Weaving poetic magic through collaboration

At their first concert of the year, this Delhi-based musical collective is all set to breathe new life into the verses by the iconoclastic, mystic Indian poet Kabir 

Published: 05th January 2023 08:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th January 2023 06:53 PM   |  A+A-

Members of The Anirudh Varma Collective (L-R) Santur Kundu, Arjun Pandey, Shraddha Shree, Anirudh Varma (below), Rohan Prasanna, Prateek Narsimha

Members of The Anirudh Varma Collective (L-R) Santur Kundu, Arjun Pandey, Shraddha Shree, Anirudh Varma (below), Rohan Prasanna, Prateek Narsimha

Express News Service

If you were to sift through the reams of literary work that evoke a sense of mysticism, an indigenous name that will, undoubtedly, earn pole position is that of Kabir. The 15th Century iconoclastic poet-saint, whose profound verses are packed with intellectual heft, are timeless—relevant till date. Over time, artists have tried to saturate Kabir’s dohas with their creativity—be it by matching it with a melody or by means of the spoken word.

This week, The Anirudh Varma Collective—a contemporary Indian classical musical ensemble of “150 musicians across India, America and Canada” that is helmed by Delhi-based composer, music director, and pianist Anirudh Varma, and was launched in 2016—will attempt to breathe life into the Kabir’s poetry. Kahat Kabir, which is slated to take place in the city’s India Habitat Centre on Saturday, will be the Collective’s first concert this year.

Coming together
It was while pursuing his master’s in Performance Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi, that Anirudh delved into “the idea of collective energy, and that of one energy coming from different individuals”. “I was intrigued by how yesterday’s archive is recreated as today’s repertoire, and it is furthering being enhanced; and today’s repertoire is tomorrow’s archive. I was heavily influenced by the moments when I met many musicians who are trained in Indian classical.

Also, the idea of collaboration is very exciting,” shares Anirudh, who was born in a musical family—his great-great-grandfather, Major Ranjit Singh, was a founding member of Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad. Talking about coming together as an ensemble, Hindustani classical vocalist Prateek Narsimha, who is also Anirudh’s college friend, says, “The idea is to extract whatever diversity we can from whosoever we have a musical encounter or interaction with. In fact, that has led Anirudh and the Collective to expand its arms and include within its repertoire musicians from all walks.” 

Patience and synergy go hand in hand when one works in a Collective. Reacting to this comment, Anirudh chips in, “I feel now there is synergy; in fact, since we’re all in the same headspace, it has allowed us to actually create compositions in one go without saying much. When you play [together] over time, you understand how the other person might react in the rehearsal room.” Prateek adds, “We have learnt to allow ourselves and our fellow musicians/friends to claim and find their own space as they see fit, and not dictate terms on them. We’re actually friends first, and that helps us enjoy what we create.”

Motivated by Kabir 
The Collective had performed a set titled Kahat Kabir at the two-day Mahindra Kabira Festival at Varanasi last year. We were curious if this gig was an extension of the same. “People really liked that Kabir set we did; and over the last one year, many people were asking us to perform a similar set. That is when Anirudh decided to make a completely separate concert out of it. This time, we have added more vocalists, newer compositions, more Kabir bhajans in the same repertoire that we did, along with the bhajans we performed at the Kabira Festival,” shares Prateek. 

Giving us a glimpse of what the audience can expect, Anirudh mentions, “Since we’re a Delhi-based act, the exciting part is that it is not a classical set. One thing that the audience can expect is that it’ll be fresh energy and repertoire. About 25 to 30 musicians will be performing, and we’re hoping it’ll be a nice, warm concert in terms of the music, not the weather (laughs). We have 10 to 11 compositions; one original composition is inspired by Kabir’s work and others are adaptations of compositions we have reinterpreted from musicians such as Kumar Gandharva, Kishori Amonkar, Madhup Mudgal, and others.”

Concluding the conversation by telling us about what they aim to achieve from this non-ticketed event, Prateek shares, “We want to create a gateway for people who find classical music unapproachable because of the whole environment around it that has been created over the years; the puritanical aspect of classical music that has led people stepping away from it. We try to make even complex and rare ragas approachable for people who would otherwise not take a step towards them.” 

What :  Kahat Kabir by The Anirudh Varma Collective
When :  January 7; 6:30pm onwards
Where :  Amphitheatre, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Estate


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