Could you introduce yourself and let us know more about your role in the performance?
I’ve been on the journey of learning Hindustani vocal music for the past 20 years. My training started in my hometown of Burnaby at the Pandit Jasraj School of Music Foundation under Smt. Asha Lohia where my focus was primarily on the Mewati stylistic discipline in the khayal form. I also received preliminary training from Smt. Neeraja Aptikar, another local teacher. I was lucky enough to have had opportunities to learn from my BadeGuruji Pandit Jasraj ji, and I continue to receive guidance in this discipline from Pt. Sanjeev Abhyankar. These past few years, I’ve shifted my learning to the Jaipur-Atrauli discipline under my gurus Pt. Arun Dravid and Pt. Arijit Mahalanabis, in addition to training in the dhrupad form.
My role in the performance has been both in an administrative capacity, as well as in being one of the production’s artistic co-director and one of the vocalists. I’m also featured on the nattuvangam, which is a percussive instrument typically used to accompany bharatanatyam performances. It’s the very first time I have used this instrument so I am in no means someone experienced in the art of nattuvangam, but it has been a great learning experience to be introduced to it.
What inspired you during the creation of Parāśakti?
It’s honestly hard to pinpoint things that inspired me during Parāśakti’s creation. The entire process and all its experiences have been inspiring, right from the proposal from the Chan Centre to now, with the post-production process. I think what stood out to me the most was that we could do something like this with an all BC-based team. Growing up here, I always felt very fragmented and isolated trying to pursue this music, and it was heartwarming that a bunch of us could come together like this - especially in a time that’s provoked us to not take social interaction for granted. We could all learn, create, and execute together despite some of us meeting for the very first time.
How did you balance the Hindustani and Carnatic elements?
It was definitely a bit of a challenge. For example, Amrtavarshini is not a raga I have ever learnt or really even listened to until the performance, so when I was trying to compose the melody for ‘caturbhuje’, I kept communicating with Srividhya to make sure I was on the right track. The rhythm was another struggle, especially since I was on nattuvangam. I’m not very familiar with Carnatic rhythm and got to learn more from Arno, Curtis, and Srividhya’s support, and we would all openly discuss any issues in translation across genres and forms. I think because we all were happy to speak with one another about uncertainties, and at the same time we were keen to explore new things we managed to balance things well. In terms of balancing between Hindustani and Carnatic content as a co-director, Arno and myself didn’t want to provide a very strict framework of exactly how much Hindustani or Carnatic we should have. Whether we used a Hindustani or Carnatic approach was dependent on what the scene needed to portray musically, who was best to portray that, and what everyone’s inspiration and capabilities were in making that happen. You’ll find Carnatic ragas with Hindustani elements, Hindustani ragas with Carnatic elements, and then a mash of both.
How did you feel when you were rehearsing and performing at the Chan?
Surreal. I’ve grown up seeing the likes of Ustad Zakir Hussain and Smt. Anoushka Shankar perform there. When I was studying at UBC, I’d walk past the Chan and think to myself how lovely it’d be to perform there someday if I become more established as an artist. I never thought it’d happen so soon after graduation, and as an emerging artist. All this didn’t hit me until everything finished though, which is when I had a chance to let it sink in. It was also great to work with the Chan Centre’s team. My throat kept getting dried out due to wearing masks all the time, and Dave got me a bag of Ricola - their efforts in keeping us safe and comfortable are very much appreciated.
What was it like creating something during this pandemic?
It was unchartered territory, and in more ways than one. Performing for the Chan Centre, mixing different musical and storytelling elements, trying to fuse Hindustani and Carnatic, carrying out a production featuring Bharatanatyam and live musicians, working with many of the artists for the first time - so many previously unencountered experiences. In addition to all that, we then had to conduct group rehearsals on Zoom, maintain good health, wear masks during our group rehearsals (which was especially draining for dance and vocals), and follow COVID protocols at the venue. However, this opportunity for us to work together also presented itself because of the situation around the pandemic, so as much as it was stressful in some ways, it was rewarding in many others. One of the rewards was how therapeutic this was. Being able to create and learn with Satpreet, Curtis, Srividhya, Sharanjeet, and Arno in-person gave a resurgence in creative energy which I think a lot of us needed.
Watch Akhil perform in Parāśakti: The Flame Within, streaming on March 19th.