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Gaga’s invisible sitar

Gaga’s invisible sitar
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First Published: Fri, Nov 11 2011. 10 03 PM IST

In the shadow: Fateh Ali played on stage with Lady Gaga (AP)
In the shadow: Fateh Ali played on stage with Lady Gaga (AP)
Updated: Fri, Nov 11 2011. 10 03 PM IST
It has been the done thing for international artistes touring India to jam casually with a local band or musician. Sometimes these interactions are in the form of short workshops, master classes or interactive sessions with young musicians and students, and at other times, Indian stars perform alongside international greats, making the city’s rich and famous scramble for seats to “rattle their jewellery” while people in the cheaper seats clap their hands, if I might borrow from John Lennon’s words.
In the shadow: Fateh Ali played on stage with Lady Gaga (AP)
Things weren’t any different when Lady Gaga came gracing the Formula One event in India. I’d like to begin by thanking her for thinking of performing with a sitar player because left to our desi event designers, the likes of a sitar or a sitar player would never have found their way to any of the events associated with the racing mega event. But when Lady Gaga expressed a desire to jam with a sitar player, recommendations were sought and I found myself recommending Delhi-based Fateh Ali, an accomplished khandaani musician who, along with his equally accomplished twin brother, sarangi player Murad Ali, is at ease playing classical music or collaborating with musicians from across the world.
I believe the performance by Lady Gaga at a lush spa resort in Greater Noida attracted a huge audience despite tickets selling for a massive Rs 40,000 each. It gladdens my heart to hear that Indians will pay such premium prices to listen to music, and I waited eagerly to see reports of the performance, particularly her interaction with Fateh Ali, whom I have known since he was a little tike obediently following his bespectacled grandfather and ustad, the late Siddique Ahmad Khan, at music events in the Capital. Next morning, the papers were full of all manner of detail about the event—what the star wore, what she said, the celebrities attending the event, what they said and did, and sundry trivia. What almost everyone forgot to mention was the sitar player who accompanied Gaga, and I was left wondering if she had at some point changed her mind about jamming with a sitar player.
A leading publication reported that she had flown in a sitar player from the US, and indeed that might be what we would need to do in future if we are going to treat our own so shabbily. Others reported “a sitar player” having played but no one seemed to have bothered to ask for his name. In a large picture from the event published in a certain publication, I could see a sitar player perched behind Lady Gaga, but the smokescreens and the shaggy haircut the sitar player decided to sport made it impossible for me to figure out if it was indeed our own familiar Fateh bhai. Did he or didn’t he? Finally, I got the answer in a small report published in the Hindustan Times (Hindustan Times is published by HT Media Ltd, which also publishes Mint), and on YouTube, where a user called Grecocroat1980 had helpfully posted what seems to be a video from the performance. As the strains of the sitar reach out to a cheering-jeering rowdy audience, Lady Gaga announces clearly “introducing Fateh Ali”. At the end of the song she again duly acknowledges Fateh Ali. She cared to do so. But did we listen and did we care?
Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Nov 11 2011. 10 03 PM IST