Raags and Riches and Much To Look Forward To


“I heard this amazing vocalist when I was in Kolkata last year. I forget the name, but I think it was a guy. I will text you the name – please bring him/her to Toronto!”  

“The daughters of my wife’s cousin sing very well – you should bring them to Toronto.”

 “How does Raag-Mala Toronto do its programming? Who decides on which artistes to bring?”

Raag-Mala’s programming team often gets questions and comments like these. Not because folks are unhappy with our artiste selection – the continued support we receive from our benefactors and patrons is testimony to their confidence in our programming ability. Rather, it is a genuine interest in our work and willingness to support the effort. And we welcome this interest.

The reality is that Raag-Mala does not follow a simple programming algorithm. Many factors go into determining the artistes who eventually perform on the Raag-Mala stage, not the least of which is human interaction.  

The relationships that we form with artistes as well as other tour organizers are critical to our ability to “snag” excellent artistes. Not only the well-known ones, but also others who have a firm grounding in, and a serious commitment to, raag sangeet.  

Zahid Khan and Rishi Misra, who have been on the Raag-Mala team for over 25 years, have helped us maintain continuity in these relationships. Their long service represents our ethos – it is not just enough to love raag sangeet; one also should be committed to doing something for it. Our benefactors-plus, benefactors and patrons, in addition to getting season’s tickets, have part of their dues assigned as donations since we have charitable status in Canada.  

Lovers of raag sangeet in the GTA are well-known to put their time and money where their mouths are!

“Our singular focus on raag sangeet has drawn excellent artistes to the Raag-Mala stage,” says Raag-Mala’s president Nishant Parekh. “We have had the who’s-who of raag sangeet – Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Ustad Bismillah Khan, and many others. The late Dr Prabha Atre’s 2014 tour started with a memorable performance at the Glen Gould Studio.” 

The GTA is now among the most desirable stops for touring artistes. 

Most tours are organized by excellent tabla players, often with the help of like-minded organizations such as Shadaj in Boston, Kabir Center in Montreal, Raag-Mala Toronto, and others in the rest of Canada.  

Raag-Mala’s season-opener in March, a rare vocal and sitar jugalbandhi with Arshad Ali Khan and Sahana Banerjee, is organized by the eminent tabla player Pandit Subhen Chatterjee, who has had a long relationship with us. Last year, Subhen presented an excellent program along with sitarist Mita Nag and shehnai nawaz Hassan Haider Khan.  

Arshad has performed previously for Raag-Mala; however, Sahana is a first-time performer on our stage, as were last year’s Mita and Hassan. These “new” artistes were ones that some of us had heard in India, or as was the case with Mita Nag, elsewhere in the GTA – some of us had seen her accompanying her guru (and father) the maestro Pandit Manilal Nag in Toronto.   

Our April concert, which is a two-part affair is also organized by tabla artistes. Indranil Mallick will be bringing/accompanying sarodiya Abhishek Lahiri, and Sanjay Deshpande will be with vocalist Omkar Dadarkar. Deshpande is also organizing the North American tour of our June artiste Ustad Waseem Ahmed Khan, the torchbearer of Agra Gharana gayaki.  

Ustad Bahauddin Dagar with his students at his gurukul in Panvel, Maharashtra.

Incidentally, we hope to organize baithaks (house concerts) of Omkar-bhai and Waseembhai this year as a show of appreciation to our benefactors and volunteers. We are only able to do this when we have sufficient community support, either through donations or when artistes’ stays are hosted.  

Human touch is an elusive element because it depends on interpersonal chemistry. Raag-Mala’s success in this element has resulted in some of the most rewarding concerts at Raag-Mala. A great example of this (drum roll, please) is that in May, we are thrilled to be presenting Begum Parveen Sultana.  

In addition to our mainstage partners the Aga Khan Museum, we will partner with TOLive for begum saheba’s performance. She last performed in Canada close to 40 years ago, and will be making her only North American appearance in 2024 at the prestigious George Weston Recital Hall in Toronto.  

The seed for this event was planted years ago when long-term patrons Dr and Mrs Kashyap invited me to their place to lunch with eminent santoor player Pandit Satish Vyas. Panditji had stayed with them when he had performed for Raag-Mala 15 years ago (then), and had maintained an excellent relationship with them.  

Fast forward to now: Satishji has not only established a great relationship with us (we hope to have him back in 2025), but was kind enough to introduce me in 2023 to begum saheba at her home in north Mumbai. It was then that introductions were made, Raag-Mala’s bona fides established, and a tentative performance date was set for 2024.  

Our founding president, the late Maganbhai Ambasana, formed personal friendships with artistes like the late Shivkumar Sharma, Zakir Hussein, and Hariprasad Chaurasia, to name a few. Ustad Shujaat Khan performed at the tribute concert we had for Maganbhai in 2015. Shujaatbhai maintains a great relationship with us, and will be performing at the Nanji Family Foundation Auditorium at the Aga Khan Museum this year in September.  

Our October performer, Ustad Bahauddin Dagar, who hails from the celebrated Dhrupad family, was someone I had heard many years ago in Kolkata.  

It is through friendships I had formed through my annual visits to India (or raag sangeet yatras, as I often call them), that I got to meet the foremost performer of the rudra veena. I was formally introduced to Bahauddin by my Mumbaikar friend Ajay Sompura, who had studied the sitar under him. I had met Ajay at the Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata six years ago through his friend (and raag sangeet aficionado) Britisher Alan Tootil; I had met Alan a dozen years ago at the Saptak Festival in Ahmedabad.     

On this visit in January to Bahauddin’s house in Panvel, ostensibly to firm-up plans for his October performance, we also had a great chance to meet his students, have a wonderful dinner, and were treated to an exquisite alaap in raag Jaijaivanti.    

Speaking of personal relationships, I am writing this article after a wonderful lunch at the home of Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee and his wife Navanita. 

Over the years, Panditji has established immense rapport with many team members. He met benefactors Sabera and Bassanio Ghose when they were volunteers with Raag Mala Calgary decades ago.

On a final note, the daughters of the cousin happened to be artistes we had been happily following. The sisters Apoorva Gokhale and Pallavi Joshi gave us a sublime performance (and a memorable baithak the next day) last year. 

For further information on the 2024 season see the ad inside front cover of this issue of Desi News and at raagmala.com.