HYDERABAD : In Italian born and bred in Europe, and trained in Western classical music who plays the Indian bansuri or flute in the chaste Hindustani classical music style to critical appreciation! That is Nicolo Melocchi for you!
Nicolo is also involved with the folklore repertoire of Rajasthan and can play different traditional instruments of this region like the Morchang, Algoza, the Poongi, etc. Moreover, he participates in experimental music and fusion music programmes with other musical genres, such as world fusion and electronics.
Nicolo frequently accompanies his music-guru, the flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia in various concerts in India and abroad including at prestigious platforms and also renders music for dance performances. He performs across Europe and India and other countries too. Nicolo’s journey of music makes for a fascinating story. This musician was born in Bergamo, a quiet and picturesque city in the north of Italy, close to Milan. He began taking lessons in western classical music on the piano and the traverse flute through private lessons from a teacher called, Lorenzo Brena in his home town.
He reveals that it was not smooth sailing. “I had an accident on my left hand and I had to interrupt my music studies at the age of 14. For three years, I could not move my fingers properly.” After that accident, he had to endure a long rehabilitation period. “It was my love of music which helped me through the painful process.” During his academic studies for Fine Arts, he lived in Rome for five years and in Granada town in south of Spain for nearly seven years. He has both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Fine Arts. Finally at the end of his studies he returned to his home town Bergamo.
So when and how did the Indian connection happen? He reveals: “I kept coming to India on and off from 2007 onwards. So as you can see I like visiting and living in various parts of the world. You can say that I have a gypsy style of life,” he says with a laugh. More specifically, how did he come into contact with Indian classical music and fall in love with it? The story is one that makes you believe in things like destiny and fate and divine intervention.
As Nicolo explains: “On my first trip to India in 2007 I was on the way to Agra from Delhi when the train stopped due to technical problems at Mathura. I stood in a long line trying to get a ticket for another train and when I finally got to the ticket counter suddenly there was a complete blackout which shut down the entire system. The officer just smiled at me and said: ‘Sorry sir, I don’t know when the power will be restored, so please wait outside’. So I seated myself outside of the station at the bus stand, when I saw a small bus was leaving and the driver was shouting the name of Brindavan (the destination of the bus). On an impulse, I seized the opportunity and jumped on that bus."
"At Brindavan aka Vrindavan, in the old town, I was roaming around, looking for a room in vain. Fortunately, a monk offered me accommodation in the Krishna Chaitanya Mission (Srila BV Puri Maharaj) in front of the Sevakunj, the Garden of Love between Radha and Krishna. As you know Krishna is the greatest flute player!! At that time the Indian month of Kaartik was on and I happily participated in the celebrations and rituals, parikramas and Mangal Aarti---thus extending my stay for 20 days! When I decided to leave the ashram one of the monks gifted me a small, simple bansuri (flute) for me to carry during my ongoing journey,” he adds.
For Nicolo, this was a sign, a blessing, and a glimpse of his future career. He considered it a benediction. It was as if this problem and delay in his journey was a divine plan to lead him in the right career direction, as he believes. In Nicolo’s words: “Actually, I still have that flute in my home. It is a treasured possession--an important part of my life. I can say that I did not choose the flute as an instrument, rather it was the flute which chose me!” After some years, while he was in Spain to complete his university studies he attended a concert of Hariprasad Chaurasia in Granada. “After the concert I spoke briefly to him and he invited me to visit his gurukul in Mumbai. Once I concluded my studies, I joined his gurukul in Mumbai, and since 2013 I am a regular student of the gurukul.”
So, how is his study of the flute progressing? “Right now I’m totally focused on Hindustani classical music and my target is mastery of the bansuri technique and control of the tuning, blowing skills and improvisation style. However, of course my background of Western classical and popular Italian music is always present in my creative process.” Nicolo feels it is a privilege to be able to accompany his legendary guru on stage. “I had the honor to accompany my guruji Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia in several concerts in India and abroad performing at the most prestigious Italian theatres. I was invited by the Indian embassy to perform a solo concert for the Sangam event as part of the celebrations of the Indian mission in Italy at the beautiful theatre of Villa Torlonia in Rome.”
He is now a busy and successful performer and teacher. “I teach the bansuri in Italy, doing solo concerts as well as Jugalbandis and live performances with Indian traditional music and dance. I’m also involved in composing music and I have just recorded an album with the project Jugalbandi Trio composed by Italian musicians Leo Vertunni and Federico Sanesi called ‘Confluence’ released by Italian label Dark Companion Records.”
Besides, he often collaborates with European musicians in order create a dialogue between the West and the East. This work is an attempt to build an artistic bridge between Indian arts and Western musical realities. And of course, it is not just music. The influence of India has pervaded his life in many ways given that the country is now his second home.
“I like to wear lungi and dhotis in summer time and possess a good collection of kurtas. I have learnt to cook dal fry, dal makhani, palak paneer, several type of sabzi, etc. My rotis are not perfectly round but tasty... and my chai is quite good! Also my approach to pasta, my country Italy’s favourite dish, has changed--I make pasta which is spicy! But then... I love Indian food!” Above all, he has a special place in his home, a “sacred space” as he calls it, for idols of Radha and Krishna and other Indian gods and goddesses.