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Going forward with a mission

Going forward with a mission
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With a musical tradition of two gharanas - ImdadKhani and Kirana gharana to uphold, one of the most popular classical guitar players of Hindustani...

With a musical tradition of two gharanas - ImdadKhani and Kirana gharana to uphold, one of the most popular classical guitar players of Hindustani traditional music and founder of Shankar Guitar, Dr Kamala Shankar hopes to influence the younger generation to adopt the classical guitar

Arundhuti Banerjee

Guitar comes in a variety of forms. The Spanish guitar is very versatile and is often used while playing western classical and rock music. “The Spanish guitar is very popular with the youngsters. And there is the Hawaiian guitar which is also known as lap steel guitar. My instrument Shankar guitar is a modified version of the Hawaiian guitar,” shared Dr Kamala Shankar, one of the most popular classical guitar players of Hindustani traditional music who is reaching out to a wide global audience and young people with her music.

She hails from Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu, grew up in Varanasi amidst rich musical atmosphere. “Though I have a strong academic background, my grandfather and father are doctors, they observed my potential in music and encouraged me during my childhood,” said Kamala. She continues, “I started my music training from my mother who is a trained Carnatic classical singer and gradually developed my interest in instrumental music.” She started learning Hawaiian guitar and tried to incorporate the vocal style in her guitar.

The richness of her playing style has come from her training in to one of the oldest gharanas of Indian classical music - ImdadKhani and Kirana gharana. Imdad Khani gharana was practiced and propagated by Imdad khan, the great sitar and surbahar player of North India, also the grandfather of Ustad Vilayaat Khan. On the other hand Kamala’s lyrical playing style has come from Kirana gharana that is known for its Khyal gayki in Hindustani music. She underwent the Khyal training from Chnnulal Mishra. But before started her pure classical training on guitar, she developed the interest in the instrument playing a different genre of music. “Initially I started with playing Rabindra Sangeet on guitar and then I moved into classical ragas. So playing Tagore’s song on guitar was my initial fascination,” smiled Kamala.

After finishing her training in Hawaiian guitar she modified the instrument and came up with her Shankar guitar that is more appropriate for our Hindustani classical music. “Hawaiian guitar originated from Hawaii islands of Honolulu. It has a similarity with our Indian Vichitra Veena. While playing the guitar, I realised that I needed more from it, so I changed it accordingly,” she shared. Her Shankar guitar has 18 strings made from a single block of wood, with thicker walls. It has no sound hole. It has four melody strings, four chikar (rhythm strings) and 12 taraf (sympathetic strings).

Though Hindustani instrumental music is a male dominated world, she was the first lady who received doctorate in this instrument. According to her, the new generation has not been introduced to Shankar guitar which is a similar to Hawaiian guitar and they are only familiar with Spanish guitar. “I do not think it is the fault of children but teachers and parents. To keep the tradition of Hindustani classical guitar alive, schools should take the initiative by including lap steel guitar as a subject in their music curriculum as they have done with Spanish guitar or synthesizer,” she opines.

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