Kamal Sabri.
Kamal Sabri.

Saz-e-Bahar: Celebrating musical instruments

The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) is holding Saz-e-Bahar: Festival of Indian Instrumental Music, to showcase rare Indian classic musical instruments like the vichitra veena and esraj

The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) is holding a two-day festival to showcase rare Indian classic musical instruments like the vichitra veena and esraj.

The Saz-e-Bahar: Festival of Indian Instrumental Music, now in its eighth edition, aims to assert the independence of musical instruments from vocals. “Whenever you go to any kind of concert, you see that vocal music has the leading role while the instruments play the supporting role," says Suvarnalata Rao, the programming head of Indian music at the NCPA , who has curated the festival. “But on their own they have a distinct idiom and language. For example, if there is a string instrument, then the strings can be either plucked or played with a bow; these different techniques in different instruments lead to different sounds and timbres," she says

This edition will see a sarangi performance by Kamal Sabri, who will play raga Shyam Kalyan, among others. Sabri says he began experimenting with the sarangi because it is closest to the human voice and has great imitative powers. He started playing jazz and funk on the instrument, which was more commonly used during sad occasions. “You could hear it in the background during a tragic scene in a Bollywood film or during the funeral of a politician telecast on Doordarshan," he says.

The main draws of the festival will be the vichitra veena and esraj performances by Radhika Veena Sadhika and Shubhayu Sen Majumdar, respectively. “These instruments are quite obscure. You don’t even find five people using these instruments," says Rao.

The vichitra veena, which has no frets, has several strings that release a quiet and sonorous sound. The esraj is a combination of a sitar and a sarangi—it is played with a bow like a sarangi, but has frets like a sitar, and possesses a unique timbre.

Sen Majumdar says he wants to establish the esraj in Indian classical music. “The santoor was nowhere before Shiv Kumar popularized it," he says. Sen Majumdar will play the ragas Raageshwari and Khamaj.

Don’t miss out:

The lectures by Rao on both days before the performances. She will talk about Bharata’s Natyashastra, one of the earliest texts that lays down ways to make a musical instrument and classifies a variety of instruments like tata (string instruments), sushira, (wind instruments) and avanaddha (instruments covered with a stretched membrane).

The Saz-e-Bahar: Festival of Indian Instrumental Music will be held at the National Centre for the Performing Arts on 6-7 April.

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