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Pavithra Chari On Researching Khayal Music, A Residency in Nepal and More

The vocalist and co-composer of New Delhi fusion duo Shadow and Light talks about why she likes questioning things and upcoming collaborations

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Anurag Tagat Sep 21, 2019

New Delhi-based singer-songwriter and classical vocalist Pavithra Chari. Photo: Ishani Das

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It’s safe to say that New Delhi vocalist and composer Pavithra Chari has had a noteworthy few months recently. One half of fusion duo Shadow and Light, Chari was chosen for the Seashells on the Mountains artist residency in Pokhara, Nepal, featured on a fusion album called Infinity with sarod duo Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash and producer/multi-instrumentalist Karsh Kale and won the Avishai Cohen Music Award 2020 with Shadow and Light. She also got married to Shadow and Light bandmate, producer-composer Anindo Bose.

Chari said in a statement about Shadow and Light winning the recently instated award by Israeli bassist extraordinaire Avishai Cohen, “[It’s] an incredible honor given to one band across numerous bands in the world. We were told that over 200 bands from different continents had applied for this award. We will be sharing updates from the award very soon.”

The 25 year old singer-songwriter, who has trained under Indian classical powerhouse vocalist Shubha Mudgal, is currently also undertaking research on her own about possibilities of misogyny and patriarchy in the Khayal tradition. In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Chari speaks about her research and upcoming projects. Excerpts:

How did you get selected for the Seashells on the Mountains residency?

I’m really interested in residencies and fellowships which allow me to explore different sides to my craft, so I keep looking out for them. Through social media, I found out about this one because someone had posted about it and it seemed really interesting because firstly, I’d never been to Nepal, and I consider the fact that going to different places has always helped me write better music or add a little bit to my personality which then reflects into my projects.

The second thing was that it seemed like a very small number of people coming to be a part of it. There’s a total of five of us. One from Nepal, two from Asia and two from other countries. They had asked for a project proposal that I would create or am currently working on.

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A lot of fellowships invite to just make collaborative music pieces, but they may not necessarily invite you to work on a specific project proposal dedicated to the fellowship. I’m really happy that this fellowship asked for a specific project proposal.

Pavithra Chari

Pavithra Chari heads out to the Seashells on the Mountains residency and festival in Nepal next month. Photo: Puneet Jain

So it’s not so much about collaboration? 

Actually, it’s about both. We recently had a chat with the organizers of the fellowship. It culminates in a festival in Nepal (Seashells on the Mountain festival). All of us will showcase a kind of collaborative project we’ve worked on for the last 10 days of the residency.

Will you be working on your research about Khayal music at the residency?

That is a project that I’m working on separately. That began before any of this happened. I think as a student of Hindustani classical music, it’s important to have that sense of inquiry and that sense of understanding the people and compositions I’m representing on and off stage and learning about.

I feel really blessed to be part of the tradition of Khayal music and I have incredible gurus – Shubha Mudgal ji and Dr. Aneesh Pradhan – who help me train and learn in it and I see it as an evolving part of my own self. The research that I’m taking up is basically to understand and analyze everything I’m singing, to know more about the content and what the pieces are about.

I’m not here to point fingers or say that I’m going to disown it or disrespect it in any way. It’s just about building a sense of awareness about what you’re singing and you continue to do that with that awareness.

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Is it just preliminary research at this point? 

Right now, I’m working on developing my resource bank. I want to understand the tradition of Khayal compositions – their origin, socio-cultural background – before I get into the research. I’m still formulating all of this as I go. I’m doing a lot of literature review on the research and trying to identify persons I can speak with, who will throw some light on their experience in the field and the historical and socio-cultural aspects of Khayal.

I’m reaching out to as many people as I know and I’m not limiting it to just performers of Khayal, I’m also interested in speaking to people who are in the academia of Khayal music, namely scholars, writers, critics etc.

Why do you think it is that Indian classical musicians who undergo many years of training don’t seem to question the context or intention behind the compositions? 

I can only speak for myself when I say I really like questioning things. I really like to understand their relevance to my life right now. That questioning is not just limited to this genre, but also everything else I’m involved in. Whether I’m doing any other art form also. My sense of inquiry has led me to this point.

I feel there are a lot of people who are questioning it, or beginning to have conversations about it and that’s a great starting step towards understanding ourselves in this field.

What else is coming up through 2019?

There’s a lot of interesting things happening with Shadow and Light. We’ll be releasing some music, some collaborations for sure this year. We have something with the Berklee Indian Ensemble coming out, we had an album with Karsh Kale, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash come out.

Listen to ‘Infinity’ on JioSaavn  and hear “Darkness” ft Pavithra Chari below. 

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