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Updated: Mar 3, 2022

My music story begins with my family. It seems like our existence would have been very difficult if we didn’t have music. I say this because, for as long as I can remember, we have welcomed new life into our family with song, sent departing souls away with song, and celebrated every occasion in between, with song. Both men and women in my family sing without hesitation. We have all been through some form of music education since the time we have been old enough to do so. That basically means that my family has always been a tough crowd to please, which can be a constant reality check.

It is one day after Guru Poornima as I write this piece, and I feel it apt to talk about my teachers and the gifts I have been fortunate enough to receive from them. My first teacher or Guru was my paternal grand mother who started my training in Hindustani Classical Music. But having a grand parent as a teacher wasn’t an ideal situation and so, soon, I found myself learning from other Guru’s who each gave me some invaluable insight into how to train and use my singing voice. Some of these gracious souls are Pt. Surendra Sa Nakod, Late Mrs. Lalita Kaikini and Pt. Parameshwar Hegde. I learnt very different aspects of the craft from each of these teachers. To help one understand this briefly, from my grandma Mrs. Indira Das, I found out that I indeed had music and rhythm and started my rudimentary learning. Pt. Nakod ensured that a strong foundation was laid by working a lot with alankaras for good voice modulation. From Mrs. Kaikini, I learnt what it meant to love music, what it meant to put your emotions into a ‘bandish’; what the meaning of the word ‘rasa’ was, and how it changed everything with the changing of a mere note in a scale or the time of day or season when you chose to sing a certain ‘raga’. From Pt. Parameshwar Hegde, I learnt how to structure a Khayal performance, how to use finesse and work on tonality of voice, how to be effortless and yet have all the power you need in your voice, how to be gentle and yet be heard. And there is so much more intangible learning that I can’t put into words.

I am a firm believer in the fact that learning never ends. I’ve always held this belief and it has served me well over the years. While on the one hand, I received so much from my Guru’s of Hindustani music, I was gaining a lot from other quarters too. My piano teacher Mrs. Susheela Manickyavelu always spoke about dynamics in playing and how important it was to learn to read music. And later, my choir conductors in college (Mount Carmel College, Bangalore) Mrs. Priya Mohanraj and Ms. Navaz Varkey taught me so much about practice, perseverance and hearing the many voices of a song, learning to sing in harmony and also learning to compose harmonic parts…I can go on and on…

At this point I have to add that, to learn from a teacher is one part of the process but to have ones own learning and to keep searching, is the other part of the process. Had I only been on the prescribed paths my teachers were showing me, I might have still been living someone else’s dream.

To keep ones ears open is as important a part of the process as any. I have had a lot of help in this quarter with friends constantly sharing their music with me or telling me to open my mind to new and older genres of music – whether it was my friend Sam Joseph sharing his CD of Aziza Mustafa Zadeh with me; or it was my friend Urian Sarmiento teaching me about the folk music of the Northern Colombian Caribean Coast; or it was my friend and Spanish teacher Carlota Balsalobre accompanying me on many a Flamenco adventure in Andalucia, Spain to find someone who could teach me about the rhythms of Flamenco and ‘Cante Hondo’ or ‘Deep Singing’; or it was my brother Mir Mukhtiyar Ali who made my journey into the world of Sufi poetry and music an extra ordinary experience with his musicality, spirit, wit, humour and intensity.

To me, music is the world and the world is music. I have seen the world because of music. Music is the reason I travel. I have been on quests…trying to find treasures of the world, which to me is the music of different places. For a long time now I have had a marvelous partner in crime and music, my husband, Roberto Narain, on various journeys and quests with me. He is a well-respected drummer and musician himself and has been a mentor and a guide on my many journeys. He produced my latest collaborative album, The Shah Hussain Project feat. Mir Mukhtiyar Ali. And lately he and I have been on a very special journey together…one where we share our rhythmical and musical spirit with the world by empowering people using music and rhythm as the medium. To share one's musical spirit with those who may or may not have the gift of music in their lives, we have had to unlearn a lot and learn a whole other lot. And at the center of this learning is another amazing teacher Arthur Hull who has been teaching people how to facilitate human potential through music and rhythm for the last 40 years.

To say the least, every time I put myself out there, I’m learning something, I’m moving forward, I’m feeding my soul, I’m touching another soul. I’ve learnt something new every single time I’ve been in a class, or on stage, or at a jam, or in front of a mic in a recording studio or in the middle of an interactive music session – from a teacher, from someone in an audience, from a fellow musician, from a friend, from a technician in a studio, from a novice in an interactive Drumjam session whether corporate or community based. If the quest is endless, so is the learning.

This is what I have decided to do with my life. This is who I have always wanted to be. This is what defines me every day. This is me. This is my life. And I feel like I’m just getting started.

Vasundhara Das

(Singer-Songwriter-Composer-Drum Circle Facilitator)

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