Sitarist Ravi Chary: 'I am what I am today because of all my Guru’s blessings'

Sitarist Ravi Chary: 'I am what I am today because of all my Guru’s blessings'

Sitarist Ravi Chary, who has taken the instrument to new levels, talks about his upcoming performance in Mumbai on International Jazz Day

Verus FerreiraUpdated: Saturday, April 29, 2023, 05:40 PM IST
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Be it George Harrison’s take on Norwegian Wood, bringing on raga–rock, Rolling Stones’ Bryan Jones playing it on Paint It Black or Gabor Szabo’s album Jazz Raga, the influence of the sitar in various musical genres is globally seen right from the 60s.  And, sitarist Ravindra (Ravi) Chary has many reasons to be proud. Be it his title of the first sitarist to emerge from the Goan landscape or having the chance to play with some of the biggest names in Indian classical music like Ustad Allarakha Khan, Zakir Hussain, Sultan Khan, Kishori Amonkar, Suresh Talwalkar among others or his collaborations with new-age artistes like Salif Keita, Angelique Kidjo, Ben Watkins (music composer of The Matrix), Robert Miles. Ravi was also featured on the Grammy-nominated album Miles from India, and MTV Coke Studio. His album Ravi Chary Crossing (with his band Ravi Chary Crossing) was also nominated at GIMA.

Today (April 30), the sitarist is all set to mesmerise audiences at International Jazz Day at the Tata Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai.

Excerpts from an interview:

What can the audience expect from you at International Jazz Day? 

For so many years I have been performing with Louiz Banks sir. His music is not easy to perform, though it sounds easy. It’s always a challenge and makes you push the envelope, which is good for any artiste. So, I am very excited. The line-up of musicians who I will be performing along with are Louiz sir, Gino Banks, Satyajit Talwalkar, Mohini Dey, and Sharmishta Chatterjee. I am looking forward to it. 

What are your takeaways from sharing the stage with upcoming and experienced artistes?

It’s a learning experience. You always learn new things from all artistes, whether senior, junior or upcoming, it doesn’t matter. I have collaborated and performed with all these artistes in the past and share a musical bond with them. I am looking forward to performing with all of them again.

How would the sitar sound merge into jazz?  

I come from an Indian classical music background. The 12 notes of music are universal, it’s just the way you use it which differs and of course your thought behind playing it in a particular manner. It’s challenging and interesting to be able to play along with Western musicians. Though we don’t play in a chromatic manner, it’s interesting to do so and also to be able to change scales while performing.

What does the name of your album Ravi Chary Crossing with a host of jazz artistes signify?

The name for my album was suggested by Ustad Zakir Hussain. He suggested it after hearing my tracks. It was apt for my album which is a fusion of Hindustani Classical and Western Jazz. It was definitely a ‘Crossing’. Zakir bhai (Hussain) also launched my album along with Trilok Gurtuji, Louiz Banks Sir and others in Mumbai.

Where do you get your influences from? 

My introduction to the Fusion world was through percussion maestro Trilok Gurtuji. It was when I was touring with him that I got the opportunity to perform with various international artistes like Salif Keita, Angelique Kidjo, and others. Apart from that, I have collaborated with Austrian, Norwegian, and Spanish musicians of different genres and bands. In India, I have collaborated with Louiz Banks, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Ranjit Barot, Ustad Fazal Qureshi, and Ustad Taufiq Qureshi. I also listened to different music, especially Zakir bhai’s Shakti, Chick Correa, Miles Davis, and John McLaughlin.

In a week, how many hours do you put into riyaaz? 

Riyaaz is something each artiste has to do, however big or small. One needs to keep brushing up on the basics, like playing sargams, paltas. Listening to music is also important. I am constantly thinking about music and also discussing it. My schedule besides my sitar practice includes teaching, going for routine walks and performing.

What are the things that you will never compromise in music?

Riyaaz, the quality of playing, and also the sound and tone of the instrument.

Is it easy to learn the sitar? What about the cost factor?

There are quite a few young students who are learning from me now, in my Swar Sanskruti Music Academy. The youngest is just six years old. It’s nice to see the little ones taking an interest in the instrument and classical music. I have even formed A Sitar Symphony called the Ravi Chary Sitar Symphony with all my students. There are around 35-40 students who perform. This way they also get a platform to perform. The sitar is quite an accessible instrument. It’s not very expensive like some of the other instruments. One could even buy a good second-hand beginner’s sitar at as little as `5000 or if you are lucky even less.

How do you want to be seen as an artiste?

I should be recognised as an artiste with perfection and quality and should be able to live up to the names of my esteemed Gurus Padma Bhushan Ustad Haleem Jaffer Khan Saheb and Padma Shri Ustad Shahid Parvez. I am what I am today because of all my Guru’s blessings.

You’re not a newcomer to Jazz, for in 2008 you worked on the album ‘Miles From India’. You played sitar on two songs All Blues filling in for Miles Davis and Great Expectations where you gave some great solo work. Tell us something about this album. 

First of all, I am a big fan of Miles Davis, he is my all time favorite. It was a blessing for me to perform with world renowned artists. It was a great experience and I got to learn a lot.

What are the songs you will be playing at the show?

You will have to attend the programme, come and listen to us perform. You will get to listen to what we are performing and what it sounds like.

What projects are you currently working on?

You will know when I release it.

When: April 30, 6.30 pm

Where: Tata Theatre, NCPA

To book a place visit: bookmyshow.com

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