By Samir Shukla
Niladri Kumar is an amazing young sitar player. He hails from a lineage of five generations of sitar players and trained under his father and guru Pandit Kartick Kumar. Niladri Kumar will perform in two North Carolina cities in October with the legendary tabla master Zakir Hussain. Kumar is a total master of the sitar and invented his own electric version of the sitar called Zitar. He has lent his sitar and Zitar prowess to numerous films over the years including Baahubali, Aashique 2, Dedh Ishqiya, Dhoom 2, and Paheli. He has also worked with guitarist John McLaughlin and Talvin Singh, among many others. And of course he is currently touring with Zakir Hussain. Kumar says the performances in North Carolina are strictly North Indian traditional classical music with the classic sitar and tabla duo. The shows are essentially “don't miss" affairs for anyone who loves Hindustani music. Here is a short chat with Niladri Kumar.
Can you give a brief bio of your background and musical journey?
I learnt sitar and the music to be played on it from my father Pandit Kartick Kumar. My fore fathers were all sitar players from Dhaka erstwhile east Bengal and I am the fifth in the generational line of sitar players. The rest of me is available on www.niladrikumar.com. Please do have a look and read and I hope it would be worth your time.
You are performing with Zakir Hussain in North Carolina on Oct 8 and 9. Who are the other accompanying musicians, if any?
Yes. It's a big honor and blessing to be performing alongside the legendary Ustad Zakir Hussain ji. This concert is just a duo of tabla and sitar. A traditional North Indian classical concert.
Talk a little about this current tour with Zakirji. What can we expect?
For any musician of my generation and others it's an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to perform with Ustad Zakir Hussain ji. For me especially, I feel humbled and special at the same time. As you are all aware of the genius of Zakir ji, you sure can expect that in abundance and I hope to play the sitar to try and keep time with him.
What is your assessment of the current state of Indian classical music in India as well as the rest of the world?
It's a question which has different answers at different levels. But to keep it precise Indian classical music is the music of this land and as long as we cherish being who we are this music will always be there and also prosper and spread its fragrance to different corners of the globe. This music has this very special introvertish quality of happiness within, it almost makes you dance not necessarily outwardly and physically but more importantly within your being. So as long as any form of music survives in this universe, Indian classical music will be with it.
How do you see yourself, or what role do you play in bringing Indian classical music to the young digital generation? In essence, how do you create new fans of traditional music?
That's a good question. How do you create new fans? A big part in a musicians life goes in firstly carving a niche among the already fans of this traditional art form. And then try and create interest among the non initiated is almost a job for another life but has to be done at the same time. I feel that somehow the young new generation is extremely smart and they get it very quick but it's important to be able to speak and relate to them in a language that keeps their interest alive in it. We are at a time which is somewhat like a crossroad where although we are in this digital age with this wide huge reach but the numbers of Indian music being consumed is dwindling instead of growing. So somewhere I feel a huge gap is being created and before its get too far and wide it's imperative that we have to keep the tradition alive through innovation.
Who are your veteran music heroes as well as younger musicians that you admire?
There are far too many to give in a few names. It's not fair to leave some for the need of word space. I have had numerous Heroes who I have not just admired but even followed and try to emulate.
Will you be playing the Zitar at this concert? Give a brief description of the Zitar.
No. I am not playing the Zitar. I am going to play only the Sitar. The Zitar is an electric sitar and is a result of following a passion and dreaming of a world which only existed in my dreams. Someday it might be reality.
What are your current projects or recordings?
I am working on a couple of albums simultaneously and have been going to and fro on it for various reasons. Hopefully will have something to release by this year end.
Anything else you would like to tell the audience in North Carolina?
Firstly thank you for asking me these questions and hope my answers will create an interest for you to come and witness the greatest magic in music of our times the one and only Ustad Zakir Hussain.
Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Niladri Kumar will perform on Sat, October 8 (8pm) in Durham. The concert is organized through Duke Performances. Tickets are now on sale via tickets.duke.edu. They will both also perform on Sun, October 9 (4pm) in Charlotte. The concert is organized through IPAAC (www.ipaac.org). Tickets are now on sale via tix.cpcc.edu.