NEW DELHI: Something was unusual when we saw Hindustani classical vocalist Ujwal Nagar recently. It was his face that looked different. After a few minutes when he twitched his eyes to ward of an irritant from under his eye, it donned upon us that the otherwise bespectacled musician, had given his glasses a miss. He smiles as he looks up to us, continuing to tell us about his upcoming performance at Under the Banyan Tree on A Full Moon Night, a monthly concert series that brings evenings replete with sounds of music under the silver luminescence of the full moon.
We knew him to be shy from past experience but never has his shyness been an encumbrance to his rather eloquent recitations. From what we know, Nagar is a bonafide music devotee who creates and sings from his heart. His immediate environment influenced him greatly as he watched his mother, a Kathak and vocal exponent, practice relentlessly everyday, and his brother played the tabla.
Growing amidst artistic heterogeneity made him naturally attuned to become curious about the arts. He started learning from his mother Guru Urmila Nagar when he was 11. When he was 12, she introduced him to Lt. Ustad Bashir Ahmed Khan and he began intensive training under him. Presently, he’s learning from Pt. Sriram Umdekar and Pandit Somnath Mardur.
As a child he got his training in vocal music, working on the paltas and raagas. Only much later, when he started to understand what he was learning and how it made him feel, he realised vocals were his strength, and not the table that he was learning at the time. However, knowledge of the tabla helped him develop rhythm and improvising within the taal.
Nagar’s big breakthrough came when he found Advaita, an Indian fusion band. They formed a symbiotic relationship that stood on the fundamentals of originality and independence in execution. Till then, he had witnessed the pleasure of performing by themselves. Now, with Advaita, Nagar had to learn to keep the sounds of the entire team alive, at the same time, not let his contribution get diluted. “Advaita is very much a part of my musical identity and at the time, my being a lead classical vocalist has made Hindustani vocal music a distinct part of the Advaita sound,” he says.
For him, music is both his passion and purpose. It’s a way of being a part of other people’s lives and leaving an indelible positive mark through healing sounds. After his upcoming performance, he hopes to continue his journey as a musician and most importantly, as a student of music. “I hope to record some classical pieces and some of my other collaborative tracks. And I would like to learn a new Indian language at some point,” he says.
The evening will also see Azeem Ahmed Alvi on the sitar and Qutbi Brothers Qawwal performing Qawwali in the centuries old traditional Baithak format. April 29, from 7 pm onwards, at 1AQ, Mehruali, near Qutub Minar.