Home >Mint-lounge >Features >Saregama Classical hits the right notes with new app

Wake up to a full-throated rendition of the Sri Venkateshwara Suprabhatam by M.S. Subbulakshmi. Or the soft strains of the santoor by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma.

Music from the masters. Now, streaming on your smartphone.

India’s oldest music label Saregama India Ltd has put its vast library of classical music, collected over a hundred years, on a live streaming app, and opened it up as a subscription service. The Saregama classical music app is now available on Android and iOS devices, and we take a test drive.

The app’s home page shows three main categories: Carnatic, Hindustani, and Fusion. Within the first two categories, you can browse for either vocal or instrumental, or if you are fluent with the genre, then based on the raga you want to hear. Within the instrumental category, you can choose between the artist of your liking or the instrument that suits your mood.

In the Fusion category, there is only a listing of artistes.

The range of artistes covered in the Carnatic section is much wider than that offered by most other Indian classical music streaming services. Starting from maestros like M. Balamuralikrishna, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Maharajapuram Santhanam, D.K. Pattammal and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer to the more contemporary, highly acclaimed and sought after artistes like Bombay Jayashree, T.M. Krishna and Sudha Ragunathan, there are 41 artistes covered in the vocal section alone.

There are 30 artistes in the instrumental section. Names such as Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Sikkil Sisters and Uppalapu ‘Mandolin’ Srinivas feature. Besides string instruments like the violin, wind instruments such as the flute (N. Ramani, T.R. Mahalingam) and the nadaswaram (Sheik Chinna Maulana, M.P.N Ponnuswamy), the app also brings you legendary percussionists such as Karaikudi Mani and Valayapatti A.R. Subramaniam.

The Hindustani section logs more artistes in both categories—with 55 listed under vocal and 34 under instrumental. The vocals list boasts of greats like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Jasraj and Girija Devi. The instrumentalists range from Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt and Ustad Zakir Hussain to younger artistes like Kamal Sabri and Rahul Sharma.

In addition to instruments such as the shehnai and the santoor, percussion instrutments such as the pakhawaj are listed separately.

In the Hindustani collection, musicians who work as a duo have been split into two separate artistes, thereby duplicating the music entries. Rajan-Sajan Mishra and the Gundecha Brothers are among those who get this treatment.

Similarly, in the Fusion section too, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan, who usually perform together, feature as two different artistes. However, the range here is commendable too. From the violin duo of Ganesh-Kumaresh to Louis Banks’ Indo-jazz keyboard fusion, this section has 23 artistes listed.

Saregama Classical currently streams music in two bitrates—64kbps and 128kbps. Perhaps a lot of your music in your existing collection would be upwards of 256kbps and hence of higher quality, but the app is designed to be usable on 3G connections without using too much data and also work in areas where 3G speeds may not be very good. At 64kbps, the audio quality is good enough for listening through earphones. To our surprise, 128kbps sounded quite rich on small Bluetooth speakers as well as on most in-car music systems. That pretty much means the drive to work, and back, will be a lot more pleasant with your favourite classical music streaming in the background.

Saregama Classical also lets users listen to a playlist or what it calls radio. Essentially, this offering is a continuous streaming of songs by artiste or instrument, or in the case of Fusion, Editor’s Picks. The radio feature includes artists like M.S. Subbulakshmi, M. Balamuralikrishna (Carnatic vocal) and the late violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan (Carnatic instrumental). In the Hindustani category, vocalists Kishori Amonkar, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj and Ustad Amir Khan have a radio listing.

The Hindustani instrumental category features a mix of legends, including Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain among others. The app also offers a Jugalbandi tab in its radio option, where listeners could dive into some of the best duet performances of all time.

Though it is a subscription service, the Saregama Classical app offers a seven-day free trial. Post that, the subscription depends on which device you are signing up from. On Android, it costs 99 per month, 495 for six months and 890 for an annual service. On iOS, it is priced at 120 for a month, 620 for six months and 1,050 for a year.

The icing on the cake is the fact that one subscription can be used to sign in to the app on four different devices—akin to the Family pack on Apple Music.

Overall, this is a quality collection, and perhaps even better curated than many of the existing music apps offering Indian classical music. It might add to the richness of the app to have a one or two line introduction to artistes. The size of the collection under each artiste differs—while there is plenty to choose from when it comes to the legends, the collection under the more contemporary artistes suffers a bit. Considering the app has been just released, we hope the collection will only grow from here.

Venkat Ananth contributed to this story.

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