Baptism by Raags : So, an initiation into the South Asian classical music tradition for inexperienced listeners may just be in order.

Classical music is difficult to enjoy for the untrained ear, and it is understood that music demands investment.

Entertainment is at the core of popular music [which in no way reflects negatively on the merits of it. After all, Alif Layla Wa Lyla was pop literature] but the classical tradition thrives on the idea of  enlightenment, and the latter is not achieved easily.

However, once acquainted, the experience of classical music is truly unmatched, 24-year-old sitar nawaz Ritika Dhanja, who was part of the setlist at the festival, reflected on the desire of the new student to play popular music on their instrument.

''When I was younger, I would beg my ustaad [teacher] to teach me songs that I knew. He remained steadfast in his approach, explaining to me that mastering classical music meant mastering popular music as well.

It is much more difficult, but also so much more rewarding in the long run,'' she explained.  

Music is a wholly temporal phenomenon. It is time embellished, existing in a realm completely separate from the visual. This separation can often lead to ecstatic experiences, aiding listeners briefly blinded to the source of their pleasure to contemplate the divine in the empty place.

However, for the uninitiated, especially when it comes to music belonging to the South Asian classical  tradition, visuality can be the key to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the art form.

The way the tabla nawaz strikes their instrument, or the dexterity with which the sitar nawaz moves their fingers to create a stream of beautiful music helps bridge the gap caused by unfamiliarity with the genre for newer listeners.

Through viewing the mathematical complexity of its production, the music is elevated and its nuances made somewhat accessible.

Such is the power of live music, even when prerecorded and presented through the constricted dimensions of television or smartphone screen.

The Tehzeeb Foundation's recent recordings for their annual music festival, this year presenting its 12th edition,  hope to revive the South Asian musical tradition in the mainstream through  the newly realized power of the digital space.

While the South Asian classical music still thrives in the basic makeup of popular South Asian music, be it through Bollywood or Coke Studio, purer forms of it have been relegated to the realm of the past, serving purposes of nostalgia [alone] [at least in the eyes and ears of younger initiated listeners].

While the syncretic South Asian classical music is rooted firmly in the past, [ although the issue of postcolonial identity politics leaves this past somewhat muddled], the space for innovation and evolution within it is in many ways boundless.

The incorporation of western instruments such as the harmonium and violin with the genre is a testament to its fluidity and acceptance. While the raag remains fundamentally unchanged the composition continues to evolve and shift.

It is like the musical composition with varying arrangements of language and stressors.

Many experts believe that it is time to take issue with popular fusion music over its lack of compositional innovation, which could for sure help take the tradition forward and evolve within the mainstream, not leaving it to stagnate, enshrined as an art form of the past.

The World Students Society thanks author Rajaa Moini.


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