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Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty speaks about the standardisation of Bengali songs lyrics

Chakrabarty, now aged 71, proudly presents his students as his legacy, 14 of whom will perform at a concert at Rabindra Sadan on Sunday, before he takes stage himself to present Bengali songs in a different soundscape

Sudeshna Banerjee | Published 30.03.24, 07:25 AM
Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty

Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty

He started training students at the age of 29 when he was himself doing riyaz 14 hours a day. Pt Ajoy Chakrabarty, now aged 71, proudly presents his students as his legacy, 14 of whom will perform at a concert at Rabindra Sadan on Sunday, before he takes stage himself to present Bengali songs in a different soundscape.

Your institute Shrutinandan turned 25 last year.


Shrutinandan is not just a building where pupils come to train in vocal music. The institute aims to develop an inner vision of music. We are organising a concert on Sunday, where my son Ananjan will present compositions which showcase the concept of Srutinandan. I dare say those compositions may challenge even established singers. Those will be presented by 15 students. I don’t admit students beyond the age of 12. Six to 12 years is when the soil is still ready to sow.

What else is scheduled at the concert?

After my son’s segment, there will be Subhamita (Banerjee) presenting a segment called Phire Dekha. I will take the stage around 6.30pm and sing till 9pm.

After how long are you performing at a public concert?

After 2018. One key instrumentalist will accompany me for three songs each. Of the Sodha brothers of Bombay, Raj will play saxophone in three and Kishore will play trumpet in another three. Other segments will feature S. Akash on flute, Durbadal Chatterjee on violin and Murad Ali of Delhi on sarangi. Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan’s son Hassan Hyder Khan on sehnai... There will be nine such segments. I am trying to break out of typical instrumentation.

So you will allow each musician to showcase his art...

Yes. Accompanists are loosely called hands. It is a vulgar term. Where will singers be without quality accompanists? For my first classical music recording, HMV had given me a budget of Rs 17,000. I had flown over Zakir Hussain to play the tabla and Sultan Khan sahib for sarangi, while my guru Jnanprakash Ghosh played the harmonium. Zakir bhai took Rs 10,000, Khan sahib took Rs 7,000. I had paid the airfare from my pocket. Guruji did not charge a penny. They played with me on a kheyal and a thumri.

Pandit Ajay Chakraborty discusses Sunday's concert with Srijato who would be the narrator

Pandit Ajay Chakraborty discusses Sunday's concert with Srijato who would be the narrator

That was a stellar lineup.

Yes. I would force HMV to print names of musicians on records. There was so little budget for recordings that the quality suffered. I heard Hemanta Mukherjee and Kanika Banerjee songs played at a programme the other day. The recording was so bad that one could barely hear the voices. Many hardly had any musical accompaniments. HMV had given me a budget of Rs 6,500 for my first recording. Today, people are in a position to spend Rs 30-40,000 on a recording. One has to be careful about accompaniment and put it together at a proper studio. But the recording companies are mixing up songs of different singers now. There is no dignity to produce something of one’s own. The Birlas had produced a bhajan written by Gandhiji and set to tune by my friend Ilaiyaraja, Namrata ke sagar mujhe namrata de. Amitabh Bachchanji had done the narration while Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Parveen Sultana and I had sung. It would be great if such experimental projects happen now. New listeners can be attracted to quality music.

How have you chosen the song list for Sunday?

I have chosen songs that excel in both melody and poetry. Today the literary value of lyrics has degraded horribly. Lyricists from Rabindranath Tagore to Gauriprasanna Majumdar and Pulak Bandyopadhyay — they all create a picture in the mind through their words. Today’s lyrics do not paint such a picture. Kheyal, thumri, geet, modern songs — I have chosen a varied song list.

Will it be all in Bengali?

