Planting Indian classical music on new soil

(Desi News February 2016)

“When we immigrate, we bring our family and belongings, but we also carry culture and heritage”, says Rasika Jog, a teacher of Indian classical music living in Mississauga, Ontario.  “Canada recognizes this, and encourages different cultural influences to flourish.  All classical arts are important in how they form a base for a thriving societal mix.”

Planting Planting2

After moving to Canada in 2002, Rasika established the Akhil Music Academy with curriculum and grading derived from Mumbai’s AkhilBharatiyaGandharvaMahavidyalaya. Akhil Music Academy has dozens of students, ranging in age from three and a half years to sixty.

“Students come with different interests,” says Rasika. “Some only want to sing well at their temple or family weddings, while others learn classical khayal and thumri that require a much greater commitment. Three of my students have been with the Academy since its inception.”

Rasika started music lessons at age eight in India, receiving guidance over the years from many teachers, including her mother-in-law Mangala Jog.  After receiving her “Sangeet Visharad” (equivalent to a BA in Music) from the GandharvaMahavidyalaya, she taught music for many years in India.  She did voiceover recordings of devotional and folk songs in Hindi, Marathi, and Gujarati that are still available on cassettes.

While most of her training was in the Kirana gharana’s style of singing, Rasika recently started learning from celebrated vocalist AratiAnkalikar of the Jaipur gharana.

“I never stopped studying music, and when I approached Aratiji at a Raag-Mala baithak a few years ago, she took me on as a student.” Rasika studied personally with Aratiji in India and has bi-weekly lessons with her on Skype.

Rasika much prefers direct contact with her Guru. “In a one-on-one lesson, Aratiji will teach a very complex taans in a way that would be very hard to pick up from a recording. Also, when learning directly with a guru, you get to hear and learn other variations of the taans – version that don’t end up on a recording.”

Rasika and some of her senior students, including her daughter Akhila, had an opportunity to take lessons from Aratiji when the Jog family hosted her in Toronto last May.  Rasika and Akhila also accompanied Aratiji at the Raag-Mala concert and at a private baithak – an invaluable experience for both mother and daughter.

Akhila, who followed in her mother’s musical footsteps, started formal studies with her mother when she was eight. Having completed the Academy’s curriculum, she has been taking weekly lessons on Skype from Vijay Koparkar, a prominent vocalist from Pune, since 2013.

“Having a music teacher other than my mother forces me to be more disciplined,” admits Akhila.  “My Guru’s style of teaching is similar to my mother’s in having clearly articulated goals and boundaries in the lessons that make it easier to pick up new material. Koparkarji is very insistent on the ‘grammar’ of a raag.”

Akhila says that a student who is learning one raag has to be careful not to sing phrases that have “shades” of another raag – i.e. a raag whose swars (notes) are close to the raag that is being sung. “Koparkarji is quite vigilant about this, and does not give you a pass when you slip up.”

So, is she ready to perform on stage? “I’ve sung at community gatherings, but I want to eventually sing bada khayal, which is harder and more exacting to sing, only after I have full confidence to improvise while on stage. That will take years of learning under my guru, and lots of riyaaz (practice).”

As Akhila hones her musical skills while working at a fulltime job, she also helps teach at the Academy when required. This mother and daughter team clearly shows how the roots of Indian classical music can be planted across nations and generations.

Mohamed Khaki