Shubha Mudgal raising her voice in Dubai to promote Indian classical music

Indian vocal virtuoso Shubha Mudgal will be performing with maestro Aneesh Pradhan and classical harmonium player Sudhir Nayak at the Emirates NBD Classics III concert at Ductac on Friday.
Shubha Mudgal has won the Padma Shri for her musical contribution in India. Courtesy Shubha Mudgal
Shubha Mudgal has won the Padma Shri for her musical contribution in India. Courtesy Shubha Mudgal

A quick internet search for the Indian vocal virtuoso Shubha Mudgal brings up an exhaustive list of compositions and collaborations – from her base in Hindustani classical music to experiments in popular music.

The 55-year-old musician, known for her cross-generational appeal, will be performing with her husband and tabla maestro Aneesh Pradhan along with classical harmonium player Sudhir Nayak at the Emirates NBD Classics III concert at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre on Friday. The artist, who started out as a student of the thumri and khayal forms of classical music, talks about her desire to raise the profile of classical music and promote independent artists through her online music label.

What keeps bringing you back to perform in Dubai?

I’m delighted to see there is a sustained effort to promote classical arts from India here. I think traditional arts, in general around the world, are not finding the kind of support that popular music has. And while I am an admirer of popular music and have a long-standing engagement with it in India, I also think it is very important to look at heritage and the traditional roots of music.

Do you remember the moment when you decided music would be your future?

Quite vividly, in fact. When I was 17, I was learning Kathak [Indian classical dance] and had to present a section called abhinay [mime] and an expressive interpretation of thumri lyrics. My mother said I should learn the lyrics. She was keen that I study music as an interdisciplinary subject, and I enjoyed my lessons. She asked me to take a year off to decide whether I should make a full-time commitment to music and that changed my life completely.

Were you drawn to any particular kind of music when growing up?

I was fortunate to grow up in a home that respected the arts and I was given the opportunity to listen to a lot of music. So, I was drawn to all sorts of music, but growing up in Allahabad I got the opportunity to pursue Hindustani music. One of the greatest scholar musicians, Ramashreya Jha, was teaching at the Allahabad University, where my parents taught, too. I got to learn from him. At the same time, my father had a great fondness for ghazals, qawwali and non-Indian music.

How could classical music be brought to a wider audience?

There are a lot of people learning classical music and consider it a stepping stone to practise many other forms of music. But the problem is getting funds for such performances. Classical music does not get the support that popular music has. I think we need to include arts education in our mainstream school education system and talk more about the diverse heritage of India. Once people are aware there is so much more to listen to than what is on TV, the audience for such shows will increase.

You’ve also had indie-pop hits such as Pyar Ke Geet and Ab Ke Sawan in the late 90s. What are you working on in the non-classical arena?

When I was first invited to record an album of non-classical music, it was unfamiliar territory and I was a little apprehensive. It was my curiosity of other forms of music that got me to agree. A few years ago, I collaborated with two electronic musicians Business Class Refugees. More recently, I recorded a track with Indian Ocean.

How does Underscore Records provide a platform for independent artists?

Aneesh and I decided to start this in 2003, before the e-commerce boom. We noticed several brilliant musicians were going unnoticed because they were not aware of the business angle and marketing in the music industry.

We set up a music channel where these artists could record, publish and distribute independently without it costing them an arm and a leg. So everything, right from the quality control and length of their pieces to the pricing, is controlled by the artist. We have managed to put more than 300 albums out there so far, and also sell a large number of Hindi and regional language music books and material.

What album are you listening to at the moment?

I am listening to works by one of the greatest singers of thumri – Siddheshwari Devi. It’s a beautiful, powerful and masterful work from a musician who sang with a great deal of passion and yearning and whom I’ve admired immensely.

• Shubha Mudgal performs at Ductac on Friday at 8pm. Tickets are from Dh150 and can be booked on

Published: December 2, 2014 04:00 AM


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