Yes. No raga sangeet. It will be a Bangla gaaner asor. The language demands lyrical excellence. Udh gayi chunri, udhne do may be acceptable in Hindi but urey gyalo ghaghra, udte dao will not sound well in Bengali. Our taste will not allow it. You can count Ek do teen and have a hit song in Hindi, not in Bengali. Hum tum se pyar karenge is possible as lyrics in Hindi, ami tomar songe prem korbo — can’t sing that in Bengali! Bengal has taught the country the nuances of art and culture.

Who are your favourite lyricists in Bengali?

I will first mention Jnanprakash Ghosh, then Jatileshwar Mukhopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay...

The novelist?

Yes. He has penned geeti kabita.. Milan modhu madhuri bhora... was set to tune by my guruji.

But later-day modern Bengali poets did not contribute as lyricists.

Yes. They did not write geeti kabita. Unless the poetry rhymes and scans to a metre, you can’t make a song out of it. Now Srijato writes quality lyrics. He is from a musical family, being the grandson of Tarapadababu (Sangeetacharya Tarapada Chakraborty). I have asked him to be with me in Sunday’s programme. He will voice his own opinion, be in conversation with me and make requests for songs through a baithaki adda.

You judged Sa Re Ga Ma Pa on Zee Bangla in 2022-23. Had you been approached earlier to judge a show?

Several times. When Gajendra Singh started TVS Sa Re Ga Ma in Bombay, I had judged a final in the mid-90s with Abida Parveen. Once they introduced public voting I lost interest.

Why did you agree this time?

What I notice in these shows is the participants sometimes may not be bad singers but they lack training. Riding on their new-found fame on TV, they would do a few shows and then vanish. I had asked the channel whether they would provide the winners a chance to train. They agreed.

Do you keep track of these musical talent shows?

Since I teach children, I take an interest in what children do, more than in what adults do as singers. Some also send me recordings for my comment. Many of the better contestants are trained by my students like Jayanta Sarkar, who imparts such training. Padmapalash (Haldar, the joint winner of the season in 2023) was my student. Many of today’s established names like Srikanta (Acharya), Manomay (Bhattacharya) and Raghav have trained under me.

Didn’t Shreya Ghoshal call you once for tips very late at night?

I see no difference between (daughter) Kaushiki and Shreya. Even Javed Ali has taken training from me, as did Kavita Krishnamurti. Shreya has called many times. But this late night call was for a Bade Ghulam Ali Khan bandish, Bhor bhoi tohri baat takat piya, on Raga Gurjari Todi. A.R. Rahman was planning to do something on this. He always works at night. Shreya called at 1am and said: “Kaku, eta ektu bole dao.” She sits with me when she has a question. I like her singing a lot.

Have you ever thought of bringing Shreya and Kaushiki together for a project?

They are good friends. But Kaushiki is not interested in film songs. She did a few and lost interest. And Shreya is so successful in film music. But of course, it can always happen.

Another singer I had a great rapport with was Rashid (Khan). He grew up in front of me.

While platforms can seek out singing talent and music schools like Shrutinandan train them, there is no platform for lyricists. Does that bother you?

I mean to do something bringing everyone together for the revival of Bengali music. There are good writers who are unable to come to the limelight. I am not entirely pessimistic.

What would you want to be remembered as — singer or teacher?

As a guru. None of the doyens of classical music — barring Alauddin Khan sahib who was not a full-fledged performer — have left disciples who could take their place, be it Bhimsen Joshi or M.S. Subbulakshmi. I have donated Rs 8 crore to the school and never taken anything from it. I’d do riyaz from 9pm to 7am daily for seven years when I was at Sangeet Research Academy. One can change the voice 35 to 40 per cent through training. Shrutinandan has put in place a scientific curriculum which does that.

Are you in favour of auto tune that does pitch correction?

Never. One prime example is Mukesh. His tone was nasal, sometimes he went off key. He was not a trained singer. But his songs are loved as they are. You cannot add sugar to melon to add to its sweetness.

Last updated on 30.03.24, 07:26 AM

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