Kaushiki - a phenomenon in Hindustani music

Volume 12, Issue 3  | 
Published 01/03/2016

Navrang Arts have done it again! They have brought, for our entertainment and our learning, a very unique musical ensemble – unique in its home country India and even more extraordinary in Kenya. An all-women group encompassing vocal, string, harmonium and tabla. On the evening of 14 November, 2015, Nairobians graced the Visha Oshwal auditorium in large numbers to partake of this rare and inspiring performance of Indian classical music. Kaushiki Chakraborty was the vocalist and she was accompanied by Paromita Mukherjee (Harmonium), Savani Talwalkar (Tabla) and Manali Ghosh (Taanpura).

Kaushiki Chakraborty was a child prodigy - at the age of two she could reproduce Hindustani classical vocal patterns. Maestros visiting the ITC Sangeet Research Academy (SRA), where Kaushiki grew up, soon discovered a new game: they would hurl the most complex of patterns at her, using only the 'aa' vowel instead of pronouncing the notes, and wait for her to identify the notes and reproduce the patterns. This is something she could do instantly and consistently. At 12, she was a scholar at the ITC SRA, at 14, she was on a 50-concert tour in the USA with her father and guru Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, at 16, she took the world of music by storm with her first solo concert in Delhi and by her early twenties she was being hailed as the brightest young female vocalist of her generation.

Over the last decade, she has successfully obliterated the gender qualifier. Connoisseurs agree that Kaushiki is, quite simply, the best Hindustani vocalist of her generation today; she has had the privilege of performing in every major Hindustani music festival in India. Additionally she holds a Masters in Philosophy from Jadavpur University in Kolkata, her birth place.

Kaushiki began her training under her mother Smt. Chandana Chakraborty. Subsequently, she has had the privilege of becoming the disciple of several gurus, including becoming a disciple of her father under whom she continues to learn. Her taalim under her gurus, especially her father, has ensured that she has equal command over the various vocal forms that fall under the umbrella of Hindustani music.

Her prowess as a khayal singer is well known, but she is adept at singing other ‘light classical’ genres like thumri, dadra, kajri, chaiti, bhajan etc. Whatever her chosen form, her singing is characterized by a fine balance of virtuosity, intellectual rigour and aesthetic sensibility. Her mature vistaars in khayal and her emotionally charged improvisations in thumris are as powerful as her supersonic taans across three and a half octaves. Some aspects of the Patiala style are tailored for the male voice and Kaushiki has excluded these from her singing. This is not to say that her singing style is stereotypically feminine, with an overt emphasis on sweetness. She has carefully blended lilt and force to forge a gayaki that is distinctively her own.

Kaushiki’s versatility has enabled her to be part of several projects outside the traditional space of Hindustani music. She has shared album space with the likes of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Smt. Lata Mangeshkar in Jana Gana Mana. Recently, Kaushiki has lent her voice to a number of film soundtracks singing in Bengali, Tamil and Hindi. Her performance of an original song on the popular music programme MTV Coke Studio has won her many new fans across the globe. She has recorded many albums and has received several prestigious awards in India and from the BBC.

In her younger days Kaushiki trained for 8- 10 hours a day but nowadays, she practices for 4-5 hours on average. Her hobbies are cooking, photography and collecting artifacts.

In 2015, through Kaushiki Arts Pvt Ltd, she formed the first ever all-women Indian Classical music ensemble SAKHI. As the name suggests, SAKHI is a group of six young women from India who excel in vocal, violin, flute, dance, tabla and pakhawaj (percussion instrument). Previously there have been renowned women instrumentalists in India who played the flute, violin and veena.

SAKHI is about understanding, from a female perspective, the diverse culture of India through all its traditional musical forms. A country whose society was founded in ancient times in Vedic spirit with the highest respect for the matriarch, to the modern day struggles and triumphs of women - with female feticide side by side with female political leaders, where today’s woman is being exploited in every way possible.

It is a unique concept where these Indian female artists give musical expression to female mythological figures like Durga, believed to be the spirit of power; Kali - the spirit of destruction, Saraswati – the spirit of knowledge; Draupadi – the heroine of the epic Mahabharata with her 5 husbands and one of the earliest representatives of an Indian woman, free to choose her own life partners; Kunti – the single matriarch that could institute such a polygamous union for Draupadi. Historic female characters like Meera and Radhika are believed to be the spirits of devotion – all are still held with the highest regard in the culture and music.

The musical genres which are encompassed are Khayal bandish (lyrics from female perspective); Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, Hori, Kajri; Tarana-Thillana; sargams without lyrics; Bhajan; Folk and some unique compositions. The public response to SAKHI has been fabulous and in this short time it has performed in India, Netherlands and the USA.

Another real novelty was Savani Talwalkar the tabla player. Drumming has always been a very male skill in both Indian and African traditions so it was very inspirational to see this young woman beating the rhythm. Her father is a well-known tabla player and her mother a vocalist so she had all the encouragement she needed.

Paromita Mukherjee belongs to a musical family and started learning Harmonium and Violin at the age of ten. She has university degrees in Violin, Vocal and Western music, has performed in music festivals, concerts and solos in India and globally and has accompanied many prominent vocalists.

Last modified on Tuesday, 08 March 2016 20:21

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