My Canadian Journey to Raag Sangeet


During a trip to Paris, France, in the Spring of 2011, I purchased a bookmark with a quote by Rumi: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”

I keep this bookmark on a bulletin board in my home that I see every day. A major reason why the quote speaks to me is that it astutely captures how I have found and fervently held on to vocal music, in particular raag sangeet (also referred to as Indian classical vocal music), as an area of study, personal exploration, and deep artistic passion. 

Born in Canada, my discovery of raag sangeet was far from predictable. My parents migrated from India to Canada in 1974, responding to the need for internationally-trained physicians in New Brunswick. My brother and sister, then two and four, vaguely recall the early days before I joined the family as a time when they would jump into unimaginably gigantic snow piles from the balcony of my parents’ small apartment, a time when “mom and dad were just trying to figure it all out”. I came along eight years later as the only member of my family, immediate or extended, to be born outside of India, and in Canada, a country very different in so many ways from my parents’ origins. 

I would sing constantly as a toddler and was obsessed with Julie Andrews. There is a running joke in my family about the number of times I’ve watched the film The Sound of Music – likely more than 100!

My parents were fond of music and it filled our home. Favourite vocalists included the late Vidushi Kishori Amonkar and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi in addition to great singers of ghazals and Hindi film songs.

The strong influence of Maharashtrian culture at home meant that I was exposed to many genres of Marathi music like Natyasangeet and Bhavgeet, especially sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. I found myself drawn to the intricate melodies and rhythms and, despite not being able to speak or understand the languages fluently, felt compelled to try to emulate what I heard by listening to the songs over and over again, testing my siblings’ patience.   

Samidha Joglekar with her guru Narendra Datar.
Samidha Joglekar with her guru Narendra Datar.

When my family moved to Guelph, Ontario, in 1987, my parents enrolled me in voice lessons through the Royal Conservatory of Music, which was the only locally available training at the time. It was by chance a few years later, during a routine weekend visit to Toronto to connect with other Maharashtrian families, that my mother met   Narendra Datar who would become my guru.

I began learning from Narendra-ji when I was ten and will always be a “shishya” or student – something I believe is realized with any artistic venture pursued at a devoted level – the learning is endless and deep like the ocean.  

As I reflect on my experience of learning raag sangeet in a Canadian context there are several thoughts that rise in my consciousness to help me explain why I’ve held on so tightly to studying this deeply rich musical tradition.

Like many people who straddle two cultures, I had challenging questions about my cultural roots during my coming of age years and struggled with my identity and how I fit in.

Learning at the Royal Conservatory and the experience of growing up in Canada shaped me greatly. My parents also brought me to many Raag Mala Music Society concerts in the 90s. I would sit in the University of Toronto Medical Sciences Building auditorium listening in bewilderment and awe to the incredible artistes who came from India to perform, an opportunity for musical exposure that was not lost on me.

However, I was an awkward kid, and it was difficult at times to bring everything together in my mind; how could I be my parents’ daughter, Narendra-ji’s student and also a friend to Olivia and William down the street who wanted to go for bike rides, build bonfires and watch Hockey Night in Canada, all at the same time?

I was confused about excusing myself from these seemingly “normal” activities to attend my music lessons in raag sangeet every weekend. I realize now that the music itself provided me with the answers I ultimately needed; that I didn’t have to make a choice about my identity and that the opportunity to study this music was something so very special. The music helped me understand that I could be myself and embrace the different aspects of my life experience.  

However, it took years to realize this and it was far from easy. It’s still an ongoing journey of self-reflection.

I was incredibly lucky to find a Guru in Narendra-ji who always encouraged me to continue learning and who reassured me that I had talent and that the effort was worth it. I cannot overstate how important that kind of support was for someone in my shoes.

Not only did we connect as teacher and student, but as someone who understood my cultural heritage, he could help me relate to my roots through music. He helped me discover over time how I could connect raag sangeet to my own unique identity.

There were moments when I thought my efforts in pursuing this art form were in vain. Learning raag sangeet is a challenging pursuit on so many levels and studying it in an environment removed from its origins is even tougher.

Narendra-ji encouraged me to dedicate some time towards learning in India, which I did in 1999 when I learned from the late Vidushi Veena Sahasrabhudde and then in 2005 when I had the opportunity to learn from the illustrious Vidushi Dr. Prabha Atre. Both were incredible and highly cherished experiences for which I feel extremely fortunate and eternally grateful. 

I must admit, however, that both experiences left me with many more questions than answers. In both cases, I went from being an exemplary student in Canada to being what seemed like one of the students who struggled most in India. My gurus were perplexed by my lack of awareness of certain musical and cultural ideas due to my Canadian upbringing and mystified by my unrealistically ambitious goal of learning how to sing a Bada Khayal in one year before I had to return to Canada to pursue my education. Progress in this art form is slow and difficult to measure. Not to mention that it takes a lifetime of study and dedication. There were so many remarkable singers in India who were pursuing the art with total devotion as their life’s purpose. What could I contribute?

Despite the motivation to continue not being obvious, I kept going until that motivation began to come from within. The years spent learning in Canada and India, receiving great wisdom and knowledge from my incredible gurus, have helped me realize that raag sangeet serves a greater purpose in my life that is more valuable than any tangible result that one might seek. 

The opportunity to study this art form in Canada has been a rare gift. It has helped me connect with many people, including with Maharashtrian communities across North America and artistes in Canada and globally. I have discovered ways to apply what I’ve learned over the years in different cross-cultural and Canadian musical contexts. For example, I sang with the Canadian Indo-Jazz ensemble TASA for ten years and have been fortunate to collaborate on many projects that have allowed me to contribute my voice into a beautifully diverse mix.  

Most of all, learning raag sangeet has given me an outlet for creative expression and a personal connection with something greater than myself. Such realizations take time and some life experience. You have to be willing to go through these experiences, to give them the time they need and deserve to develop and sink in, like the slow and steady development of a Raag.

It’s that intangible force that Rumi speaks of that continues to lure me toward this music, helping me to be drawn to the stronger pull of what I really love.

• Samidha Joglekar is a Raag Mala board member. She has a Masters in Clinical Science in Audiology and formerly worked as a clinical audiologist and researcher. She currently works as a manager and advisor in health policy and regulation at the College of Audiologists & Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario. As a vocalist she has contributed to many cross-cultural musical expressions. Her singing has been featured on albums, in film scores and in live performances.

• Narendra Datar was featured in the March 2020 issue of Desi News in the Grant’s Desi Achiever series. Click here to read the article.