khan Sahab. He listened to it every day for 7 years and recovered without any surgical intervention. He found strength in it to get better, to overcome his illness. He is now hale and hearty, and continues to serve the country.
Another thing I want to tell my readers is that folk music, our Lok Sangeet, has in it the roots of all forms of Indian classical music. It is fluid and ever evolving, accompanying every aspect of our lives, being equally bonded to our cultural heritage.
However, I find it alarming that this very folk music as a part of movies, the largest way of reaching the masses in my honest opinion, is losing its essence, it’s lyrics are bordering on being vulgar. These ‘item songs’ are warping our perception, moving us away from how we need to perceive women, taking us away from an ideal society. If we lose our moorings, we lose who we are. As I traveled across India for the ‘Bharatiya Lok Sangeet’ series, I targeted schools and colleges and interacted with thousands of students, so that I could present to them folk music that not only entertains but also educates- it makes us better humans. It brought me immense gratification to note that they not only appreciate our heritage, but also want to learn more about it. They just need to be exposed to it, and that responsibility falls on us.
How did you feel after getting the Padma Shri award?
In the beginning, I was just happy… But gradually I understood that I have added responsibilities. I have to work harder to save our Musical/Cultural heritage and also save the endangered musical instruments of my country. This a never-ending task as our senior gurus are all getting older. In fact, we have now to take urgent care of our Gurus in order to save our heritage.