"Growing up as a kid, I used to watch all these 'reality shows' on TV, and they were all for film music. I used to think, I wish there was something like this for classical music," says sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee. Although he doesn't exactly want the kind of reality shows we see on television today, Purbayan is glad that a different avenue has opened up over the years for classical musicians to reach their audience.
Earlier, performers could reach their audience through live concerts and in the form of recorded music – vinyls, cassettes and CDs. Digitization has changed that. A platform like YouTube has made it possible for any artist to put out their work on the web space and reach an audience.
Purbayan takes us through the whole process of evolution in music's medium of reaching listeners. "When I was probably five or six, that was the time of vinyl, and then came cassettes, followed by CDs. Then we saw the little mp3 players, followed by Steve Jobs inventing the iPod. We are lucky to have been part of that history."
"Justin Bieber became famous because of the videos his mother used to shoot, right? That same process percolated down to classical music, which is a time honoured and revered art form. This traditional art form is slowly embracing the whole digital revolution and that is the way forward. It's not the future, it is already the present," he adds.
Purbayan was a recipient of the President of India Award for being the Best Instrumentalist of the country at the age of 15. The sitar player has now become part of a jury comprising accomplished classical musicians who will be sorting out new talent and providing them with a digital platform.
"Anybody can go and put up music on YouTube, but there are so many genres, so many experiments going on, it is not easy to get viewership. Even if you are getting an audience, are you getting the right audience?" he asks.
That's where HCL Digital Concerts come in. Purbayan, and other such musicians, are judging entries from budding artists in classical music for a digital contest, winners of which will get to perform at live concerts organised by HCL.
"I've been part of the HCL family and performing at their concerts for a while now. Reality shows are packaged for a TV audience, but this contest is for a larger audience, it is going across the world and is actually bringing serious music," says Purbayan.
The sitar player has worked on the project Shastriya Syndicate, an Indian Classical band with a contemporary touch. Shankar Mahadevan has performed the title song 'Dwo' in Purbayan's fusion album, Stringstruck.
Does classical music need to have a more contemporary approach in order to remain digitally relevant? Purbayan says, "Ustad Zakir Hussain once said that people like Miles Davis or RD Burman never set out to make hits. They didn't say okay, today I'm going to compose a hit. Great music is not made like that. Music is a need for self-expression."
"When I am playing a certain raga on the sitar, if I feel that I'm hearing some amazing Western harmonies on it, I will go out and do it. If I don't do it, then I won't be honest to my own need for self-expression. The sitar itself is a fusion instrument. We had the veena, and then Amir Khusrau sahab brought in Persian influences into our music, and therefore the sitar was invented as an instrument. That's how music is, it is based on need," he concludes.
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